Closed or Open Bible Study

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6 NIV)

Yes, I realize that this is a strange passage to be talking about with Sunday School…or is it? Are we talking about your class or visitors? What is this blog about? Let me start by talking about the difference between “open” and “closed” Bible study groups.

Open Bible study: These classes are open to new people and focus on the present and what God is doing, rather than the past. They have a curriculum that is open for visitors not to feel left out from past lessons.

Closed Bible Study: These classes have an ongoing study that requires visitors to know what the last few lessons were about to feel accepted. In other words, it is essential that they know what has happened before. It is also important to know the experiences of the class as a whole!

Yes, we need both for discipleship, but I would suggest to you that any class that has been going for more than two years has a shared vocabulary and experience and makes it hard for newcomers to really feel accepted.

So what do we do?

Start new classes! Classes that having been going for two or more years have a common experience and language which leave newcomers left out. For instance, I had a class of ten young adult men. Five men had grown up together and five were new to the area. Often, the five who had grown up together would talk about experiences in high school during our lesson. The five persons who were new to the area were lost!    

Be sensitive to newcomers and focus on the present. In order for existing classes to help visitors feel welcome, we need to focus on the now! Don’t allow talk from the past to dictate your class. Ask members what God is doing now and how the Scripture applies.

Change your language. Persons who are of a younger generation and did not grow up in church will have difficulty with certain terms:

The Word of God: Are you talking about a word that God has spoken to you recently? Unchurched need to know you are talking about the Bible.

Are you lost? The unchurched will wonder what you are talking about. Though those of us who grew up in the church will know you are talking about the “unsaved,” visitors may not. Focus on John 10:10 or passages that help them recognize The God of Hope and purpose to discover a new way of life through Christ.

Are you saved? An unchurched person will be thinking from what?

Are you washed in the blood?  An unchurched person can’t wait to leave! Their response may be, “Blood…what is this person talking about?”

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19 NIV)

When we don’t recognize that God is doing a new thing, perhaps we become the swine. How sensitive are you to new people in your class?  

About tonystopic

Seeker and connector to the abundant life as a husband (to Katrina), father (to Tara & Joseph) and Field Strategist/Sunday School Specialist for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.
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