Adults in Sunday school need "connectivity" between the Bible and life, a veteran curriculum editor told Baptists in Birmingham, Ala., Saturday morning.
Participants pick up material at workshop led by BCE Curriculum Editor Jan Turrentine (right).
Jan Turrentine, curriculum editor for the Baptist Center for Ethics, led a workshop on "The Wave of the Future of Adult Sunday School" at last week's Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly.
Turrentine said many adults don't see any connection between their Bible study on Sunday and other areas of their lives.
"The wave of the future in adult Sunday school is connectivity between the God of Scripture and the God of the contemporary world," Turrentine said.
Turrentine quoted a writer who observed that the New Testament church in the Book of Acts "grew into the space its world allowed it."
She said Sunday school teachers today face a similar challenge in helping adults to connect the Bible with their lives.
"We have to be willing to create some Bible study opportunities for adults that fit their lives," she said. "They are not always going to do it the way we want them to."
Waves in a body of water are always caused by some kind of disturbance, Turrentine said. They also have both crests and valleys.
Adult Sunday school teachers likewise must deal with "waves," Turrentine said. Rather than viewing change as a negative, she urged teachers to "latch on to the crest of a wave" and ride.
She identified five "realities" that have impact on Bible study:
--Changing culture. "Culture changes the way we study and apply Scripture," Turrentine said. "It doesn't change the message of Scripture, but it changes the way people understand and apply Scripture."
Viewing changing culture as a positive allows adults to connect the God they read about in the Bible with their daily lives, she said.
--Choice. People demand choices about which bread or cell-phone provider they buy. "People want choice when it comes to Bible study options, also," Turrentine said.
The days are gone when the Southern Baptist Convention publishing arm had a monopoly in Baptist churches. Turrentine said church leaders need to be familiar with the resources that are available and to offer them to adults.
She also advocated letting Sunday school members have a say in choosing a curriculum. "When you allow adults to choose how they will study the Bible, you hold them accountable for their own learning," she said.
--Content. Churches for years have been "indoctrinating" students in Bible study rather than educating them, Turrentine said. "We have told people what to think. We have not taught them how to think."
Starting with quality Bible study material, teachers should encourage dialogue and debate among class members, she said. If people never argue in a class, she said teachers ought to question whether they are doing something wrong.
--Class composition. Turrentine said most Sunday school classes should be more diverse. While a lot of people view diversity as a threat, Turrentine said it "adds texture and richness to the way we look at Scripture and hear new ideas."
Economics, gender and race "create special lenses through which we read and interpret Scripture," she said. Teachers don't always have to agree with other people but should allow them to express themselves. "Sometimes these people are right," she said.
--Competing belief systems. Other cultures and belief systems affect the way Christians read the Bible, Turrentine said, citing polls indicating that most Christians have a world view that at points doesn't square with Scripture.
"The evidence suggests they don't know what the Bible says, they don't know what it means and they have adopted other teaching," she said.
People with competing belief systems are in Sunday school classes, she said. They are not a threat, however, as much as a catalyst for closer study to determine what the Bible says and means.
Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources, the Nashville-based BCE's publishing imprint.
Acacia Resources produces undated, online Sunday school curriculum for adults. The latest title, "Honoring the Ten Commandments: Monument or Movement," is the sixth 13-week study released by the BCE since the first of last year.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com