By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
“I’m ready for football; I’m tired of baseball,” said my brother Bill in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado as we watched a football replay instead of a live baseball game. He and I like all sports to one degree or another, but there is a significant difference between football and baseball: Football games are timed for 60 minutes of actual play; baseball is untimed. A baseball game can last forever — and seems to sometimes between the pitcher’s checks to the first-base runner and when he actually pitches across the plate. But I’m writing about football.
Actually, I’m writing to compare and contrast a football game to the Bible study hour churches have each Sunday morning. We can learn a valuable lesson from football that will help you and me and others actually do total-period-teaching of the Bible. So let’s get started.
Why does it take three hours to watch a 60-minute football game? Forgetting all the football overtime possibilities and other extreme rules, you know you’re going to get to watch 60 actual minutes of playing time. But the 60-minute clock stops every time there is a penalty, time-out, change of periods, or play review. So you don’t lose a single moment of the sixty-minute playing time. And that may take three hours or more.
What does that have to do with the Bible study hour or Sunday School? Just this: You tend to have 60 minutes set aside for the whole Bible study hour, but no one stops the clock for anything that interrupts actual time spent studying the Bible. Granted, Sunday School is more than a Bible study. It’s a koinonia — or fellowship group — that gathers, greets, makes announcements, plans socials, prays, and eventually gets to Bible study. But I wonder what your guess would be about actual time spent studying the Bible in your class? It varies. A lot depends on the teacher and the make-up of the class. But ideally — as in the worship service — a specified amount of time is allotted just for uninterrupted Bible study or teaching/preaching.
Seventeen years of total period teaching. In 1980, I and my better two-thirds Phyllis started a new adult, coed Bible study class. Ten years earlier we had moved from Texas for me to edit Bible study curriculum. And we had joined our church the first Sunday in Tennessee. My professional editing role called for me to design Bible study curriculum and how to go about getting the truths across to the pupils. My manager asked me to write a pamphlet that explained what I’m telling you now: namely, how to do total-period-teaching in the Bible study hour. I wrote the pamphlet, and for the 17 years I taught that class, I tried to see that we stayed focused on the Bible: the text, central truth, and the potential individual changes called for in knowledge, attitudes, and actions. That was no easy task; and I’ll tell you why. But what I’ve just told you should be every class’s commitment.
My class met first, which meant we could start fellowship as early as I got us started, which was before the Bible study hour began. We clicked through essential announcements, identified prayers or noted them for a prayer sheet. Then I began the Bible study. I could count on four guys in that class to ask a rabbit-chasing question each Sunday. Not to be rude, I took out my “3 x 5” card, noted the question, and said I’d give it a shot before Sunday School began the next Sunday. And I did. We stayed focused on the Bible. After about five years, I was still asking the class what a “Gentile” was and getting back blank stares, but they really were learning. They were changing. They were acting and ministering. I retired from that class. To this day — 18 years later — the next teacher/wife team have continued magnificently.
Both sides of the pulpit need to provide balanced Bible study. God gave us 66 books written over about 1,400 years with some 40 writers or so to make up the whole Bible: Old Testament and New. What I’ve just said is open to argument. But what isn’t open to argument is that most Baptists I know study the Bible in fits and starts and have spastic knowledge of the totality of the Bible. We pastors and preachers are part of the fault when church members lack a holistic approach to the Bible. Pastoral preaching plans ideally include surveys of Bible books, intensive study of Bible books, and approaches that may alternately start with biblical content or life needs that have a valid text. Ideally, there are Old Testament focuses and New Testament focuses. Personally, though, I favor a weight for New Testament churches on New Testament books in that balance. If a quarter of a year goes by without some Bible studies from one of the Gospels, something seems sadly lacking to me.
Curriculum design is an interesting thing. As a young pastor, I found we had a six-year cycle of covering the Bible in Sunday School quarterlies. Later, I became one of the team design members on the interdenominational Committee on Uniform Series. In 1965 I was a pastor when the Life & Work Series started. It too had a fine pattern. It started with life needs and then thematically covered those in Bible texts over a cycle of about three years. Since then, curriculum design has evolved a number of times; and I suppose each change has had its merits. The critically important thing to focus on is that each change has included a design! That design helps us complement what our pastor and others teach in Bible studies and sermons. The design keeps us from being biblically ignorant and helps us keep on growing.
Conclusion. Whatever sermon pattern or curriculum pattern your church follows, the total period focus on the Bible is essential. It is the bulls-eye of the concentric circles of Bible concern. When my pastor comes to the pulpit for his designated time each Sunday morning, he says, “Open your Bible to I Peter 1:13-16 on holy living” [or whatever the text]. And his biblical focus is Holy-Spirit-laser-beamed with power in it. I love it! I commend total period Bible study to you!
— Copyright 2015 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write the author: firstname.lastname@example.org