Home Bible Studies: A primer on the strengths, weaknesses, and uses as well as my own opinions and views as a pastor.
(This is from my old website: http://www.davidcox.com.mx/plant/Issues-15HomeBibleStudies.htm)
by Missionary David R. Cox
Definition of a Home Bible Study – For purposes of this study, we will define a home Bible study as a Bible study or sermon which (1) is given to only part of the congregation in the context of somebody’s home (not in the regular church meeting place) and (2) has only part of the congregation present. This may be a one on one Bible study, a family present, or a group of people present which are church members or which may not be church members or a mixture of both.
House churches – We should also make clear the point that we are not talking about house churches here. A house church is no different from any other church except that they have not accumulated sufficient resources to purchase land, or they for their own reasons refuse to set this as a goal. If a church meets in a house, it is not a Home Bible Study (for our purposes here) but is simply a church that just happens to meet in a house instead of a building of its own. We would see this as a first step in church planting, a baby in diapers, although this can get pretty complicated and advanced and still be meeting in a house.
A. Strengths and Reasons to use Home Bible Studies
One of the major strengths of home Bible studies the ability to target or direct a specific group of people or a specific need within a group of people. For example, if a particular issue arises among a few members of the church that have come from another church with a “bad situation”, a home Bible study perhaps is a good choice to deal with the issue without having to deal publicly with the issue. About all church discipline matters would come under this concept. Church discipline is not about just “cutting somebody off” but about reintegration into the church without the sin. This is accomplished only by dealing with biblical issues in the person’s life. The ability to deal with issues on an individual or subgroup basis is an excellent reason to use Home Bible Studies.
B. Weaknesses and Problems with Home Bible Studies
1. No reinforcement of the Priority of the Church
One of the major problems of moving the teaching and exhorting ministry of the church from the main services of the church is that of moving the vehicle of teaching and preaching, exhortation and spiritual feeding, from the church (God’s construction) to other things that are not God’s method or at least not as clearly God’s method (there is no divine authority to do so). Note that in Galatians 2:2, Paul did deal with some issues privately when it was necessary or advantageous to do so, so we cannot say home Bible studies are unbiblical, they just are not the norm for doing the work of God. This should make us very wary in using them, but not necessarily condemn them as unbiblical.
We must prioritize the methodology of God. This means that we must exalt and make a high priority what God says to do, and do this how God says to do it. For those pastors and laymen who do not see anything important or special about the local church, it is next to impossible that their people will see anything important about it either (unless they get it from somewhere else).
We can have Bible studies with people, but the interaction between the people of God in a context or community (the church) is what God has designed to spiritually benefit, protect, and meet needs among that group. To abandon this or to minimize it (not prioritize it) is to work against the forces that God has established as the way God does His work among us.
We note that Satan has a steady stream of attacks against the local church. The most important of these are attacks from inside where the pastor of a church cannot teach or explain things very well, and attacks from outside where other people do it better. Preaching on Christian radio, various groups like college campus groups, Youth for Christ, Navigators, and a host of similar ministries try to give lip service to the local church but take the main activity of spiritual feeding outside the church and in their particular ministries.
If they (the leaders of these ministries) go to church, it is not to do anything else except put in an appearance. They arrive late, never participate, never are active in “their local church”, and they de-emphasize the importance and any possibly of real teaching or good teaching going on in the local church.
2. Exclusion means dividing the sheep
Here, we need to understand that when we have a home Bible study, we need to divide the sheep to do it. We invite a subgroup of the church, or a mixture of a subgroup of the church and people from outside the church, to the study. Firstly, there is the disadvantage of excluding the rest of the sheep from the teaching. A new believer’s class or a baptismal class is a good thing as is a Bible study designed to lead a person to have saving faith in Jesus Christ as His Savior. But these are things that the majority of the congregation with some time being saved already has “under their belt”. To teach this in a Sunday sermon would be to “bore” these adult Christians. Here the benefit of home Bible studies comes across.
But when we move outside these more basic topics, we get into some trouble because for example, we have a Christian home Bible study. We exclude some of our people because they are “not interested”, like the teens. But the constant teaching of these principles is what prepares our people and makes them well grounded, and the pulling of these subgroups out of the congregation to teach them more individually becomes a problem because we do not always know who needs what, and we should use some shotgun or scatter gun type things that you are shooting in the dark and hoping that you will hit problems and needs in people’s lives even though they would never say a word to let you know that ahead of time. A good example here is pornography among men, and rebellion and envy among women.
The fact that you divide your group, you have to always take into consideration that you may have made bad decisions in the dividing. I have tried this in the past, and it comes to my attention that stable, established church folk sometimes are missing basis elements, and others have resentment because you think they may have marital problems, singles think you are accusing them of being sexually active, etcetera.
We should also mention here briefly the ineffectiveness of modern Youth ministries.
Considerations in Modern Youth Ministries – Section Integration with Adults
3. Making an alternative to the Local Church
One of our major problems with home Bible studies is that it becomes an alternative to the local churches services and activities, and marginal people are the ones who most want home Bible studies, and unfortunately, their mind set is to go once a week to church when it is convenient. This basically means or works out that they tell you when it is convenient for you to come have a Bible study in their place of business or home, (and they can cancel when it is inconvenient), and you must go wait on them hand and foot, sort of speak.
These people disappear from the church activities and functions, and especially from the regularly scheduled services. My disappointment with home Bible studies has been the lack of commitment in 90% of the people who want home Bible studies. A very few have asked me to have them, and I conceded to do so, and they remained faithful in the other church meetings. I would note that for new Christians, it is very problematic to have home Bible studies. I would prefer before or after a regular service to disciple them and do that at the church building. Furthermore, I have made it a condition for any Bible studies outside the church building that I cut them off if the people stop coming to the church services. It is not a substitute for attending church and fellowshipping with the people there.
I would admit that a very small number of people who are very dedicated to the Lord and want more than what you are giving in the regular services, when they ask for a home Bible study, it can be extremely beneficial to that small group to do so. As a pastor, it will burden you with an extra preparation each week, but I have seen this type of member grow and blossom and get very established in their Christian lives through a home Bible study of a book of the Bible. They are ready and wanting meat, give it to them. (I would note that sometimes the problem is that they are not in the regular services because they are ministering to the children, which is another problem in itself.)
More Posts from Main Issues Category
- Getting People to faithfully integrate
- Fringe Church Attenders
- A Clear Plan of Salvation
- Verses for Witnessing
- Verses for Witnessing (Notes)
- Why Americans are leaving their churches
- What is Ministerial Success?
- Advantages of a New Church Plant
- Getting People Really Saved.
- Home Bible Studies