I ASKED FOR IT.
Last Sunday I passed out a sheet of paper titled “Critique and ideas for the curriculum team.” I lead the team of Bible study teachers for the adult Sunday school class I attend each Sunday morning. We meet once a year to set the curriculum track, identifying what topics we’ll study each week. We’re getting ready to meet again, so I wanted to find out what the class thought about our sessions during the past year.
I asked five questions.
- What do you like most about our sessions together?
- What bothers you the most about our sessions together?
- What topics would you like us to talk about (or not talk about) in the months ahead?
- What advice would you like to give to any one of the session leaders – or all of them in general?
- What’s your favorite part of the lesson time? Presentation, discussion? That sort of thing.
I promised the class I would report back. It occurred to me that the report might be helpful to people in other Bible study groups.
So here are some of the responses that I found most helpful. Our curriculum team will discuss these when we meet in a few weeks to set the next curriculum track of lessons.
1. What do you like most about our sessions together?
- I like personal experiences shared and thoughtful application of Scripture to our lives.
- The feeling of community.
- The chance to share joys and concerns.
- Friendship, support, praying for each other, Bible study.
- Contributions from different people. Learning different perspectives, along with the love and support in the class.
- Our discussions, where everyone can share their ideas and not be mocked or criticized. The feeling that we are a loving family.
2. What bothers you the most about our sessions together?
- Sometimes we get too hung up on theological issues or fine points that theologians and philosophers argue about, but in the end really don’t matter that much to me.
- A little heavy on the theology and the intellectual debating.
- I get uncomfortable with controversy.
- All the teaching duties are put on a few people. They might want a break.
- Sometimes the only thing I get out of our discussions is what the class members feel about the Scripture.
3. What topics would you like to see us talk about or not talk about?
Talk about: Minor prophets, some of the shorter letters in the New Testament, God’s grace, God’s provision, the patriarchs, Exodus, Lenten study, miracles leading into passion week, the letters of Peter, what Augustine thought and wrote, what first-century Jews thought about Jesus, God’s future plan for the Jews, what Jesus said about the devil, hell and the wrath of God, predestination, church rules (do they mean we are still living under the law), church laws that don’t make sense.
Don’t talk about: hot-topic political issues; they come up naturally without planning on it. (Several people asked that we please not talk about politics.)
4. What advice would you give to the session leaders?
- It’s okay for you to present a point of view.
- Take a few minutes at the end of the class to summarize what the group has discovered.
- Don’t talk so much. Instead, ask about background information, and then fill in the info that no one mentions.
- Try to bring things to a conclusion.
5. What’s your favorite part of the lesson time?
- I enjoy the discussion and interaction more than the presentation.
- I most like discussions about how Scripture informs our life today.
Steve’s takeaway from the critique
It’s not surprising to me that the critique was upbeat and helpful. These are caring folks.
Here’s what I think about what they had to say.
They do not like lecture. No surprise. Nobody likes lecture. But it’s really tempting to want to preach your homework to the people. As a leader we spend hours preparing for this time. And we want to make sure we get the information into their heads. I think every one of us who leads the class sessions has a tendency to talk a little too much from time to time. So it’s good to get a reminder like this.
They don’t like controversy, which includes talking about politics. I don’t know what to say about that except it’s kind of too bad.
Christianity lives on the edge of controversy. If we are not dealing with controversial topics we’re probably spending too much time doing nothing in particular.
Christians are among a large block of voters who are going to be contributing to a fairly critical decision about who will become our next president at a time when scientists are telling us it may already be too late to reverse the damage we have done to our planet. There are people running for political office who say they know better than the scientists, and who say they don’t think we have a problem.
Well, Christians should have a problem with that.
If the Genesis writer got the story of creation right, taking care of the planet Is part of the reason we are here:
“Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself” (Genesis 1:27).
Our class has talked about politics almost every year. We have built it right into the curriculum track. We have done that because though Christians are extremely diverse in the way they vote, they should not be quite so diverse in the principles that drive their votes. So I think it’s important that we gently confront each other about why we think the way we do.
In my class we have people who are trumpeting Trump. And we have people who are feeling the Bern. We are that diverse.
When we start talking about why we support one political platform over another, you can feel the tension. But it is honest tension that needs to be felt.
As we have talked about how Christian principles either affect the way we vote or do not seem to affect the way we vote at all, I see frustration on two fronts.
People who seem to feel as though they have solid biblical grounds to vote the way they do become frustrated at other Christians who don’t seem to have any Christian ground on which to stand and don’t seem to care.
Christians who cannot defend their position are frustrated because they have no intention of changing their mind and they hate being put on the spot by being asked to defend what they cannot defend.
Some Christians who say they don’t want to talk about political problems that our country faces argue that the discussion changes no one’s mind.
If words can’t influence someone, what’s the point of a word?
I’m not sure politics will get on the curriculum track this year. I am just one vote on the committee. But I can tell you I will be bringing ideas that relate to political issues.
I think Christians should be talking about what we need to do in this world to treat the planet responsibly, to show compassion to war refugees, to provide healthcare to people who can’t afford it, and to provide enough education for our young people to help them succeed in life – which is education beyond high school in today’s world.
In past centuries Christians have led the way in all of these areas. It seems to me that if we don’t continue to do that in the future, we are less than God intended us to be.