A few Sundays ago at church, my Bible study class was about to begin when a woman came to the door and asked, “What class is this?” I told her I was teaching about the Bible. Her immediate response was, “Oh, no, I don’t want that.” She instantly realized that the words had not come out as she intended, as this was not the class she was trying to fine, and it made for a somewhat amusing moment.
While amusing, it is somewhat of a metaphor for a deeper problem in the church. While this woman’s comments were misstatement, for far too many Christians this is their attitude. Not directly for sure, and if you ask them they would probably say that the Bible is important. But however important they may think it is, their knowledge of it is limited to what they have picked up from the pastor’s sermons.
Some pastors inadvertently encourage these Bible-optional Christians by constantly changing the versions they cite passages from. In fact I have seen some pastors who quote from several different versions each sermon. Whatever the benefit, the effect is that it makes it virtually impossible to follow the pastors sermon in your own Bible. The trend towards topical sermons, in which the Bible becomes little more than a smorgasbord of proof texts does not help either. And after all the verses will be on the power point slides on in the bulletin.
The bottom line is that fewer and fewer people see any need to bring a Bible to church. Bible study itself is likewise down played either intentionally or unintentionally. At a church I attended a while back the only time the pastor ever mentioned any Bible class was to mention his own. Except for children and teens for many churches bible study is just not all that important.
As Josh McDowell pointed out in his book The Last Christian Generation, even with teens active in Youth Groups, Church is often seen more as a place for fun activities than learning about God. Thus many of our children are like the seeds sown on stony ground “They sprouted at once because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, they were scorched. Since they did not have any roots, they dried up. ” (Mt 13:5-6) As children and teens they spout quickly in church, but when they leave home and enter the hot sun of the world they dry up quickly. To see this one only has to consider the stat cited by Thom Rainer of Lifeway that “70% of 18 to 22 year olds drop out of the church. Many of them are crying for deeper biblical teaching and preaching.”
One of the most frustrating aspects about this is that it is so unnecessary. It is not that we need massive changes to address the problem. Rather what is needed a series of small changes aimed at emphasizing the importance of the word of God, the need to read it, and the need to study it.
This changes can be as simple as asking people who brought their bibles to open them to that passage for the sermon. It does not mean that you have to make people who did not bring a Bible feed out of place our unwelcome, but there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to bring a Bible to Church.
Churches should also make it clear that that the study of God’s word is an important priority, whether this is done on Sunday morning in traditional Sunday school, at other times at the church, in small groups at people’s homes, or preferably all three, people should find it easy to find and join a class. For far too many adult Bible study is an afterthought. Something done mainly out of tradition than any real commitment. Simply clearly listing the classes the subjects or age groups, and where they meet on a board should be a minimum. But including them in the bulletin at regular intervals is a nice reminder and particularly helpful for those new to the church, and for classes that do not meet on Sunday morning.
These are hardly revolutionary or difficult changes. There are of course many other things that could be done. But sadly much of the church is not even doing this. And it shows.