Advice on a Bible Study

I get emails —

We average about 100 on Sundays and are blessed with an abundance of men and women who know the Bible well. I am writing you because I need some advice.

Recently, I asked for a meeting with the men of the church to have a casual discussion about how we do church. I explained to them that not all of us were born into the Church of Christ, and we do not always agree with what they are teaching, a cappella only, women’s role in the church etc.

And they UNDERSTOOD. I explained how I would like a casual forum with us men where, I or anyone else could just ask questions and, everyone would have their Bibles out and ready for a true Bible study. The elders did request that we have some sort of structure for the studies so we can stay on topic and I agree. Hopefully, this is where you and your readers come in.

They left the structure up to me, and I was thinking of having a topic question and maybe 3 to 5 follow up questions.

I want to take a subject such as Instrumental Music and, as we study, try to weed out the really bad arguments. Hopefully, they will see that these arguments don’t stand up anymore, and we can find a deeper meaning and better understanding of God’s words. I do not wish to change anything they are doing, I just want them to see our side and understand our points and hopefully this will make us stronger in our relationship with one another and stronger in our bible studies.

I really don’t know much about structuring or presenting or teaching classes, I really need you guys advice so this may go well.

So, readers, what’s your advice?


20 Responses

  1. my initial question is why are only the men invited?

    and i would suggest breaking up into small groups and studying texts without a “teacher,” who almost always has a side to prove or a belief to bolster. have you ever heard of 3-column studies? doing that as small groups, and then each group presenting their findings might be a good way to go about it.

    above all, i’d include much prayer…

  2. I’m mildly conflicted by your query.

    I’ve always enjoyed a good bible study and friendly debate, but I’ve ultimately found most doctrinally focused discussions to rarely produce desirable results. And by “desirable”, you can use anyone’s standard — not just mine.

    I suggest that the most useful topic is more along these lines:

    How do we fellowship with each other if we disagree?

    Does the way the ekklesia manifest itself in the 21st century in the US, reflect what Jesus seemed to want for his body?

    Why do we spend so much time seeking to draw lines of salvation / condemnation?

    If we can agree on the answers to those questions, I think questions, such as gender and instrumental music will become remarkable easy to handle.

  3. James makes a great point with his initial question, first of all…why are the women not invited?

    Concerning the desire to jump right into controversial questions, did you learn to swim in the ocean by taking a jump off into water well-known for its strong riptides, edys, whirlpools and undertows? There is a difference between being a strong swimmer and being a foolhardy one.

    Still, I understand that you have confidence that many can handle the study of tough subjects, so…start with something that often serves as a foundational approach argument for many of these discussions. Want to take a big bite? Work out a consensus on Romans 14 and how it applies to things in the first century. Then work your way through the centuries to AD/CE 400 or 500. Then jump forward to the Great Awakening Era. Then work through century by century through the 20th century. By then you should have an idea how your 21st century discussion might go and why and how it got there.

    Take your time. Real issues do not go away, they ebb and flow, like the ocean. Sometimes the tide goes out and things calm down. Other times the tide come in with a roar. Know the water where you want to swim BEFORE you put on your swimtrunks and any other gear you might want to use. And may God bless your swim.

  4. By the way, if you really want to have a fired-up conversation, try discussing methods of Bible Study and hermeneutics and interpretive paradigms. Oh…one more thing…don’t forget to wear your armor (a la Ephesians 6)…you’ll need it!

    And when you are through with the lightweight stuff like IM and women as elders and all of that, try tackling something a lot closer to home, like how to become God’s love letter to your community. But before you go outside, be sure you know more than a little something about loving one another!

  5. I like what David said:

    How do we fellowship with each other if we disagree?

    One constructive technique for discussing a disputed topic is to have the two sides alternate attempting to compose a statement the opposite side would agree with.. then get feedback, and revise the attempt until the statement as written is acceptable to the other side. That process won’t necessarily bring about agreement on the topic (what process would???) but it does tend to bring about improved mutual understanding and can lead to greater respect for those holding the opposing view.

  6. Jay,

    I believe some of your previous posts address this question in a very wise way.

    Begin by teaching grace. Then move to Rom 14-15 on how to be one when you have different opinions. Glen had some good ideas on how to use Rom 14-15, but it might be a bit heavy on church history for the taste of many of the men.

    To jump into discussion of divisive issues without a foundation in grace and “unity in diversity” may itself become divisive.

    Jerry Starling

  7. Jay, I think this brother needs to be reminded of one of your MAJOR themes: until we get grace right, we’ll never survive airing disagreements on the secondary issues.

    Thus, before anyone launches into a series of studies on “the issues” I would strongly recommend that the group work, page by page and Scripture by Scripture, through a book like The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace or the first 21 lessons of your Amazing Grace series – then skip down to the Mission of God ones, and finish with the Conclusions ones.

    A healthy understanding of grace is key to surviving such a set of discussions.

  8. Nick,

    Thanks for the recommendations. I know of some small groups and churches that have done just that.

    I might toss in the Blue Parakeet series under “Hermeneutics.” It’s a great book and is very helpful in seeing how to best understand the Bible. But … the book itself spends the last few chapters on the role of women — which is fine for many audiences but not the reader’s.

    Rather, he might instead work through the first several posts in the series here —

    I entirely agree that he should stay away from “issues” until the group at least decides they don’t have to damn those they disagree with on anything.

    That lowers the emotional temperature and gives permission to be honest about other topics. Otherwise, people will either be very defensive or else try to shout down any view that they fear will lead to damnation.

  9. I suggest something along what David Himes suggested. A study first on how to speak to one another in love with lots of practicing during the study, i.e. lots of speaking to one another and adjusting the words until we learn how to say something in love. As Galatians tells us, our speech should be seasoned with salt, not salt thrown into open wounds.

    For example, learn to stop saying, “Well, you need to study your Bible brother,” and start saying, “I disagree.”

  10. I suggest starting off with an unannounced prayer led by an Old, well known by God praying on her knees woman.

    I imagine silence among all and that would make a point.

    Would any interrupt a prayer to God seeking a blessing on the study? If so, that also would make a point. If any have not allowed nor heard any woman pray, they have missed a blessing in their life by being robbed of it in my opinion.

    How many of us old timers would sure like to hear our mothers that have gone on pray again?

    Makes a good song too!

  11. Thanks for the comments, the are truly appreciated but , I think I owe some clarification. As far as the women are concerned, we have a womens bible study and I thought it would be ok to have a mens bible study also. I respect, love, and appreciate all the women in my congregation and, would gladly listen to what they have to say because many of them are far more advanced than I in bible things. Nor am I opposed to being taught by them. Since I’m sorta challenging things, I thaought it best to take baby steps thats all. If it goes well then everyone should be involved and then we could break up into mixed groups.

  12. As far as what I am trying to accomplish….LOVE. We all have our proof texts, and we sling them at each other as if they were rocks. I have been a member of the church for 4 years now and i’m already sick and tired of the division. I am only trying a different approach to unity and strengthening our congregation. I am not looking for a debate. I am not looking to change anyones mind on anything. All I want is for someone to voice there opinion on what they have studied and what they believe to be right. Then, sit down as a brotherhood and study together not just to see who’s right but to UNDERSTAND my brothers point of view. If we can, in love, learn to understand and appreciate each other then we can grow in LOVE. I want them to see that although I don’t agree with something it’s not due to a lack of studying. I want to know what God wants me to know, thats all. Everyones brain is wired differently and it causes us to have different angles of approach. Like multiple facets, if we put them all together then we can see the ‘diamond’ that God created, brilliant, beautiful, unbreakable bond of love. We spend too much time trying to chip away what we think are the ‘wrong’ facets instead of trying to understand the angle and its beauty. Thats what i want to come of this, its why I asked you all for assistance because I APPRECIATE your facets(angles of approach,beliefs) too. We must truly strive with all our hearts to be ONE IN JESUS! If you have any questions or would like to correspond please let me know as I still have a lot to learn. thanks. God Bless each and every one of you.

  13. Jaason wrote:

    Since I’m sorta challenging things, I thaought it best to take baby steps thats all. If it goes well then everyone should be involved and then we could break up into mixed groups.

    Baby steps would be a good idea, especially since you’ve only been a member for 4 years. Trying to make radical changes may not go over well — and may cost you quite a bit of credibility for making longer term changes.

  14. Jason,

    What you want to do is very admirable.

    I would start by inviting a few over to your home for a study. I recommend you invite only those considered the younger, less involved lower class in the church.

    The brighter and higher educated members, especially from CcofC schools are usually set in their bible positions and have expressed them publically so even though they differ with each other they are the hardest to get to change.
    Of course there are exceptions but they are few.

    They tend to come only to teach, are closed minded and not there to learn and possibly change. The older they are, the longer in the church, the harder this will be for you.

  15. jamesbrett, on March 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm Said:
    my initial question is why are only the men invited?

    and i would suggest breaking up into small groups and studying texts without a “teacher,” who almost always has a side to prove or a belief to bolster. have you ever heard of 3-column studies? doing that as small groups, and then each group presenting their findings might be a good way to go about it.

    above all, i’d include much prayer…
    James, thanks for the advice. There will not be a ‘teacher’ only a topic question asked by anyone. No, I have not heard of 3-column studies. Please, tell me more. thanks.

  16. jaason, glad to be of help (if it is any). i just feel like a big group of men trying to study the Bible together (especially controversial topics) is not likely to be the best method. small groups would seem to help. that way everyone gets a chance to talk basically all they want with others in their group — then each group reports its findings to the others. there would likely still be a group discussion of some sort at the end, but at least everyone would have given the text a great deal more thought by the time you get there. one of the problems with Bible studies in our current culture is a lot of people want to share before they really consider the text (or the Spirit of God and his work through it). that often means they’re sharing ideas that have come from somewhere other than that text itself.

    a 3-column study is an obedience-based method of Bible study. i fear that too often our studies are for the sake of knowledge only, and i like that this format encourages obedience. it also requires that we understand the text before we place meaning on it. the reason it’s called a 3-column study is there are 3 parts, and when doing it as an individual, you would generally divide your paper into 3 sections, one for each portion of study. we do them all the time as a group, though, and they work well. we generally spend 30 minutes or so quietly writing down our own studies, and then share them with the group and discuss. then if we’re in a setting with lots of people, each group shares with others what they’ve learned — or we piece together what we learned as one person writes all our “column 3’s” on a board. [that’s for americans, who are generally accustomed to learning through reading and writing — for many other cultures, it’s more useful to do this orally. in my opinion, this is another problem with the large group bible study in america; we are trying to do something orally, when that is not our best method for learning.]

    that probably sounds confusing. here’s a couple of links that should be more clear:

  17. but i’d also be considering a way to go from a “topic question” to a bible study. because those two don’t always mesh well. people may want to jump from verse to verse to verse, all in the same evening. you might do well to let people suggest texts they believe might help in addressing that topic, and then hit a couple per study session.

  18. james, thanks again for the helpful info. I see that a lot of you are concerned that this is going to blow up in my face. I understand and appreciate the concern but, I don’t think I would have asked for this if I thought it would just be a fight. They are not a very fiesty group. Conservative, yes, fiesty, no. Here’s what I’m trying to accomplish. For example, Our congregation does not have instrumental music, we are accapella only. I do not care to make it instrumental, acapella is fine by me. I don’t have a problem with either. What I do have a problem with are some of the arguments for being acapella only or ‘anti’ instrumental. I would like to list all the aguments for and against- because my arguments could be bad too- and say to them ‘here is a list of the 10 reasons why you dont have I.M., I disagree with number….4….eph5;19 make music in your heart…..and here are my well thought out well studied reasons why I disagree…please open your bibles to the book of…..and hopefuly they might just understand-if i do this right- that not everyone sees the same thing. From there, hopefuly, we could eliminate most of the not so good arguments and narrow it down. If we can accomplish that, then, we could focus on the reasons that remain and go deeper than we ever have in our studies and come up with our own answers as to why, not just the answers that are in the what we believe section of the church of christ handbook. All of this effort is Jay’s fault. I read the ‘franchise agreement’ and thought ‘thats us’, what could we do to get out of the rut that we are in. Please, keep throwing ideas and questions at me, thanks.

  19. Jason, unity is our goal. If you seek Bible reasons in support of an anti-instrument law, you’ll find none. The apostles said not one word about worship services. In writing a history of the early church, Luke chooses to not once mention a worship service. The many divisions in Church of Christ fellowship mainly trace to disagreement over what is “authorized” in worship services. Any brother or sister who realizes that the worship service ITSELF is not authorized or taught by apostolic authority, many minor problems will disappear. Opposition to Christian use of musical instruments is entirely a matter of human tradition and preference. Won’t you be wasting your time seeking scriptural teaching on a subject which is not in the Bible addressed at all? Why not seek teaching on what the apostles DID teach? Wouldn’t that be most profitable?

  20. My sentence got out of control. I wrote, “Any brother or sister who realizes that the worship service ITSELF is not authorized or taught by apostolic authority, many minor problems will disappear.” I’d like to see anyone make sense out of THAT! Anyone who realizes that a “worship service” is not part of apostolic teaching will then of course realize that component parts of such a meeting are not required for Christian living.

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