Our church met for Zoom Bible study last night. I vary what we study and even how. Sometimes we’ll make use of a curriculum. Other times I’ll go verse by verse.
Most times, though, we take time to study the sermon text from the previous Sunday worship.
I’m not a Bible verse-by-verse preacher. So, the set-apart time is helpful because I get to share what I learned and hear from others as well.
At this week’s study, we looked at Mark 8:27-38.
This is when Jesus asks the disciples two questions: 1) Who do people say that I am? and 2) Who do you say that I am?
That’s a preacher’s dream text. It almost preaches itself.
I asked our group to reflect on a question of my own. Some people thought of Jesus as John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. But they did not think of him as Messiah, apparently. Peter professed that Jesus was the Messiah, but rebuked Jesus because of the kind of messiah he would be.
So, which was worse: thinking Jesus was as powerful as other biblical figures, but not Messiah or calling him Messiah, but not believing he was the “right” kind?
I try my best to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. It’s what I hope people give me.
That said, throughout my pastoral ministry, getting Christians to Bible study has been a chore. A constant chore. My first impulse was to fill in the blanks for those Christian excuse-makers. But I don’t get as frustrated anymore and I don’t point a whole lot of fingers.
As a result, I’ve tried to adapt. I’ve done home studies, DVD-led studies, interactive studies and so on. Participation still remains low.
Now, I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m complaining. After a couple of years of writing almost every day, I’m sure we’ve talked about this before in a devotional or two. I’m not complaining as much as I am lamenting. You may be familiar with the Augustine quote: Our hearts are restless, until they find rest in you.
To me, that’s what makes our Bible indifference so stunning.
But remember that we’re giving people the benefit of the doubt. Most Christians want to understand the grace of God more. They want to strengthen their faith. They want to learn from the church what it means to follow Jesus with more conviction.
They just let other things get in the way of that happening. It’s easy enough to do.
I even wonder if Bible study might be a hindrance. How many people does the word study intimidate? Now, I’m not suggesting we dumb anything down or we expect people not to engage with scripture. Let’s respect each other’s intellect. But studying might bring up images of pop quizzes, tests and all-nighters. There are plenty of churches that have replaced the name Sunday School for that same reason. How many adults think Sunday School is for children because of what we call it?
This is a lesson I am continuing to learn.
The point is not to get people to Sunday school or Bible study. The point is to show people the joy of learning God’s word. Of course, you can do that by going to your church’s Bible studies. If you do attend some kind of study, the goal is not to leave with more Bible knowledge. What you really want to get out of reading and studying scripture is a stronger communion with God and the church.
In the Jewish tradition, studying scripture is a form of worship.
The overall shift we experienced through the Reformation was good, of course. One of the fruits of it were that the people who believed you and I should have the chance to read scripture ourselves made that happen. But one of the consequences we may not have intended was an overemphasis on teaching. As a result, preachers became professors. The Bible became another subject to master.
The Bible is never the subject. We are.
As we engage with the study of scripture, we become more aware of our need for God. We also understand our calling and purpose more. Our restless hearts find refuge as we learn to hear God’s voice through the Bible.