One of the first things that new believers want to do is to read the Bible, and then to study it. Reading it is something that can be done by everyone in private. Many people devise their own reading plan while others, less serious perhaps, read at random. Still others follow professionally produced Bible Notes that can, if you let them, do your thinking for you. Bible reading is undertaken by all ages, regularly on a daily basis or occasionally as time permits, and yields great blessing to those who persist.
Bible study, on the other hand, seems to be more appropriate for those who would be students of the scriptures. Every believer qualifies for such study, and as in the secular world, it is something that is appropriate for all. We should all be Bible students! However, Bible study demands time, commitment and resources, which some Christians, seemingly, are either unable to give or not inclined to get. For those who are determined there are great rewards. These include an appreciation of the text, the authors, and the original readers and especially of the thoughts, plans and purposes of God for individuals, local churches and indeed for the whole world.
There are many different approaches to Bible study and individuals need to find what is right for them. Resources of all kinds are easily available, concordances, commentaries, lexicons, dictionaries, word studies, computer programmes, and perhaps most importantly the assembly meetings arranged for Bible study. One of the problems of studying alone is that in a busy life one needs determination to make it happen. Thus, study in a group situation may be more attractive and provide the motivation. Although this in itself is not sufficient, it adds considerably to one’s appreciation to be able to share the thoughts of others. The objective of this article is to explore whether assembly Bible study arrangements are attractive to believers, effective in promoting their Bible knowledge and encouraging life-changing decisions.
In the early days of the church, according to Acts chapter 2, there was emphasis on ‘the apostles’ doctrine’. This appeared to happen in a number of ways: the oral ministries of teaching, exhorting and prophesying, all being based on Old Testament scriptures. There were also conferences on special occasions to debate certain truths that needed clarification.
Bible study was considered to be of such compelling importance that Paul and Barnabas spent a whole year teaching in Antioch, Acts 11 (and even longer in some other places, like Ephesus) where the word was taught publicly and ‘from house to house’. Today, most assemblies provide Bible teaching of some sort, by providing weekly ministry meetings; annual conferences, Bible readings where the text of scripture is dealt with in detail; brief teaching following the Breaking of Bread meeting; Bible classes; house groups; or one to one nurture instruction for new converts.
These may, or may not, be ‘attractive and effective’ for the participants. So, what can be done to ensure that the time spent and the effort exerted are repaid in a proper way? Let’s examine some of the various assembly meetings to discover their attraction and effectiveness.
1 The Annual Conference
For many assemblies this is the highlight of the year. Others no longer have such an annual meeting and are possibly the poorer for that.
Arrangements vary throughout the UK and abroad as to how these conferences are arranged and structured. They can last from one day to one week; there may be one or many speakers and the platform may be ‘open’, that is where teaching is given by any brother present who is so gifted, or ‘closed’, that is where speakers are invited and known beforehand. Subject matter for the teaching may be pre-arranged or left to the speaker on the day. In cases where there is only one speaker there is the potential difficulty of his having an ‘off’ day, or the ministry appreciated by some but not others in the assembly. Two speakers do provide variety. In some conferences there may be six or more speakers in one day and here the multiplicity and diversity of what is said could cause the desired outcome to be minimized. If the conference is ‘closed’ the elders often need to make arrangements well in advance so as to get the servants whose teaching they desire. If the assembly chooses the subject for the conference this can help to focus on local needs. Some conferences are arranged as a united effort by a number of assemblies in a city or in a region and many of these through the years have had a powerful impact on the Bible knowledge and practical lives of the saints in the area.
A suggestion therefore to achieve effectiveness and attractiveness is to: have two, or at the most three, gifted speakers; to suggest topics of interest without demanding them; and to provide opportunities to ‘confer’ in addition to simply listening. This is what a ‘conference’ would seem to be designed to provide. A question and answer session or a conversational Bible reading session could achieve this.
Importantly, too, those who attend must come in a spirit of prayer with a ready ear to hear what the Lord would say to them. It is a matter of wanting to look in the mirror of the word and to be prepared to make the necessary adjustments. Speakers and hearers alike need to prepare for these teaching meetings. Prayer, both before and afterwards, should saturate the whole.
2 Ministry Meetings
These usually take place within an assembly’s activities and during the week. Specials may be programmed for Saturday evenings, or Sunday afternoons, depending on local circumstances. It is important that only those who are gifted in Bible teaching are invited to speak. The possession of a gift to preach the gospel is not sufficient for this task. It is a separate gift though sometimes an individual may have both, I judge this to be the exception rather than the rule. However, in practice we often ignore that and expect all speakers to be able to do both, reaping poor service as a result.
Again, subjects may be pre-arranged so as to provide consecutive teaching through Bible subjects or books, or be left open to the exercise of the speaker. There should be sufficient time available for the speaker to be able to develop his subject but he should not over-run the time arranged for finishing. To do so manifests poor judgement and some who may have enjoyed listening are robbed of the benefit by such discourtesy. Part of the gift is to be able to fit one’s message into the time available. Probably forty to fortyfive minutes are about right to serve the listening span of most. Less time than that and the importance of the message may be belittled and it becomes a ‘little talk’.
The message needs to be delivered in a clear and concise way with the speaker being careful not to raise and lower his voice as to cause difficulties for the elderly who may then miss parts of the message. It is important to be distinct and grammatically correct (if at all possible) and to avoid disconcerting mannerisms, repeated phrases, long words and clichés. The audience needs to be challenged but never to be shouted at! Someone has said that an angry preacher is an abomination! No wonder then that God requires and provides gift for this service.
Where the subject is detailed or complex it may be helpful to use models, charts, overhead slides, PowerPoint presentations or duplicated notes. Much benefit was gained in bygone days by the use of tabernacle/temple models and charts for the Old Testament offerings and prophetic programmes. New technology can be a real help in respect of the presentation of teaching material.
3 Bible Classes
Many believers look back fondly at the years they spent in Bible Class where they were grounded in the basics of the faith. The advantage to be gained from regular, consecutive, gifted Bible teaching together with the opportunity to participate in discussion and ask questions is enormous and to be encouraged. Young believers have been built up and others have been saved in such classes. The important issue here in our ‘effective and attractive’ scenario is that the teaching is ‘regular, consecutive and gifted’.
Perhaps one of the best Bible Class programmes that I have witnessed in line with the above is that at Bethesda, Ang Mo Kio, an assembly in Singapore. Here, on a Sunday morning after the Breaking of Bread, there are twenty-seven Bible Study classes running concurrently. A gifted and experienced believer leads each class. The elders map out a programme of study over a fiveyear period. Each subject has a set of notes prepared, printed and circulated in advance and each of the classes then discusses the subject and the notes for about an hour. Each class has a certain similarity of believer in it, e.g., some are for young believers, new converts, single ladies, married ladies, elders, seniors, married couples, etc. The discussions are naturally varied but always enthralling. In this large assembly, seven hundred in fellowship, Bible Classes are a unique and powerful tool for instruction and encouragement. The subjects range through the study of a Bible book, theme or doctrine to more practical subjects like finances, family matters, and preparing for the future. Though perhaps inappropriate for small Bible Classes nevertheless the same care and preparation are essential.
4 Bible Readings
These are really Bible discussion meetings and some assemblies find them a distinct advantage. Sadly, they can be easily abused if not properly and diplomatically controlled. Discussion can become debate and debate can degenerate into argument to the discomfort of some and the disillusionment of others. Conducted in the right spirit Bible Readings can be a wonderful channel for the exposition of the scriptures and for the upbuilding of all the saints.
To be ‘effective and attractive’ the elders need to select appropriate books, planning the study so that it is neither skimped (therefore superficial) nor too extenuated (where it can drag along from week to week without much being learned). While brethren may enjoy detailed discussion on every word (and every word is important) often sisters wish they would stop repeating each other and themselves, and get something helpful out of the passage, really to ‘get on with it!’ Provided that the brethren have come prepared and yet possess an open and teachable mind, the discussion should be so that ‘all might learn and all might be comforted’. In such meetings there is no place for rudeness, aggression, getting even or hogging the discussion to the exclusion of others. These things can destroy the Bible reading and in a spiritual context are quite inexcusable.
Corporate Bible study is a route to an increasing knowledge of God through His word, and an exercise in sharing thoughts and experiences. It can be highly effective and there is absolutely no reason why it cannot be attractive at the same time. If it isn’t then let’s strive to make it so. As the Holy Spirit is thus allowed liberty to bring the truth of God to us in these various ways, the assembly will be built up and realize its full potential to the world as it moves out in witness and up in worship, to the glory of God and His Name and that of our Lord Jesus Christ. This surely is our sole objective and desire as we come together around God and His word to ‘learn of Him’.
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