By Charles Thomas Jones
The Bible class is an excellent way to provide spiritual food for all ages. Class discussion and other classroom activities provide for added learning techniques as opposed to the lecture approach which is often used in the assembly. Because most teaching from the pulpit is presented at the adult level, the Bible class is the primary channel through which the church is able to mold the hearts of the young. The strength of the church in the future greatly depends on how well we use this channel now.
A good Bible class program does not just happen, but needs the active participation and direction of the elders. This requires defining specific targets for the program, making plans for reaching these goals, acquiring a good knowledge of the study materials, providing for teacher training, and selecting qualified teachers. Clearly, dedicated and knowledgeable teachers who are willing to apply the time and energy required are vital to the success of the program. Without careful planning and leadership, the teaching program can easily drift into little more than a formal child care program.
While the elders can provide leadership in planning an effective class program, equally important is the reenforcement of the concepts and principles in the home. No matter how well the Bible class program may be carried out, the effectiveness can be greatly diminished by the lack of parental example and concern for the spiritual development of the family.
Concepts of a good Bible class curriculum and the best way to implement it are somewhat subjective and will vary from one congregation to another. Recently, the Downtown church in Lawrenceburg, TN (where I am now serving as an elder) has initiated plans for improving our Bible study program. In the following paragraphs I would like to describe briefly three characteristics which we are including in our program. I will also summarize the basic features of the plan. These thoughts are not presented as being unique with us nor am I suggesting that this is the only effective approach. It is, however, an approach that we feel will greatly improve our efforts to feed the flock through the Bible class program.
1. The Students Need The Overall Picture
A clear understanding of any, subject requires a general overview in order to understand how the component parts fit into the whole. Equally important is the need for the Bible class student to have a overall view of the Scriptures to see how the lessons all fit together. Perhaps all too often, our classes are presented as a collection of lessons, which contain valid truths and principles, but leave the student unable to see the forest for the individual trees. The varied lessons of the Old and New Testaments need to be tied together into an overall picture which illustrates the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption.
In our program we want to clearly stress that Jesus Christ is the central theme of the Scriptures. Teachers at all age levels are deliberately developing this theme so that the student will come to the full realization that all of our studies ultimately relate to the Savior and his kingdom. We want the student to understand that God purposed this plan before the foundation of the world, that the prophets anticipated the Lord’s coming, and that God’s purpose was fulfilled by Jesus and his church. One way we keep this broad perspective before the student is through the use of time lines showing where the specific lessons falls in the overall plan. The prophecies of the Lord’s coming and their fulfillment also provide opportunities to stress this overall concept.
Basic to this central theme also is the understanding that God gave different laws and spoke in various ways as his plan developed. But today he has given us his Son for us to hear. Obviously, this understanding is an essential element to the proper division of the Scriptures. The need for stressing it is apparent when one considers the fact that many are unable to make a distinction between the Ten Commandments and the New Covenant.
We want also to take deliberate steps to stress some overall characteristics of God’s word. In the light of much modern thinking that the Scriptures were written for Bible times and are not applicable today, and that new revelations are still to come, we want to insure through our class program that the student sees the Bible as relevant and complete. He should know that God has provided all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), that there will be no more revelations (Jude 3), and that the Word will abide forever (1 Pet. 1:23-25).
2. Focus On The Principles Rather Than Facts
The Bible contains many fascinating stories, and it is sometimes easy to focus on the specifics of the narrative at the expense of some key concepts or principles. These stories have much appeal to the young, and are, possibly, somewhat easier to present in a lesson than the more abstract principles. However as a result, the student may, remember more about what John the Baptist ate and wore than the message he preached. Most preparatory workbooks for our Bible classes focus on the facts of a story with word matching exercises, scrambled word puzzles, fill in the blanks, true and false statements, etc. These have some value in getting the student to consider the details of the lesson but are often mechanical exercises which do not stress the main message. Of course, lessons cannot be presented without some related detail, but these should be the tools for basing applicable themes and principles rather than the major focus.
A prime consideration of teacher preparation should be to identify two or three key points to be stressed. This will vary with each lesson but will provide the opportunity to emphasize the broad picture outlined above, build character, educate in doctrinal matters, and develop proper relationships in the world, etc. Of course, the lesson plan will have to be developed for the maturity level of the student. But we need to keep in mind that we can plant ideas in the minds of the very young. Initially, there may be little understanding, but repetition with increasing depth will gradually implant these things in the student’s minds. Our whole aim will be to give the student the fundamentals that will serve as building blocks for spiritual growth and help him to have the desire to serve God all of his life. I do not want to minimize the importance of knowing Bible facts, but these should be used only as the tools for developing the lesson.
3. Greatest Emphasis Should Be On The New Covenant
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he referred to the Old Testament writings as that which was able to provide the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. In a similar way, he wrote that the things written before were for our example and instruction (1 Cor. 10:11). Without question, Old Testament Scripture is a vital part of our Bible study. Everyone needs to see how God dealt with his people in the past, and how this portion of God’s Word develops the understanding of many New Testament references. Thus, a decision which each eldership must make is the proportion of time which should be given to the Old Testament.
We have made a judgment that there is a need to place the greatest emphasis on the covenant we live under today. There is a very basic need for our students to know more about the church, its purpose, its work, its worship, and the responsibilities of membership. He should also know the numerous instructions of the epistles regarding social, business, civic, and family relationships. The trends in moral behavior and liberal thinking in society as a whole suggest to us a fundamental need for greater concentration in these areas. This should help the student to withstand false doctrine and conduct his life in harmony with New Testament principles.
The Class Plan
The Downtown church has established a goal to cover the entire Bible in its classes in three year cycles. For a student progressing from the first grade through high school the subject matter will be repeated four times with increasing depth. We are having continuing lessons from Sunday to the midweek study. This represents about 100 lessons per year or a total of 300 lessons for the three year curriculum.
Three brethren and three sisters have composed a working group to define the Bible text which should be covered along with key concepts for each lesson. The initial target is to cover 100 lessons from the Old Testament and 200 from the New Testament in the cycle. Each grade level will have the same subject for each study period. This has the advantage of continuity of subject material as the students are promoted through the various age levels. In addition, where there are several students in the same household, there is opportunity for family study on the same subject.
Two teachers are assigned to the class room and teach both the Sunday morning and mid-week classes for a quarter. The two work jointly in preparing the lesson plans and teaching the class. Meanwhile, two other teachers are preparing for the next quarter in a teacher’s, training class. In this way the teacher has an opportunity to study the subject material and make the lesson plans in advance. The training class is designed to stress the key points of the lesson and provide opportunity for teacher exchange of ideas. Each pair of teachers develops the presentation material and techniques appropriate to each age group. This approach is an excellent way to bring new teachers into the program and provide the guidance for accomplishing the overall objectives we have set for our Bible studies.
This effort is in the learning stages and much work remains to be done. Very likely some fine tuning will be necessary as we proceed. However, we are confident that with a lot of hard work we can have a very effective Bible class program.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 1, pp. 18-19, 24
January 5, 1989