I want to blame the materials. Not Mere Christianity itself, because I still think it's a good book, especially for new Christians, but the study materials. I found them online, and thought, "Great! People won't want to buy two books (Lewis' book and an additional study guide) so these free ones will be perfect." I didn't look the questions over very carefully, which was a mistake - many of them were designed to confirm reading comprehension rather than theological discussion. They didn't inspire very deep or interesting conversations, and as a result people would get bored and stop showing up.
Had this merely been a problem with this particular series, I'd blame the study guide and put the thought from my mind. But it's a pretty endemic problem with this small group. The last several studies that we've done have had the same behavioral flaws, and with each new series I think it's getting worse:
- Some people in the group, like me, are quite scholarly. They like to read and have no trouble reading the material, and if they don't understand something they'll look it up. That is, they will do independent research to backup an argument. Others are not. It's not that they aren't intelligent people...they simply aren't book-smart. For them, reading is a chore that they hate to do. So when we pick a book to read together, we can't pick something too challenging because certain members won't understand the material; we also can't do something too simplistic or half the group will be bored. This usually ends up with us picking some middling book that nobody is super-excited to read.
- After the first few weeks, enthusiasm for the study drops dramatically. Since we’re listening to an audio version of the book, most people aren’t reading the book before the discussion, making it hard to have a real deep talk because if you spaced out for a minute while the recorded message played, you’re out.
- So many people are showing up late that the Bible study starts at 8:00 or 8:30 instead of 7:30. This pushes everything later and later. Personally, I show up late to avoid listening to the audio book, since I’ve already read the material. I should probably communicate that more clearly to the group. The late start pushes the study later and later, and soon everyone’s too tired to think about things.
- People start finding better things to do on Tuesday night, so attendance drops. Sessions start getting canceled because too few people are showing up. As the sessions start getting spread apart, continuity is lost. Folks who might have remembered something they read two weeks ago will not remember something they heard a month ago.
The effect snowballs every week. I can think of several times where I would think, “I have a paper due in a few days. I should stay home and work on it. It’s OK. [Couple] has missed two of the last four bible studies. I can blow off this one” – and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one thinking this way.
So what to do?
Should I try to find another Bible study group? Maybe some college group on campus, although I would really prefer to be with people my own age. (That’s a depressing thing to say, actually.) Should I try to stick this one out and make it better? I mean, I like these people. I enjoy hanging out with them. But spiritually, it’s been an extremely stagnant experience.
This week we started a new book. MacArthur’s commentary on Genesis 1-11. It’s got all the mythological stories of creation and flood and that good stuff, the bits before Abraham. It was chosen during one of the weeks when I wasn’t around, and I wasn’t too enthusiastic when I heard it. I mean, yes, there are interesting topics to discuss – I would love to look at an analysis of the many variations of flood accounts in the Middle East, and what we can draw from that! So far, the book doesn’t seem interested in going in that direction. In the first chapter, about creation, the focus was exceptionally literal and the study questions revolved around evolution vs. creationism. This made some of the more scientifically-minded members of the group shut down with a “He [Macarthur] is WRONG.” To me, that just doesn’t seem important. Sure, you can have your opinions on creationism and evolution and the tension between the two lines of thought, but ultimately does it really matter in the daily application of faith? No.
I would have chosen a different book from the Old Testament for a group study. Maybe Ecclesiastes or one of the Prophets. That would be fun; I’ve read both books before but didn’t really understand them (especially the prophets), so I would definitely benefit from discussing them with others. Maybe something extra-Biblical, like one of the writings by St. Thomas Aquinas or Martin Luther. But not a twelve week study of the first few chapters of Genesis that we probably won’t finish until March of next year! What a drag.
I guess I should try to have a more positive attitude about it, though. I pray that God give it to me.