Ted Kober recently published a book entitled Built on the Rock: The Healthy Congregation. Faith Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls was one of several congregations which was researched in the formation of this book. One of Kober’s main ideas is that healthy churches are those that place a high value on Christian education, especially adult Bible study.
Perhaps you are a consistent church-going Christian, but you don’t see the need to participate in some form of Bible study.
Here are a few thoughts: Bible studies give us the chance to dig deeper in our faith, to explore portions of Scripture in detail, giving us better understanding. Bible studies can provide opportunities to study and discuss topics at the intersection of faith and modern life. Bible studies are the time and place for us to ask our questions – Scripture is full of people’s questions, as well as the Lord’s questions of us! Bible studies bring Christians together to reflect on God’s own word. There are days in which you may not learn a lot of new and exciting things in a Bible study, but someone else might learn from you or be encouraged by your presence.
Since high school, I have been blessed with many opportunities to share in Bible study – men’s studies, small group studies, large group studies, dormitory studies, youth group studies, and so on. Through these years of Bible study, the Lord has taught me to love His word. He has taught me that I have so much still to learn. And he has taught me to value the insights shared and questions posed by fellow members of Christ’s body.
I would certainly not be a pastor today were it not for these many different opportunities to join with fellow Christians in sitting at Jesus’ feet. I am so grateful for those peers and teachers and pastors who have led or participated in these Bible studies!
If you are not currently participating in a Bible study of some sort, I encourage you to examine your habits and your schedule. To form a new habit, you usually need to do something several consecutive times. Try attending one of your church’s Bible studies each week over the next month. Go and find out what you might learn and what you might be able to contribute! Just like my grandpa used to say (regarding cleaning your plate at dinner!), “Try it! You might learn to like it.”
On the other side of the coin, perhaps you want your children to participate in things like Sunday school, confirmation class, or youth group, and perhaps you are part of some Christian education opportunity or Bible study yourself, but you don’t see the need to add regular worship into your already hectic life.
Here are a few thoughts: Sometimes we speak of worship in a mostly self-centered way: “I didn’t get anything out of that.” Yes, it may feel that way at times. Was it because you were distracted by other concerns which made it difficult for you to focus? Was it because you were busy “shushing” your children in the pew? (That’d be me and my wife most Sundays!) Was it because the order of service just didn’t seem intelligible to you?
Worship services are times in which we get to take a Sabbath from the many pressures, tasks, and anxieties that we face on a daily basis. Weighed down as we are by life, we come before the Lord, expecting to receive His gifts for our weary souls.
I think it’s important to emphasize what we receive in the worship service. Lutherans have historically described worship as a “divine service.” This is because we believe that God Himself is at work, literally serving us when we are gathered for worship! He is pouring out His gifts of forgiveness and blessing. He is speaking to us in the words of the Psalm, Old Testament reading, the Epistle (a letter addressed to early Christians), and the Gospel reading. Jesus feeds us His body and His blood as we share in the Lord’s Supper. He not only commands His people to come together and continue celebrating this meal, but He also attaches His promise to it, namely that through the Lord’s Supper, we receive the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).
In addition to the ways in which we receive from the Lord, we also respond to the Lord during the service. We acknowledge the sins and the hurts we’ve committed (or the good things we’ve neglected to do). We praise God and give Him the credit He deserves, both through our words and our singing. We thank Him for how He blesses us both in body and soul. We speak with Him in prayer, both out loud and silently, formally and informally.
Additionally, we look around us and remember that we are not alone. You might be the only professing Christian at your office, on your team, or in your classroom, but when God’s people gather back together, we’re reminded that we a part of God’s “flock,” the church. The church stretches through time and space and includes the believers who have preceded us, surround us, and will follow us.
Christians may feel more and more alone in their Monday – Friday lives, but when we come together for worship, we are blessed by the presence of the Lord Himself and of our fellow pilgrims.
My encouragement for you today is to think of Christian worship and education as a “BOTH/AND.” In worship, Christ pours out His gifts in ways that you won’t receive anywhere else! We also make a point to respond to the Lord through prayer and praise and thanksgiving. In Bible study, we deepen our understanding, learn to apply our faith to our daily vocations and service, and make connections with God’s people.
What’s holding you back from worship or Bible study? Hesitation to give up another hour of your week? A grudge against someone at church? An old habit? Doubts or questions regarding faith? Dissatisfaction with the type of worship or Bible study offered at your church?
Examine your excuses. Confess them to Christ. Try making worship attendance a priority for a month or more. Learn to notice and appreciate the gifts God has in store for you. Pick a Bible study opportunity at your church. Commit to coming several times. The more you participate, the more you’ll find yourself growing.
Also look for a way that you can serve or lead or contribute to the worship life and Christian education of your congregation? Speak up! Look for ways to be a blessing, but especially look for the ways that the Lord blesses you through His Word, through His Sacraments, and through His People, the church.
Lord, help me to examine my habits, especially in regard to my participation in the life of Your church. Through Your Spirit, give me the motivation and the commitment to a life of worship and growth in my faith in Christ. Amen.