As Walmart steaks run $30 for a package of two, folks turn stares of disbelief to beef liver as the affordable cut of meat. The $300 grocery tab reinforces a gut punch that politicians delivered a message, "Let them eat liver!"
Applying the liver & onions test to the church, what one ministry stands as critical nourishment for today’s church? There is one clear winner – Bible study.
“Let them eat liver!”
King David reflected on the nourishment received from studying the Word of God, saying, ” The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.” Like a food desert, where nourishing food is priced out of a neighborhood due to location, so some churches fail to thrive due to missing a balanced Bible study.
They are more precious than gold,Psalm 19:10
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
You Are What You Eat
Jesus knew the importance of this concept in his temptation when he responded to the devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” ( Matthew 4:4), a quote from Deuteronomy that beyond physical bread we need the bread of life that comes from heaven.
Take a busy pastor as an example, what more could he or she do considering an already jammed Sunday schedule? How could the church move from a spiritual food desert to a Michelin Star?
No Michelin Pot Luck’s
No Michelin Star is awarded to a church pot luck rather to a restaurant where every aspect of the meal was planned. A busy pastor could begin by asking volunteers to form a Christian Education Council assigned to create a unified system of Christian education that will help church members continue their Bible study “from the basket to the casket” (As our Baptist friends teach).
ABT – Always Be Teaching
Applying the ABT method, the Christian Education Council could begin with a sheet of butcher paper by mapping what classes are taught and what is being taught from the nursery to senior adults. What curriculum is used for children, youth, and adult classes?
You may say, “Pastor Jim, I’m too busy to teach. I lead multiple services on Sunday. The people get what they need from my sermons.” Believing that concept, a pastor is on the path to “congregation drift” to be blown along whatever favorite study they stumble into. Years of congregational drift in Bible study could unravel those inspiring Sunday sermonettes.
The ABT method does not mean the pastor does all the teaching but that the pastor is engaged with what is being taught.
Seasons of Learning
Overheard – “People don’t want to be committed to leading a class every Sunday. They want to go fishing, to the lake, or to their timeshare in Aruba.” Rather than resist natural patterns of ebb and flow, use your butcher paper to draw an education stream that flows with the bends and eddies.
The pastor, staff, and a few key leaders can survey what material is presently being taught and ask, 1. Does the material support our church and denomination? 2. Does the material give the leaders what they need to proving a compelling class experience that builds the spiritual life of the participants? 3. Can others use the material and duplicate the experience?
Back to the butcher paper and magic markers, write Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. While worship services are best designed around the Liturgical Calendar, Christian Education is best designed around the school year, which provides natural breaks and pauses –
Fall, Winter: Advent – Christmas, Spring: Lent- Easter, Summer.
Take a moment and outline what classes are taught for all ages during these season. Next, use the denominational resource that fits your church, select classes and materials to balance out the year, giving times of rest and refreshment as in a school year.
For United Methodists, Cokesbury is their publishing house. Southern Baptists look to Lifeway for resources. Considering Advent, a church could use this interactive Cokesbury’s Advent Studies guide to schedule class resources.
No Artificial Ingredients
Some adult classes have met for years using the curriculum they like, and they have no plans to change. You may say, “Pastor Jim, one leader in our Methodist church is teaching Nazarene material.” Rather than foment an insurrection over a teacher’s use of nonapproved curriculum, the solution lies in forming new groups based on vibrant Bible based material. New groups always grow faster than older groups. Rather than battling to change a group, add a new one in line with your direction. Or, as overheard in the work-a-day world, “People hate to be sold … but they love to buy!” If I had to do my ministry over, I would have taken the above high road of a gentle, patient path toward change. I would have worked a lot more on consensus and valuing the opinion of the negative vote versus running roughshod over those holding a contrary position. Looking back, I could have spent more time actively listening to church members than talking at them.
Now that your church year class schedule is mapped, consider where the classes will meet, review the budget, and ask adult participants to share in the expense of materials. How does your Christian Education budget reflect the priority of Bible Study as a spiritual discipline?
The important work of the Christian Education Council means nominating teachers and leaders who best fit the group and material taught. When calling those persons to ask them to consider the opportunity, it is a comfort knowing they have the resources to be successful and along with a set start and end date, improves successful recruiting for teachers and leaders. The Christian Education Council meetings, rather than all business, should involve sharing the journey over food and drink and sharing of the journey.
When I served as Executive Pastor in my last position, the Kitchen Director would bring leftovers on a cart from the Wednesday night meal so that we might break bread together in our staff meetings the next day. Some of the best days of church staff planning revolved around those meals together. While we didn’t solve all the world’s problems, we left satisfied and excited about the new plans in ministry.
“17Jesus said to Peter the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, 'Do you love me?' and he said to him, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep'” (John 21:17, ESV).