The Next Level

The first year I was in band class, I did quite well. I was first chair – the best. That was, until the new girl joined the band half-way through the school year. She had begun band the previous year at her school and easily secured the first chair for the rest of the year. The first year I was in Spanish class, I was the one that was a little more advanced that the rest of the students. One of my previous schools had taught me most of the basics and so I spent my time reading from the book while the other students were just sorting out the alphabet.

I was just thinking about the parallel with Bible Studies in general. There’s no shortage of beginner material. Quick, low time commitment, no wrong answers, general topics, and scripted / suggested responses to common questions. I’ve done that sort of study again and again and again. What I would like to see is a study series design to progress the participants from one level to the next, from basics, to intermediate, to advanced. But as it is, I don’t see that happening.

I remember one church that asked me to lead a Bible study which was based off of the author’s autobiography and featured mementos for each lesson, a charm for a charm bracelet and an item related to the lesson like seashells, starfish, and sand dollars. We live in the middle of a land-locked state. Most children have been raised to be something of environmentalists, I’d imagine that they’d be annoyed at the dozens of starfish that would have to die to be their memento about what they learned about God based off of some woman’s autobiography. That study was designed for teens. The same tactics are used for many women’s studies and some other adult studies as well. Various beginner level Bible Studies create Bible Students who know various things at a beginner level.

But where do you start? One church might teach children from their youth the order of the books of the Bible, but not everyone in the room might have attended a church like that. Some churches might have ignored the order of the books but began teaching the basics of salvation and justification. Some churches might have opted to leave such subjects to the pastor and feature playing games and doing crafts instead of learning about or from the Bible. What are we to do? To test which level which participants are at and give them materials based on that level? What about the people that are just there for the cake or the coffee – should they be subjected to more advanced topics they might not necessarily care about?

I guess the best answer is: it depends. It depends on whether you care about individual growth or easy fellowship. From the plethora of beginner level materials, easy fellowship seems to take precedence. For the rest of us … there’s always the internet on our own time. There is one warning that we ought to consider – it’s been documented that gifted students can easily get bored when they are challenged. If churches aren’t going to challenge their brightest through Bible Studies and Small Groups – they’re going to need to find some way to keep them engaged or they could lose them completely.

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2 thoughts on “The Next Level

  1. This is an eloquent description of the problem I have as well.

    At my church, that sort of “beginner” fellowship-heavy study is predominant, where “Jesus” and “God” is basically the correct answer to every question. Some people showed interest in a more complex series, but the study required turned people off – they didn’t want to have to do reading *and* think about it. I found it terribly discouraging.

    Most of my study growth has been individual, and it’s frustrating. The books I read, the questions I ask or research, the things I’m interested in just…really aren’t covered at a lot of churches I suppose because of the time and interest level involved. (I wonder if it also has something to do with the cultural divorce between Christianity and “academia” generally, but that’s a thread for another day). The result is that church doesn’t feel “vital” sometimes in the sense that it might if we were actually digging in deep to certain topics, or had opportunities to do so. I’ve seen people disappear because of it, and it’s a shame.

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    • The previous church’s Sunday School was a very simple formula: open the Bible, read a few verses, discuss them thoroughly, go off on every tangent and down every rabbit trail and back again. Some Sundays they would spend the entire time on just one verse because they decided to debate the merits of the invitation to prayer and awkwardness of it instead. According to them, they had spent two years just getting through Revelation before we had joined them. They were always up for debate and the teacher really knew the material and all sorts of interpretations of it. Having been through that class, I now realize that one cannot study the Bible by not studying the Bible; which is what the new formula is.

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...Anyway, that's just how I feel about it ... What do you think?

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