Reviewing and renewing Biblical faith through story and study

Monday, April 21, 2014

Leaning on Questions

4H Bible Study - or the "28 Stories" story

A few years ago, I had just started working as Children’s Ministry Director and as Adult Sabbath School Director for the Victoria Seventh-day Adventist Church and was passionately trying to get people (be they Adult Sabbath Schools, Children’s Sabbath Schools, families, friendship clusters or work groups) into small groups. I kept hearing the same comment from them all: What resource should we use? 

I searched and found only a few options and they all left me with that dry-mouth feeling. You know the one — when you wake up, having been asleep with your mouth open. That dry-mouth feeling is the best way I can explain the spiritual/emotional feeling I was having to these studies as I tried to use them. They were so dry! And linear. And proof driven. 

Around that time, my eldest son, Cyrus, wanted to do group Bible studies in preparation for baptism. And he wanted me to lead them. What an honour! Suddenly I was asking myself the same question others had been asking: What studies will I use? As I read through a few “youthy” sets of studies, my breathing slowed and my tongue sleepily thickened with wall-paper paste. Dry. Boring. Right. Answers. 

I wanted a way to teach the beautiful Truth without feeling like I was forcing a dog to swallow a pill (if you’ve ever had to put your finger down the back of a dogs throat, you know what I’m talking about!) or playing the role of mother bird, regurgitating a previous meal so my little ones could gulp it down. 

I wanted a gracious way to share the Truth I love, to give the presence and presents of God. Like Christmas morning presence and presents. If you are a parent, you know the intense joy of watching your children opening the gifts they have been aching for since October - that kind of presence, for both of us. I wanted our studies to be as joyful as the faith I hold dear. So, I decided to write a series of Bible studies. 

Now the real dilemma hit me. OK, Mr Smartypants, what are you going to write? Think it’s so easy, do ya? How are you going to create a series of Bible studies that draw out the beauty, joy and majesty of God’s Word while still transferring that core of wisdom and truth? 

I searched for months. I needed the right hook. The right strategy. I read books, blogs, websites, listened to lecture series. Then, I discovered something in a theology text. In “The Heart of Christianity” theologian Marcus J Borg explores four ancient aspects of what we moderns have reduced to one word: Faith. He used the latin words Assensus (a proposition), fiducia (trust), fidelitas (loyalty) and visio (a way of seeing). I’ll leave you to ponder on the latin and jump ahead to my synthesis of these concepts.

Head, Heart, Hands, Horizon. I call it the 4H Bible study. The hook was firmly set. I was ready to write the stories. I had known since first deciding to write the studies, they should start with stories - Bible stories, retold as I love to do. But, the study after the story had been the struggle. Once I had a strategy for the studies, I started writing. 

I wrote two a week. One to discuss with Cyrus' group. One to send home with them as a journalling exercise. 28 Studies - 14 Weeks. Write! Write! Write! The studies were on Thursdays. So, I set aside each Tuesday morning for writing. And, when that didn’t work, I crammed! Luckily there were breaks and cancellations that gave me the occasional extra week. I wrote, we tested and the kids critiqued the studies. After finishing them, they were published by Signs Publishing Company as “28 Stories”.

After developing the 4H approach, I applied it to the adult Sabbath School lesson. Rather than write a “teaching guide” for teachers to use verbatim, while I was the Sabbath School Director, I produced an enrichment tool called SS4H to broaden the teacher’s experience with the lesson topic. Each week, I read through the lesson and came up with two questions that approach the —
Head: building a foundation of knowledge. What more can we learn about this topic?

Heart: learning to love what God loves. How can we experience this emotionally?
Hands: choosing to act as God desires. What can we or should we do?
Horizon: exploring the Kingdom beyond my walls. What can we learn from others?

This 4H approach to Truth has reshaped my life - my parenting, my ministry, my listening skills, my busyness, my desire for God and His presence, power and purpose. I don’t have answers anymore. I have questions. At least, I try to have questions. A believer with only answers is no longer seeking. A teacher with all the answers is not teaching but preaching. A leader with all the answers is walking toward a wall, or a drop-off. 

In our search for Truth, and our ever growing experience of faith, we will only grow to know if we are never satisfied with answers, but always framing the next question.