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6/13/97 BSSB strategist shares keys to life-changing Bible study

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Interested in providing life-changing Bible study in your church? Start by evaluating your “cell structure” and “growth climate.”
That’s the advice Al Riddley gave church leaders attending a seminar during the June 9-13 National Sunday School Leadership Training Conference at Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center.
Riddley, the BSSB’s national strategist for new Bible study units, said there are several questions Bible study teachers should ask about their classes or “cells” to determine their effectiveness, including:
1) Have a disproportionately large number of members become inactive?
2) Do new members have a difficult time gaining a sense of belonging?
3) Are you experiencing difficulty enlisting volunteers?
4) Is the teaching inadequate to meet the needs of all the people?
Answers to these questions, Riddley said, can uncover problems needing to be addressed before life-changing Bible study can occur.
He also encouraged leaders to examine the “growth climate” in their Bible study groups. Several items must be addressed, he said, including:
1) Recognizing and dealing with a “we can’t do that here” attitude.
“The moment I lose my ability to think of possibilities, I need to realize that I am dead in the water when it comes to effective leadership,” Riddley said.
2) Identifying, isolating, disenfranchising or retraining any negative lifestyle leader.
“I think we underestimate the impact one negative leader can have, especially in a small church,” he said. “This has to be dealt with.”
3) Refusing to allow past failures to create fear in being creative or starting new ministries, programs or movements.
4) Leaving behind “nitpicking” and pettiness.
“Every church has at least one family of nitpickers and they never miss a service. Don’t let them become the focus of your ministry.”
5) Evaluating all leadership positions in terms of answering this question: “Does the leader or teacher have a recognizable growing faith?”
“Our Achilles’ heel as Southern Baptists, I think, has been leadership development. If a teacher isn’t growing in his or her faith, they shouldn’t be teaching.”
6) Leaving behind perfectionism.
“It’s a good thing that Christ didn’t let perfectionism drive the call for his disciples,” Riddley said. “It’s not required of teachers either.”
7) Appreciating and living with painful relationships.
“We naturally want to separate ourselves from a (hurtful) situation when we experience pain. But I believe learning to deal with pain is a sign of spiritual maturity.”
8) Recognizing the spiritual history of the church and doing everything possible to make sure current patterns of ministry aren’t dominated by the past.
Riddley also encouraged church leaders to enlist workers “who are filled with the Holy Spirit as it relates to teaching.”
“I’m not mystical by any means, but I always need to ask myself, ‘Is what I’m doing driven by the Holy Spirit.'”
Spirit-filled Christians, Riddley said, regularly confess their sins, appreciate the Lordship of Jesus Christ and realize they don’t have to be right all the time or have all the answers.
Another driving force behind life-changing Bible study is understanding the needs and sensitivities of unchurched people who attend class.
Secular people, Riddley said, have a limited understanding of basic Christianity, have a justifiably negative image of the church, are untrusting and are often confused by “churchy” language and practices.
Teachers need to use language everyone can understand and work at making all class members and visitors feel comfortable and welcome, he said.
Riddley also encouraged teachers to continually demonstrate that their Bible study class is of value to them.
“You must prize and cherish it; don’t treat it as mundane. … Publicly affirm the class’ importance to you. Give it priority in your life. Choose it over other alternatives.
“We can’t accept mediocrity in our Bible studies,” Riddley said. “If our groups are what they need to be, lives will be changed and we will experience growth.”
The National Sunday School Leadership Training Conference was sponsored by the Baptist Sunday School Board’s Bible teaching-reaching division.

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  • Chip Alford