I just finished a five-week stint at a large Lutheran church where anywhere from 50 to 100 adults show up for Bible study on a Sunday morning. I was asked to present five weeks on the gospel of Matthew. To the steering committee, I pitched a lot of back-and-forth “working the crowd” on my part and small group interaction at tables. We tried that one week. People complained that they couldn’t hear. People commented that they expected this particular study to feature an expert, not “sharing.” It was observed that my questions to the small groups were perhaps too simplistic. After the first week, we went back to the standard lecture style. I got through the remaining four weeks, and I regard the whole experience as an ordeal.
Here is why I hate assignments like this one. They are fundamentally opposed to my calling, which is to teach people to read. Imagine the difference between watching an Olympics’ diving competition and going off the high dive yourself. If after I have read the Bible with a group, they think, “Wow, that was great, but I could never see in the texts what you see,” I have failed. My job is not to perform (as in the Olympic high-dive competition) something fascinating but beyond the reach of those watching. My job is to coach the sport, and my success is measured by how well people execute their own dives after we have worked together for a while.
The other reason I hate lecturing is that it often turns Bible-reading into a parlor game, something to pass the time, like watching the History channel or the Food network. Such a pastime is interesting but not transformative. Sometimes in these adult forum-type settings, one gets the impression that the audience, having long since gotten past actually being encountered by scripture, is now just looking for something “interesting.” Like the philosophers in Acts 17, the people in the crowd “spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.”
I do not really believe this is where most people are who wander into a between-services Bible study at church, yet I never got a chance to find out where the scriptures actually touched the lives of my audience because, in the lecture model, they never got time to think about it and talk about it with each other or with me. Some of them reacted in question and answer format to my reading of texts, but they rarely reacted to the texts themselves. It was impossible to put the scripture at the center because that space was occupied by the teacher and the teacher’s observations.
So I spent five weeks feeling like my best teaching gifts could not be shared. And I learned (again) that I need to say no to invitations like this one. Maybe other people can lecture in such a way as to inspire people toward their own reading of scripture. I cannot, and it strikes me as foolish to try to do that when I do other things so much better.