by Aubrey Johnson
It has famously been said, “As the Bible School goes, so goes the congregation. ” Some look at these words as a foreshadowing of events to come. Wiser men see them as an opportunity to be leveraged for God’s glory. In other words, do not use the status quo to predict the future. Use your zeal to produce the future. Be a creator, not a prognosticator. The fact is that the Bible School in your congregation is what you choose to make of it. So is it a dying relic or a dynamic relationship? Through inquiry, variety, and camaraderie, your Bible school can build closer ties to the church as a whole.
Create Community with Inquiry
Following Jesus’ example, teachers should use questions to engage students and draw them into the lesson. The outcome is more knowledge, more discernment, and more like-mindedness. When God’s people speak the same thing, have the same mind, and share the same judgment, the congregation becomes closer-knit and less susceptible to division (1 Corinthians 1.10).
Factual questions focus attention on the text but they do not spark critical thinking. The aim is to turn passive students into enthusiastic learners. With that goal in mind, teachers should ask probing questions to create more growth and greater unity. Meaningful questions foster community by igniting a common passion for truth. Daydreaming students are transformed when teachers help them sense the relevance of ideas under discussion.
Effective teachers ask students to explain, defend, and apply God’s word. For example, can they explain why we baptize for the forgiveness of sins? Can they defend the necessity of baptism against common objections? Can they anticipate opportunities for using this information to bless friends and family? Students should practice speaking truth in love to become more confident and kind in sharing their beliefs. What a difference a little change can make.
Create Community with Variety
Building community in a Bible class is important, but creating closeness in the congregation is far better. Fostering respect between different age groups is a challenging task. Intergenerational congregations seldom occur by chance. It takes a strategic plan to encourage goodwill between young and old. How can this be done?
First, curriculum should address the subject of mutual respect. The Bible Class is a superb environment for empathy training (Matthew 7.12). Seeing another’s point of view is a skill that must be learned (Philippians 2.3-4). Those who are spiritually mature value those who are different. Because an older saint is not tech-savvy or conversant in pop culture does not mean he is ignorant, and because a young person does not know who Neil Armstrong is does not mean she is immature. Christians must be trained to value those of different ages, genders, races, and gifts (1Corinthians 12.12-31).
Second, teaching on considerateness must be combined with exposure to those outside your peer group. Without occasions like this, people can become insular and dismissive. Isolation leads to polarization. What is the answer? Mix it to fix it.
Third, it is also wise to rotate teachers so that class identity does not supersede congregational identity. Continuity is helpful to build the class, but variety is necessary to strengthen the church. Older members need to know the youth minister and youth and young adults need ties to elders and preachers.
Create Community with Camaraderie
Fellowship is the third essential for creating community in the local church. Congregational meals, care teams, and social activities bring people together outside the worship assembly. More closeness between Bible class members also builds up the church. Through class parties, retreats, and service projects, you bond in ways that are not possible just by sitting in the same room. Monthly class activities cement relationships between living stones that make up God’s spiritual house (1 Peter 2.5).
As the title of this article states, community is something you create. You do not need perfect vision, planning, and execution to turn this dream into reality, but nothing changes until something changes. Assemble a cross-section of people in your congregation to address the need for more community and you will be well on your way to building the family feeling so important to congregational health and growth.
Aubrey Johnson preaches for the Peachtree City Church of Christ near Atlanta, GA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.