“Why can’t we just be taught a book of the Bible?” I heard this again today from a Christian woman hungry for her church to teach her the truth of God’s word. It’s a cry being raised by women from all over, scrounging through the dumpster of “Bible” teaching their church currently offers, searching for something – anything – that will nourish their hearts, minds, and souls with biblical truth so that they might actually be able to grow in Christ.
What’s going on here, church? Pastors? Women’s ministries? Why are godly women starving for the word of God at their own churches? This is a problem. And it’s not a small one. And it’s not going away. It’s getting worse.
My family is a one income family. My husband works hard to provide for us, and we’ve made a lot of (completely worthwhile) sacrifices so I can stay home and raise and home school our children. One of those sacrifices is that we rarely get to eat out, even at a fast food restaurant. That means I cook. A lot. Fortunately, I happen to enjoy cooking, but it does take several hours of work a week. And sometimes, at the end of a long day, I’m tired and not particularly in the mood to spend a couple of hours on my feet chopping and mixing and sautéeing and stirring and roasting. I’d much rather chuck it and have my husband pick up McDonald’s on his way home. In fact, if we could afford it, and I couldn’t cook, and I thought it was healthy, my family would probably eat fast food for supper three or four times a week. I like fast food. My kids LOVE fast food. And why do all that work if you don’t have to and there’s an easier option, right?
But that’s no way to feed a family. It makes people obese and can lead to all kinds of other physical problems like heart disease, hypertension, and digestive ailments because the majority of fast food is high in the bad stuff (cholesterol, sodium, fat) and low in the good stuff (fiber, vitamins, minerals). Not to mention that having other people do the work God has assigned me is the lazy way out.
Yet while it’s easy to see how detrimental and unhealthy it is to feed a family a regular fare of fast food in the physical realm, this is exactly what most churches are doing in the spiritual realm when it comes to their Bible study menu.
“My pastor asked me to teach a women’s Bible study class. What’s a good book to use?”
“Why don’t you just teach them a book of the Bible?”
“Oh, I don’t feel equipped to do that.”
“Our Sunday School class is looking for a new curriculum. Any suggestions?”
“How about just working through a book of the Bible?”
“Our teacher works a lot of hours and doesn’t really have the time to study and prepare like that.”
I hear this kind of thing over and over and over again. Churches aren’t even attempting to train people to properly teach the Bible, and Bible study “teachers,” (often through no fault of their own) either don’t know they need to be trained, or don’t have training available to them, or they’re unwilling or unable to put in the time and effort to be trained and to prepare lessons.
We have classes that need teachers, so we take whoever is available and willing, and we stick them in front of a group of people, hand them a take out bag of McBible Studies written by the celebrity Christian du jour and say, “Here. Feed the church family.”
That’s a problem in and of itself, first and foremost, because relying solely on pre-fab studies due to the fact that no one is trained to instruct the people of your church in the word of God isn’t biblical. The Bible says that pastors, elders, and teachers in the local church body should be “able to teach.” Not facilitate. Not read aloud what someone else wrote. Not “able to work a DVD player.” Teach.
But recruiting “teachers” who are unskilled in handling God’s word to lead a pre-packaged study often morphs into another dangerous problem, especially in the area of women’s Bible study: importing false doctrine into your church. Here’s a list of LifeWay’s top selling books for 2015. Every single non-fiction book on this list that’s likely to be used for a women’s group or individual Bible study (seven of the twelve by my count- which is a staggering proportion considering LifeWay also sells men’s studies, theology books, training manuals, “Christian living” books, and a wide variety of other non-fiction topics, but I digress) is written by a false teacher. Every. single. one. In my research of women’s Bible study authors and teachers, I estimate that approximately ninety-five per cent of the the female authors and teachers on the shelves at your local Christian retailer are false teachers. That goes way beyond a biblical “diet” laden with cholesterol and fat. Now, we’re talking about spiritual food tainted with E.coli. If you’ve got a woman in your church who’s facilitating a class using materials by one of these false teachers because she’s not competent enough in God’s word to teach the Bible, how in the world is she going to be able to catch and correct the false doctrine these Christian celebrities are teaching her class?
The answer is: she’s not. In fact, her awareness of her own incompetence in Scripture and her assumption that the Christian celebrity knows what she’s talking about (Because, after all, she’s a celebrity and LifeWay sells her materials, so she must know what she’s talking about, right?) will have the exact opposite effect. She will downplay and keep quiet about any nagging doubts – assuming she knows her Bible well enough to even have those doubts – in her own mind that the Christian celebrity is teaching things contrary to sound doctrine, and she will affirm the false doctrine that’s being taught. Then, this harmful bacteria of false doctrine will spread from woman to woman and class to class, and discerning women, knowing that the kitchen is contaminated, will grow emaciated from a lack of clean cuisine to feed on. We end up with a church full of “Bible” study and Sunday School classes that teach fluff and false doctrine instead of the unadulterated word of God. To borrow from Coleridge: “Food, food, every where, nor any bite to eat.” We’ve got a famine of God’s word, right in His very own house.
Church, pastors, women’s ministries- we’ve got to put a stop to this. People teaching Sunday School, Bible study classes, and, particularly, women’s Bible study classes must be trained in basic hermeneutics, the competent handling of God’s word in context, and the ability to teach sound doctrine as well as to refute the false. Do we not believe Scripture, or somehow think our church is exempt from it, when it says:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1
Where is our fear of God and our obedience to His word? We would never think of letting an untrained, incompetent teacher teach our children math or science in school when all that’s at stake is their academic education. Why are we satisfied to let untrained people teach the Bible at church when people’s eternities are at stake?
It doesn’t take years of seminary training. I never went to culinary school, but I’m still able to cook and feed my family a healthy diet because of what I’ve learned from others. Pastors can train teachers. Skilled Bible teachers can train others to teach. There are even great materials (like this one that was used in a training session I participated in last year) that can help as you teach people how to teach the Bible.
A doctrinally sound book study can be a fun, interesting, or useful supplement to the regular, straight teaching of Scripture in a Bible study class, but even these shouldn’t be used in place of training teachers. The best theologian out there isn’t a living and active member of that class. He doesn’t know the strengths and weaknesses of the class’s theology. He can’t address their current struggles and questions. He doesn’t love them, care about them, pray for them, and labor in the Word for them.
Only real life, trained, biblically competent teachers can do those things. They are vital and they are irreplaceable.
So let’s quit shoving Happy Meals into the hands of women who are starving for the pure milk and meat of God’s word. Let’s offer some cooking classes and set the table so the members of our churches can sit down to a healthy, home cooked diet of nourishing food that will help them grow to spiritual maturity in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And, now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go start supper.