By Lewis Willis
Brethren do many things that are praiseworthy and it is fitting that such be recognized. Conversely, brethren also do some things that are downright reprehensible, and these things are deserving of notice. It is difficult to lend the proper balance to these antithetical situations. It is not easy to determine if one has become excessive in either praise or censure. Some are always ready to say we have gone too far, or not far enough. I am persuaded that all teachers, under self-examination for actions in regard to these things, have experienced some reservations about what has been done. However, this does not preclude action when it is sincerely felt such is appropriate. In this article, I have some things I wish to say that are critical of many of my brethren. They are being said in the hope that stimulated thought might be helpful in producing necessary corrective action among brethren.
Every church of which I have personal knowledge conducts Sunday and Wednesday Bible class programs. These are designed to expedite the edification of the saints. These programs, because they are subject to human wisdom, are not always what they should be. Nor do they always measure up to our desires for them. Hence, there will always be ample room for improvement. And, evaluation for the purpose of improvement is always needful and helpful. No area of this work should be exempt from examination. It should not be assumed that any part of the program is unchangeable, except the essential scripturality of that which is being studied. That must never change!
As a gospel preacher, I have been teaching classes for years. I presently teach a class with a “question-answer” format. Those in the class are at liberty to raise any Bible-related question in which they are interested. In a recent class, I was asked, “How do you respond when someone says he does not get anything out of class?” This is a timely question, and one with which every congregation known to me has had to deal. I suppose there would be no way to measure the scope of this feeling in churches of Christ today. It is likely a more widely felt concern than many would expect. What would contribute to this problem? How might it be solved so as to enhance this work? If each Christian would manifest the proper attitude toward it, it could be handled effectively in every case. Hence, allow me to share some thoughts with you on what might contribute to an ineffectual Bible Class program.
As far as I can determine, there are at least three areas where blame might lie in this circumstance. The first of these is the material. If something is scripturally wrong with the material being taught, it is obvious that this will quickly produce a very real problem. Most churches exercise great care in the selection of class material. Others send someone to the bookstore to “get something for that class.” The importance of material selection cannot be over-emphasized. Truth Magazine publishes two ‘series of literature. In the production of Truth In Life, editing for scripturalness and effectiveness was scrupulous. This work was done by brethren who are widely known for their faithfulness. Walking With God is an old series which is now owned by Truth Magazine. It is my understanding that as the old supply of booklets was depleted, some editing was done to enhance the quality of this series also. These materials are being widely used by churches in an effort to assure that truth will be taught in their programs. (Many other booklets by faithful brethren are available also).
Even so, a congregation can hardly check every single statement in a booklet in advance. Thus, qualified teachers are selected to teach the classes so that any error might be detected and corrected during the study. These booklets were written by men and women who are subject to error. No editor will succeed in eliminating every questionable statement. So, the teachers must exercise the greatest possible care in using any booklet. The congregation encourages them to point out any fundamental weakness so that other materials might be selected which will meet the needs of a particular class. I can understand the criticism under consideration here if this is the type of situation involved.
However, I quickly become concerned if the material being used is the actual Biblical text. Most adult classes study from some book of the Bible. The Bible was so revealed that we might, through diligent study, understand it. We can know the truth (Jn. 8:22). We can understand Paul’s knowledge of the mystery (Eph 3:3-4). We are to study to be approved (2 Tim. 2:15). We are to give attendance unto reading (1 Tim. 4:13). There is no reason to “get nothing out of class” insofar as the material being used in most of our adult classes is concerned. if something is wrong with the effectiveness of our class work, we certainly want to use care before attributing it to the Biblical text. Yet, brethren are heard to say, “I just don’t get anything out of studying Revelation.” We might not get everything out of a single study of Revelation. But, we will get something out of it if we try. We have a serious problem if we get nothing out of it!
A second possible cause for this problem is the teacher. In many instances, “I don’t get anything out of class” is but a not-too-subtle attempt to remove a teacher who is disliked. Such criticism should be wholly rejected. However, some teacher criticism is justified! There is not a teacher in any congregation’s Bible Class program who could not do better! Anytime a teacher indicates an attitude of perfection in his efforts to teach, he should, in my judgment, be removed. No teacher is perfect! Any teacher who thinks he has reached the zenith of his effectiveness and is likely to be suffering from a strong measure of self-delusion. He is certainly having a problem with arrogancy when humility should characterize his every effort. In my judgment, he is unqualified to teach. I certainly do not want to be under Brother Perfect, and I do not want my children under him either!
So, the teachers are frequently a cause for this problem. But, scarcely the cause of it. Ideally, if every teacher is well qualified, highly skilled, and a humble servant of God with a broad perception of Truth, we would be assured that this problem would never arise. Personally, though, I know of no single congregation which labors with such luxury. Therefore, we must all struggle along with well-intentioned, willing, God-fearing brethren who are trying to do the best they can. Most teachers, I believe, are trying to do their best.
The third area of potential difficulty is the student. Let us be candid in considering the materials and the teachers. But, let us be equally candid in considering the students in our classes. The best material and teacher are useless unless accompanied with the proper student attitude and conduct. Some class periods can best be described as “a three-ring circus,” and the solution fox this problem begins at home! Uncorrected, no one will get anything out of such a class. We must strive to eliminate this type of situation. The majority of our students are Christians and they should be taught to act like Christians! Sometimes students want Bible Classes to be as interesting as the Super Bowl football game. It will never be so! The absence of such excitement, though, will not justify the charge, “I don’t get anything out of class.”
Frequently, and most teachers experience continual concern here, students come to class and have not so much as looked at the booklet or Bible chapter to be studied. This is not a problem with “young people” only. It reaches all the way to the auditorium! It is inevitable that such students will get nothing out of a class. One has to put something into a class to get something out of it! A teacher should challenge students to study and become interested. But, if we think any teacher can adequately study for us, we are simply mistaken. Many people in classes never offer a single thought or comment over several weeks of study. They just sit there being bored. All too often students will miss several weeks of a study, get behind in the thought or context being discussed, and wonder why such a class is not profitable. No amount of review can overcome this problem. So, one good place to begin in investigating the cause for unprofitable Bible Classes would be the student. Quite possibly better students would inspire better teachers.Conclusion
My role involves teaching these classes. But, I would not attempt to justify every abuse of teacher responsibility. Nor would I attempt to defend every booklet that has been used in Bible Classes. These definitely have to be considered in evaluating a teaching effort. But, that evaluation is incomplete unless it also includes the student. Every teacher should be encouraged to do a better job in his teaching. And, every student should be encouraged to be more responsible and responsive in the class. Not intending to be rude, but I have no sympathy for a student who sits through class after class “like a dead fish” and then complains, “I don’t get anything out of it.” Furthermore, it is my conviction that such students should not be encouraged in their criticisms of the classes, i.e., unless we enjoy the continual state of confusion that such unjustified criticisms produce. It seems to me that we need to exercise care in regard to all of these possible areas of difficulty. Above all, let us each do everything possible to enhance the effectiveness of this area of our work together.
Truth Magazine XXI: 19, pp. 296-297
May 12, 1977