I am really excited to be a part of a Bible study that is following the Biblical format and really helping people grow. We are meeting with a small group of people in a home. We ALL get the material beforehand and study on our own. Then we come together as a group to share and discuss. There is a leader in the group, but he is a humble, wonderful person who is not afraid to have others contribute. He is a theological student, a husband, a father and a Christian that helps guide the group. We have a variety of people in the group from different ages, cultures and backgrounds. There are no rules to the group and no unofficial rules either. Women are welcome to contribute, and none of the men in the group seem to feel threatened or uncomfortable by the women sharing their thoughts. Everyone contributes in friendship and love. It is wonderful! I feel uplifted just being around Christian people. I have also learned a lot.
I hate to bring up past churches, because I don’t want to appear critical of other formats. I just know that past experiences were very different for me. I think it is important that we all keep a conversation open about what is helpful to Christians and what is not.
This is what a Fundamentalist Wednesday night Bible study was usually like for me:
1. The pastor preached from the pulpit. Supposedly, Sunday was for preaching and Wednesday night was for teaching but in actuality, Wednesday nights usually were “harder preaching” than Sundays because visitors were rare on Wednesdays. The preacher could get away with more on Wednesday nights and not have the fear of scaring away visitors.
2. Very little Bible was used. It was generally one verse or passage read at the beginning of the service and many times, was not referred to again during the message. I will say here though that the assistant pastors at my previous church were better about having more Bible in their messages than the pastor. I really enjoyed some of the assistants messages.
3. No one else was welcome to speak during the service outside of the pastor, occasional staff like assistant pastors, and occasional special speakers.
4. There was rarely ever any “heads up” regarding what would be addressed. There was no way to prepare for a message. Likewise, there was rarely ever any suggestions about a follow up to the message such as verses to research, a book to read, or additional information. There was rarely ever any historical or cultural context nor was there very many other materials used such as quotes or thoughts from Christians throughout history.
5. The pastor would usually ask if there was any questions at the end of the service, but an unofficial rule was that this really wasn’t an invitation to discuss anything further. I really don’t know why the pastor even offered to answer questions, because I could tell he was uncomfortable with this portion. I think other people knew that too and most of the time, no one asked a question. Sometimes when people did ask something, he didn’t know the answer and did not know how to gracefully deal with that dilemma.
6. The topics discussed became more and more narrow over the years. My husband referred to these topics as “frequent flyers”. They were generally about abstaining from “sin” such as drinking, smoking, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality and rock music. Other common topics were submission, modest dress (95% referring to women not wearing pants), rants against public schooling and other Christian private schooling options, political comments against the president and other leaders, avoiding the “wrong” crowd included unapproved Bible colleges, and various other topics about women including making sure your kids do not come before your husband, being a homemaker, avoiding gossip, and having a good reputation. The other topics included what a Christian should be doing such as reading your Bible and praying (this was said but rarely ever expounded on regarding HOW to do this and WHY), church attendance, church involvement, tithing, and sending your kids to the Christian school. I would say 9 out of 10 sermons were the above topics.
*I want to pause here and say that it wasn’t all bad. There had to and was enough good there to keep us going for many years. It was much more balanced when we began attending. Things were snowballing in a bad direction though and that is why we left. The messages was the main reason.
7. Kids were to stay in this service but there wasn’t a whole lot of censure regarding topics with young kids in the crowd. I really was not ready to explain to preschoolers about things of a sexual nature like homosexuality or explain why the preacher was always talking about what women were and were not supposed to wear.
The above was why we slowly but surely stopped attending Wednesday night “Bible studies”. There was no point in going when you know exactly what will be taught and know that you will leave with a guilty feeling about what you have not been doing and how bad a Christian you have become. It was depressing to be there. At the end, I just hated how discouraged I was after every sermon. Is this really what you want to give your church members?