For a little more than 200 years, traditional Sunday Schools have been changing the world. The concept of Bible Class is as old as doctrine. Ancient Jews of the diaspora created the Synagogue for the purpose of teaching the Scriptures to their people. Paul taught “daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). Go to biblegateway.com and do a search for “he taught” (use quotes) and you’ll find no less than nine passages on the first search results page showing Jesus regularly taught the word of God (often in class-like settings). The church is obligated to teach everyone in the world everything Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19).
The purpose of having Bible Class separate from the worship service is to meet a need. People need time together to read and study the word of God in an intimate, informal, organized manner. There is absolutely no way on earth one will ever get the kind of time in the word he needs to fully grasp God’s will by just coming to worship services and listening to a preacher for a half hour or hour a week. I’m not minimizing the importance of preaching at all—on the contrary—I’m just saying it isn’t near enough.
There are many ways to go about organizing an education program (i.e. the plan and structure of Bible classes and other efforts to teach the word). I usually over-generalize and refer to the traditional model and contemporary models. Truth is, most contemporary models aren’t really new, but were just not practiced as widely until the present time. Most of the variations are with regard to the children’s portion of the program.
The traditional model for kids is what most people expect: a teacher, lesson books or handouts, charts and maps, a blackboard or whiteboard, crayons and crafts for younger kids, memory verses—you get the picture. The version for adults is similar, minus the crafts and crayons (in most cases). Some people believe it’s a tired, ineffective model. I believe it’s invaluable. If anything’s tired about it, it’s the overworked deacon solely in charge of the whole thing in many churches (or his tired wife)! A lot of churches speak highly of their traditional Bible schools, but don’t put their money where their mouths are. You know how that works out; and the blame is usually put in the wrong places.
If you’re weary of running a traditional Bible school program, you ought to think twice before pursuing one of the “traditional models.” While it isn’t so in every case, they’re usually more difficult to organize and maintain. I’m aware of a number of non-traditional models. Some churches have large classes for children of all ages divided into centers through which the students rotate by age or grade. During a class, kids might have an audio center, a crafts area, something on computers with which to interact, and so on. Another is the model we’re using at Highland for our summer program. I wrote a little about that earlier this week.
For adults, non-traditional approaches usually mean something including donuts and coffee, or, all kidding aside, needs-based or small-group-oriented approaches either during regular Bible class hours or at other times either at the church facility or in members’ homes. There are some really valuable things these approaches have to offer, but they require diligent and capable oversight to have them work properly.
I’m unaware of a way the church can fulfill its obligation to teach the word without some form or another of Bible classes. I find merit in a variety of approaches. I hope you recognize the value of Bible class. Whether the church you’re part of does them traditionally, in some other way, or in some combination, I hope you’ll make it a high priority to participate, and remember, it is so not just for kids!