Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Risky Business

The Bible teaching ministry (usually called Sunday School) in the local church is a fascinating enterprise. In most Baptist churches, it is not as structured as it was 20 years ago. There is more flexibility in grouping (often interest or lifestyle based rather than grouping by ages), more diversity in curriculum choices, and more use of media and outside resource people. There is, however, one persistent feature of the Sunday School in the local church that has changed little--the dependence on lay leadership to carry it out.

I have been exposed to a variety of Sunday School teachers over the years, and I must say that the best teachers I have known were (and are) lay people with no theological training and limited formal education. My own father is one example. Because my grandfather was killed when my father was in his early teens, my Dad had to work to support his mother and younger brother. He was not able to complete high school with his class, but later received his diploma through GED. He never went to college and would have been called a "blue collar" worker. Despite (or perhaps because of this) he was a great reader, hungry to learn, and a great student of the Bible. One of my earliest memories is of my Dad telling me stories of Old Testament figures, stories that brought these people to life. At a certain point in their spiritual journeys, my parents made a recommitment of their lives to God and began working with married young adults in SS--my Dad as a teacher and my mother as the outreach/ministry person. Dad was a good teacher. He studied his lesson, he asked good questions of the text, and he applied it to the lives of his class members. Dad was never a deacon, a church program leader, or an usher, but he made an impact on the lives of many people through his teaching.

There are a lot of people like him in our churches. They are the ones who make our Christian education program work. Without them, it would not happen.

Now I know that not everyone is a good teacher, and we sometimes wind up with people presenting unusual interpretations, voicing pet peeves, and promoting personal opinions in their classes. This is one of the risks we take in giving lay persons this role in the church.

But isn't this what "the priesthood of all believers" is about? The individual approaches the scriptures for himself or herself and asks God to provide understanding and insight. Of course, the other side of this is that other believers have an equal opportunity to accept or reject that teaching. Bible study is best done in community with the give and take that happens when each person brings his or her life experiences and questions to the table. It is a communal activity.

It's risky business, but it's still a good idea!

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