Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What I Have Learned About Bible Study.

I have been reading lately other blogs debating the need to haveprofessional clergy who are trained at seminary. The argument being that seminary teaches people to hold positions of authority over others. I loved my seminary education. I found it to be extremely helpful in making me an effective (at least most of the time) leader in the church. My seminary education did not make me feel like the expert instead it helped me to ask questions and seek answers. This is what I would say about our seminary education it is limited. Seminary cannot teach people how to interact. It cannot teach social skills or social intelligence. These things are inherit in who we are. This is not about being extroverted or introverted it is about being able to connect with people. It is about taking what you learn in seminary and then making it connect with people and their lives. It is about being open to the idea that we are all learning all the time. The best pastors are able to do this, and the worst pastors simply take what they learned in seminary and try and impart it on “their flock”.
I have learned this lesson many times in ministry. I have learned that what people want is not information so much as connection. In our Bible studies at Concordia we have a very open style. Here are some things that we have learned worked in our Bible studies.

Off topic subjects are the topic: We start with the text but we often end up way off in some other place. When someone realizes this they say, “But we are off topic”. My response is always to say this is what is on our hearts so this is the topic. As the pastor I don’t try and control where the conversation goes. I let people ask the questions that are on their minds and see where the spirit leads us.

Learning comes from confusion: The enemy of learning and growing in faith is certainty. I see my job as the pastor is to ask tough questions and challenge people’s preconceived notions of God. This includes my own. Often in Bible study someone will say something about the text that I had never thought of and I will say, “I never thought of it that way”. It opens my eyes and mind to all sorts of new possibility. As the pastor I don’t have something I want to teach people. My job is to be a guide. I study the text myself before our Bible study and then I bring up points, provide historical information, and offer a wide range of interpretive possibilities. My goal is for us to struggle with our faith and life together not to impart wisdom.

Read the Bible carefully: We take one book at a time and study it one piece at a time. Often this means we will spend a long time on one book of the Bible. Currently we are studying Isaiah we have been studying it for a whole year, and we will probably not finish for another year. This allows us to read carefully and to really understand what Isaiah is trying to tell us about God and God’s people. It also means we can’t skip pieces of the text we don’t like. We have to deal with them and struggle with what it means. I think sometimes we take the wrong path when we take a modern day issue and then try and decide what the Bible has to say. Working on one book at a time and going slowly allows us to deal with all the different ways that God is talking to us.

Everyone’s faith journey is different: Respect for others is big in Bible study. You have to allow people to be where they are at in their relationship with God. One of the examples I would use is the question of who wrote the Bible. I always tell people in Bible study that if it helps your faith to believe that the Bible is literal then who I am to mess with your faith. My job is to guide people by telling them some of the latest Biblical scholarship and then let them process that information for themselves. My job is not to convince them that what scholar X thinks is the right way. This is hard for pastors who have been to seminary and think they know everything. My job is not to disprove all of the things you learned in Sunday school, but to help you grow in your faith.

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