Fall is here again. Vacations are for the most part over. The children are back in school. Our church societies are starting up once again. Enthusiasm usually runs high at this time of year. New officers are at the helm. A new plan of study has been laid down. And everyone is glad to meet again with Christian friends after such a long “vacation” from serious Bible study.
But it is often difficult to maintain that high degree of enthusiasm over the months that follow. The newness wears off. Interest, which was so great at first, begins to lag. Some of the members come more out of a sense of duty or for the social hour afterward than for the actual Bible lesson. Others find it easier and easier to skip meetings altogether. The excuse is often given that there are just too many meetings to attend. Yet experience has shown that even the busiest person will find or make the time if he or she is really interested. Why is it then that our meetings are not consistently interesting enough to attract and hold the members throughout the whole year? Could it be that the subject matter is dull? Or is it the fault of the leaders? Or are the members themselves somewhat to blame? Let us look at each of these aspects to see how we can make our meetings more profitable for all.
In our churches it is safe to assume that our society meetings center around God’s Word and not around travelogues, cultural lectures, or sewing. The subject matter, therefore, is inexhaustible, always yielding fresh riches to those who study it prayerfully, diligently, and with sincerity of heart. No one can say that he knows everything about a particular book of the Bible or about a certain doctrine of Scripture and therefore has no need of attending. Yet that does not alter the fact that considerable attention should be given to the selection of the subject which would be of greatest interest to the group concerned.
Some groups—especially in home mission churches or chapels -can digest only the milk of the Word: the most elementary Bible stories or the most basic fundamentals of doctrine. For them, a quick survey of a book or books may be of great benefit. For others, who are better grounded in the Bible, such a plan of study would not hold their attention. For them, a few verses in an evening may offer opportunity for rewarding digging below the surface to find treasures hitherto unknown. Other groups may feel the need of a systematic study of doctrine. And still others, who are very familiar with doctrine, may find it more interesting to discover Scriptural solutions to the specific problems of labor, science, business, politics, and the like. No matter what approach to the Bible is taken, the members should be able to obtain interesting study material either by subscribing to one of the many religious periodicals, by purchasing study books or pamphlets, or by having the leaders draw up outlines.
The leaders, also, should be carefully chosen. Much of the success or failure of the meetings rests with them. Not everyone is equally suited to hold the interest of a group for any length of time. In some churches, it may work out quite well to have a different member take the leadership at each meeting. Yet in other churches such a procedure would prove profitable only to the person leading the lesson, who probably had to study harder for that meeting than for any previous one. But the other members may receive little stimulation. Whether the group decides to have a rotating leadership, a few who take turns, or just one leader, one thing is essential: many hours of careful preparation by the leader. Yet the fruits of such study need not be delivered uninterruptedly in the form of a lecture. A rapid exchange of ideas may make for more interesting listening than a Single voice. The leader’s preparation may be use d possibly to greater advantage—and interest—in drawing discussion from the members and in guiding that discussion along a hue course. It requires skill and preparation not to allow discussion to get sidetracked on spurs leading nowhere, but to keep it on the main track. A well-prepared leader will know what is important and what is not.
THE MEMBERS THEMSELVES
If the leaders are carefully selected and well prepared, what can the members themselves do to contribute to the success of the meeting? Should they come to sit passively and have the lesson spoon fed to them? Or should they come prepared to participate actively in the meeting? It is often remarked, for instance, how difficult it is to have a lively discussion at a ladies’ meeting. When it is time for the business meeting, and later, for refreshments, conversation flows freely. Why is it that these same members have so little to say during the Bible lesson?
Is it not that most of us hesitate to speak on subjects about which we know so little? We have our opinions about the changes in the new car models. We can talk about the new family that just moved into the community. But often, when it comes to the meaning of some Scriptural passage, we are speechless, for we know so little about it.
Of course, insights into the Bible will not come as easily and naturally as opinions about new car models or the new neighbors. But if all the members would make more of an effort to be better—informed on the lesson to be discussed, the meeting would be vastly more stimulating. Many of the attending members do not even read over the Bible passage and the study outline prior to the meeting. Of those who do, only a handful spend more than ten or fifteen minutes preparing the lesson. If the members do not study beforehand, they will not have enough knowledge to be able to contribute to the discussion. And if there is no discussion, the meeting will drag and interest will lag. Not only will tho society as a whole suffer, but tho individual members will not profit from the study as they should.
Written over the entrance of the Union Station of Washington, D.C., is the statement, “He who would take riches from India must bring riches to India.” In other words, the more knowledge and understanding we take with us to a certain place or event, the more knowledge and satisfaction we will carry away. A woman who accompanies her husband to a baseball game knowing nothing of the rules or purpose of the game will be utterly bored, while her husband, who knows all about the game and the players, is wild with excitement. The same is true of a Bible discussion. If we know little about the passage being discussed, we will not benefit from the meeting as we could have had we studied more beforehand. Those who have led a Bible lesson will testify that they received more spiritual strengthening and deepening than any who listened, no matter how attentively. The more actively we participate, the greater our interest and our benefit.
Perhaps there are those who would like very much to do further study on the lesson but who do not have additional materials. The study outline is soon exhausted and the Bible passage may be difficult to comprehend without outside help. Perhaps the church library has only one or two volumes pertaining to the Bible book being discussed. In such a case, we would urge the members to purchase study books or commentaries to be used for the year’s study and also as a permanent addition to their library. It is rare indeed to find a family that has a set of commentaries for the entire Bible. Even a one-or two-volume commentary is the exception in the home. Few indeed are the families that spend $10.00 a year on religious books of lasting worth. A television set for $200–300 is thought to be practically a necessity, but a set of commentaries for $100 would be considered out of the question. Yet how much more the people of God would benefit from filling their minds with a richer knowledge of his Word rather than with the foolishness emitted from the TV screen! If every year the husband and the wife each purchased a commentary or book of doctrine related to the subject being studied in their own societies, in the course of several years they would build up a useful and extensive library. The local pastor could be of great help in selecting the appropriate books.
We would make one final suggestion for increasing participation by the members. When feasible, the discussion questions in the study outline could be divided up among the members at the preceding meeting. If four or five members had the responsibility for each question, there would be more intelligent and rewarding discussions at the meeting. The members could give special thought and consideration to the particular question assigned to them. They could talk it over with their husbands or families. And they would feel more confident about venturing an opinion if they had had a week or two to consider it.
Our Bible studies are an exercise of the communion of the saints. But more than that, they can be of great value for the spiritual lives of the individual members and for the church as a whole. The strength of our Reformed churches lies in the preeminence given to the Word of God. Since we so seldom get around to serious Bible study in our homes, let us give more diligence to making our group studies of interest and profit to all.