Last week Dave Miller posted an article asking Whatever Happened to Bible Study? In the comments of that post Dave shares a story:
I was the pastor of a church in Virginia and instead of using the quarterlies (which at that point I had a very low opinion of), I was just using the Bible to teach Sunday School. The deacons chastised me and demanded that I use the quarterly to teach Sunday School.
Adam G. followed with a story of his own:
Had a very similar experience in north-central North Carolina. Our Sunday School class ALWAYS studied the Bible verse by verse and NEVER used the quarterlies. About once every couple of months someone would ask us where our “sunday school books” were. We’d all just show them our Bibles. I still believe that some of them thought we were slacking-off because we were not using the quarterlies.
Why in the world would deacons and S.S. leaders discourage teachers from using the Bible and not the quarterlies? I’ll answer that with one word. Control. By that I do not mean: “I’m a control freak and have to have my hands on everything”. I’m talking control as in, “We want to secure that our teachers aren’t teaching weird junk and calling it Bible.” We know that we can (for the most part) trust our quarterlies. It’s an easy way to ensure what our teachers are teaching. If they walk in the room carrying only a Bible we don’t have a clue what they’ll teach.
Let’s be honest–and this is often particularly true for smaller churches–we can find ourselves leading churches with really sketchy Sunday School teachers. A great place for a budding teacher to get a start would be a Sunday School class. Unfortunately we don’t know if we’ve got ourselves a future Athanasius or an Arius.
We all know that it’s tough to get teachers and that we get excited to start new classes. In our over excitement we make people Sunday School teachers far too early. We don’t want to lose their passion, but also don’t want them teaching error. Our solution is to give them a trusted curriculum to teach. This way it doesn’t matter if he’s an Athanasius or an Arius–we know he’s confined to what we tell him to teach.
I really do understand why we would want to require teaching from a trusted curriculum.
All Aboard the Merry-Go-Round
Yet, I have to wonder what it is that we are perpetuating. We might be ensuring that young Arius isn’t promoting his heresy but at the same time we likely won’t fan into flames the gift of young Athanasius. Frequently the only training that teachers receive is how to teach the curriculum material, how to lead a Sunday school etc. Seldom are these teachers trained in how to study their Bible, create a lesson, and stand before the class saying, “Thus says the Lord”.
As such we are only perpetuating our biblical ignorance. People aren’t trained in how to teach the Scriptures. Therefore, our solution is to keep them from teaching the Scriptures. Instead we give them a trusted quarterly, help them to become better teachers of that, and go about our merry way. Our fear, thus, becomes more deeply entrenched and we are further dependent on the curriculum.
I can’t help but think that this is the same cycle the Roman Catholic Church fell into in the Middle Ages. The logic was that the people were illiterate, not to mention biblically illiterate. Therefore, they encouraged a more passive and spectator role amongst the people. They didn’t have to understand the Mass they only had to be present. They didn’t need to know their Bibles–they just needed to have a priest that mostly did.
The Way Out
It’s difficult to jump off a spinning merry-go-round. It’s much easier to stay on and vomit with the rest of the group. At this point I have to drop the analogy because it will simply get ridiculous.
The only way out is to do the hard thing: disciple. Or to put that in other words, those that can teach ought to make it their aim to train teachers. That’s it. Start meeting with a few teachers (one-on-one or in groups) on a frequent basis. Teach them how to properly study the Scriptures, how to put together a message from the Scriptures, and then how to actually teach the Scriptures.
Then let them teach and provide guidance along the way. It’s messy–but if you are in it for the long-haul I believe you’ll see biblical ignorance diminish in your church.
Listen, I’m not against curriculum. In fact we use LifeWay material throughout our Sunday School department. But we don’t do it because we are afraid if we “just taught the Bible” that people would get all weird. Curriculum is there to assist the teachers as they teach God’s Word. It’s not there to keep our teachers from doing what they are passionate about; namely, teaching people what God has communicated to us through His Word.