Does Bible Class and Preaching Format Affect the Message?

I am wondering if I am alone on this one and would love some feedback. I am discovering more and more what I think is a product of our teaching and preaching formats. The average Christian is hearing from the Bible on Sunday anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. The Bible content they are getting is typically broken into small chunks (one chapter at a time or one story at a time or one topic) and I have come to believe that this is having an affect on people’s understanding of the message itself. Someone comes to Bible class and they hear about David and Goliath or Jesus calming the storm. They only get what is in the confines of the story itself and rarely much of the broader context of the unfolding narrative that the story itself is a pivotal part of. Biblegateway sure doesn’t help us by giving us a verse “in context” meaning one verse on either side of the verse we are looking up.

The Bible is a complex work of broader and broader contexts which all add layers of meaning to any given text. There is the cultural context, the immediate context, the context of genre, the context of how this fits the broader context of the gospel and salvation history, etc. It is really difficult to get a teacher to take these things into consideration and pass these things on to students in an understandable way because Bible class teachers have generally not had this modeled for them, don’t always have the tools to do it, and are under tremendous time constraints to get in the story or topic at hand, include discussion and prayers, and facilitate the class as a whole.

The Bible is trying to get us from Point A to Point B. Biblical narratives are not haphazardly thrown together but are woven very specifically to take us on a journey of faith and understanding. Because of that there is often a tremendous interconnection of stories (in the Gospel) and thoughts (in the epistles) that lose something when they are not seen in light of what led up to it and what followed.

Do you think this is a reasonable concern? If so, how do we deal with it? Teacher training would certainly help. More time for Bible study would be a plus. Is this something worthy of considering how we might alter some of our structures to allow a better presentation of God’s Word? Is it reasonable to deal with the stories and teachings of the Bible in context or do you think people get just enough out of them without being concerned how they fit in the bigger picture?

One last thought. The times I have incorporated the broader context of a teaching of Jesus or a Biblical narrative into a Bible class or a sermon I cannot tell you how many long time Christians have come up to me and said, “I have studied that story dozens of times and never thought of it that way.” I think there is a desire for this but I think the traditional structures we have been handed make it difficult to accomplish on a regular basis. I don’t really know what the solution is or if there even is a better way but I wanted to toss this out there and see what kinds of thoughts/feedback it generated.

0 Responses to Does Bible Class and Preaching Format Affect the Message?

  1. atomcat says:

    Christianity is evil according to Al Gore and the Green movement.
    The green movement is based on Gaia the pagan earth goddess.
    That is why McGuinty tried to remove the Lord’s prayer from the Ont. legislature. It is also the reason for the attempt to remove God from the national anthem.

    One world govt. requires a one world religion.

    The churches have been led to believe the green movement is godly, it’s exactly the opposite.

    Canadians need to wake up and wake up fast.

    Please read The Green Agenda found on the page bar of my blog.
    It is the best I have found on the subject.
    Read the words of the men that would rule the world and remove the Christian faith.
    Please-read The Green Agenda.
    http://www.windfarms.wordpress.com

    Enjoy your day-very interesting times ahead

    If you are involved in the church I would like to be in touch.

    Ron

  2. J D says:

    I like this post, Matt!

  3. In my limited teaching experience (Sunday morning class), I have found the 30 minute timeframe frustrating. I either leave the text isolated and have everyone with me or I weave this complicated web that magically comes together right as the bell rings. I am sure that my lack of any formal training contributes to that. I think I also try to cram a series into 1 lesson.

  4. Frank says:

    Ah, the challenge of teaching and preaching. This is something I think a lot about too. As you’ve pointed out, Matt, part of what we’re up against are the models we’ve inherited, the time constraints of the way things are traditionally done, expectations people bring to classes and worship,etc. Still thinking . . . .

  5. Jeanne M. says:

    I would be interested to learn how your concept could be done – especially in chidlren’s classes. Their minds can grasp a lot, but to comprehend and retain the information takes a more mature “brain.” I have never minded “being held” in class because a concept has not been completed, but do not believe I am in the majority on the whole time frame situation. I remember a woman telling my husband that he “ran over” and she was going to be late getting her dinner on the table. I hope this is not the norm, but do wonder how many people really are listening and wanting to learn, rather than just “being there and getting a check mark.”

    Hope to meet you this week in FL.

  6. K. Rex Butts says:

    During my ministry I have had the pleasure of talking with an old minister who helped plant several congregations in the north as well as the widow of a minister who also planted several congregations in the north. One of the things both spent time teaching the new young congregations is how to study the Bible (which inculed the Command, Example, Inference hermeneutic) which was basically a flat approach to scripture that treated the NT as constitution.

    Though I believe their are big problems with the biblical study method they taught, the point is that they took the time to teach a method that has stuck around for 3-4 generatons now. I am thankful for their efforts. WIth that being said, we who believe that their is a better way to read and study the Bible ought to consider what might happen if we began to teach new Christians how to study the Bible. Thus, I am am suggesting that if the problem you raise (which I believe is a huge problem) is to be corrected then someone (we) will need to teach a new method.

  7. Tim Archer says:

    I remember being shocked as a young Christian when I discovered the concept of context. I’d always heard individual verses quoted (aside from the Bible stories I’d learned) and assumed the whole thing was like the book of Proverbs.

    I’m a fan of working through a book, be it in Bible class or in sermons. All along the way, people need to be reminded of how this particular passage fits into the larger context of the book being studied.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim

    P.S.–On Jordan’s comment… the clock is the bane of the American church. People should have to check their watches at the door. “It’s over when it’s over.”

  8. Among other things, part of the problem is that we learn about 4 different things in a week (Sunday AM class, Sunday AM sermon, Sunday PM sermon, and Wednesday PM class), that’s not taking into account any other formal bible studies that are going on (i.e. a Tuesday AM Ladies study). We have “information overload” and can’t remember any of them! I struggle with that as a teacher/preacher probably as much as any of the members do. I am typically thinking ahead, and tend to forget what was behind.

    I typically like to preach one “life application” at a time. Whether that is a part of a verse, a whole verse, or any amount of a collection of verses.

    It was a good post and something to think about…

  9. … which provides a great segue, Tim, for me to recommend Patrick Mead’s most recent post, Sweet Hour of Prayer?!

  10. Charlie Sohm says:

    In the Hebrew Bible, the daily reading portions are quite long. I think the first day is Genesis 1-5. So what you’re saying definitely has some historical agreement.

    Here’s the thing. If I read Gen 1-5 to you and then ask, “okay, any comments?” what would be an appropriate response? How many excellent, distinct, and independent sermons or classes have you heard from that one section throughout your church-going career? Who knows? Fifty? A hundred. Each one being anywhere from 35 to 50 minutes long.

    So we have been conditioned to find a complete and honest (but very inappropriate) response to my request for comments to be on the order of 50 hours long, on average. By the time I get through telling you what I think about Genesis 1-5, I’m already two days behind on my reading, even if I don’t take potty breaks.

    So if you cover more ground to get a better grasp on the scope, you can’t possibly go as deep as you once did. It just can’t be done.

    And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

  11. rich constant says:

    in 1800’s how and what did people learn,and what was the primary book in the house hold.

    a clue to a more literate assembly is to start with fellowship.
    or are we to busy to hang out with each other and interact. ,i am afraid so.not just 1 hour but a gathering, of friends,all day as 2 or three can.then that might grow to 6 or 7.
    the funny sad thing is the building is dark place all week, while most of us set at home and watch reruns of friends on the interactive media center.

    isin”t time we woke up.

    but then we are fellowshiping with friends,arn’t we?

    blessings rich in ca.

  12. mattdabbs says:

    Jarrod,

    Sorry your comment got booted out as spam. I catch that eventually and get them restored. Glad you stopped by. The point you make certainly adds to the mix and was a component I had not thought about. Maybe we need to theme things a little more coherently.

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