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Entries in Seminary Notes (87)

Thursday
Apr092015

Writing needs speaking

I've been working on a big assignment which is due on April 18. I have to do worksheets for four passages, with questions and answers. This is not as easy as one might think. I am limited to 10-12 questions, and for a passage like Colossians 3:1-17, that is limiting. If I was preparing to teach that passage, I'd have a lot more. I'm more an incremental teacher, building on small pieces. The approach this course is taking is that a good observation question should have many answers. A yes or no question is not good. I asked a yes or no question on my James assignment, and I was reminded not to. I don't know as if I agree with the general principle that a question with a yes or no answer is always a poor question.

Yesterday, as I was working on a passage from Philippians, I was struggling with my questions. The questions are supposed to be written in such a way that they direct the conversation. This means that I must be envisioning how the discussion will go. One thing I have learned from teaching is that often, the act of speaking can bring into the dialogue things that we don't think of sitting in the quiet of our studies, preparing lessons. Over and over again, while teaching, I have had occasions when, as I speak, something else comes to my thinking. The input of the class members, the discussion, and the act of responding often brings up something I never thought of. When I prepare for teaching, I will often talk through my lessons out loud to myself, and there are many times when more ideas will come to mind as I speak. I'm sure some expert out there could probably explain what kind of cognitive processes are going on in the act of speaking. Whatever it is, speaking often helps writing.

So, here I was yesterday afternoon, struggling with feeling that everything sounded so contrived and scripted, but I finally finished. I did manage to finish one assignment and am half done with the next passage. I stil have to work on a passage from Esther and Luke. I am wondering if I shouldn't be talking to myself as I think of these questions. 

Wednesday
Apr082015

A bible study resource Christian women need

Have you ever tried to find a good bible study for your small group, or for a bible study class? While there is definitely a place for a book study, if you want something that is strictly a bible study, it can be really difficult.

Currently, I am working with a group of young moms, and the study I was given is friendly enough, but the lack of biblical depth is discouraging. There are verses taken out of context, and most verses are just given in isolation without checking the context. It is a topical study about stress and worry, and therefore, much more work than just going through a book of the bible, or even exploring a topic such as forgiveness, grace, or mercy, where there are more concentrated passages that can be explored rather than grabbing a verse and seeing how it fits with the theme. So far, I have managed to work with what I've been given, but it's been a challenge. The study was purchased in good faith by the organizers of the class, but time constraints meant there wasn't time to look closely at it. Some of the women in the study have mentioned that they would enjoy something with more in-depth teaching.

This book is not the only one of its kind. During my time at my seminary class last month, we evaluated many, and there were a lot of studies that while great for opening up sharing and discussion, were light on the biblical content.

As women who want to know God more, I don't see that one must sacrifice biblical content in order to generate meaningful application and discussion. There was one lesson that my co-teacher had to work with which was really just a collection of verses without any unifying thread. She has not had a lot of teaching experience, so it was a challenge for her.

While there are bible studies galore out there for women, I think what needs to be created is material to show a woman how to take a passage of Scripture, study it for herself, and put together a lesson. The course I am taking at the moment is about desiging bible study curriculum, and it does envision a larger scale project, but I think the principles can be used for someone teaching a small group. What I've learned so far has certainly helped me in the preparation of my own lessons.

At the very heart of writing bible studies for women is the study itself. The one who writes the study must love the study, and her study time must be thorough. Her goal should be that her student have solid, biblical understanding. I know there is a real desire among women's bible studies for everyone to share stories, and to develop relationships, and I agree that those things are valuable. But if the majority of the content is simply discussing stories and experienes, when does the understanding of the material come into play? 

I'm sure Christian publishers would be loath to see a slow down in bible study books written for women. Just check out any online Christian bookseller, and you'll see how many there are which are directly geared toward women. How is a woman to choose? He does she know what she's getting? Having well-known Christian writers doesn't necessarily mean the study is going to be rich in biblical content with a balance of personal application. From the studies we reviewed in class, most lean toward either extreme.

Another benefit of women developing their own study material for their local church is that they know their students. Yes, some women will teach hundreds of women, and maybe some students will come from other towns just to participate, and in that case, one must be more general in how she teaches the material. But there are still those of us who teach small, intimate groups, and designing our studies with the women in mind is a valuable thing. There have been many times when I have deliberately directed my lesson a certain way because I know of the needs of my students.

Where I live, there are no big Christian booksellers. I can't just walk into a local bookseller and find a large array of studies for women and look at length at the content. The table of contents does not suffice when looking online. In the past few years as I have been teaching, there is not one book I have purchased that I have not ultimately tailored toward my own students; and that includes the good studies I've purchased.

I hope to continue to learn how to put together bible study material, and share that with others. Many women want to know how to lead a small group and teach, but don't know where to start. They end up relying on leader's guide notes, and in the end, I don't think that is sufficient. The teacher must begin as student.

Friday
Mar272015

Seminary true confessions

Last Thursday was my first day of seminary. I'd been waiting for this opportunity. I was excited about it. But as I got up in the darkness and got ready, one thought ran though my mind, and I expressed it to my husband: "I don't want to go."

What on earth was that about?

Last week at this time I was waiting for some test results. Early in February, I was experiencing some persistent chest pain, and I had lost weight without trying. Women at 50 don't usually lose weight without trying. It isn't fun to lose weight that way. These things were beginning to stir a little concern in me, especially as the wait between doctor's appointment and test dragged on, and then time between test and being given results dragged on. One's impatience and even the barest amount of internet research into symptoms can get an already over-active imagination working even harder.

Anxiety is a funny thing. It breeds more anxiety. You start to get anxious about being anxious. It's also something you don't want to whisper too loudly, because we Christians don't get anxious, no no, we don't. We must lack faith if we get anxious, right? 

My growing anxiety about these tests results spilled over into my attitude as I left for school that first day: what if I fail? What if I'm a bad student? What if I can't do the work? My anxieties grew even more as I went through that first day, as I listened in discussion to the other students talking. So many brilliant women. Quite providentially, one of the first passages we looked at as we practiced working with the text was Philippians 4:6-7. Each time we went through it, my conscience was pricked, and I thought about those verses a lot.

As I worked on my homework this week, preparing to hand it in, a good friend gave me an encouraging word about waiting for test results. She said that it was good that I had school to keep my mind on something else, especially because I was in the Word. That really jumped out at me. 

I've read about people who attend seminary talk about how the academics of it all can leave one forgetting what the heart of theological study is: knowing God more intimately. My purpose for attending seminary was to learn more about God, and I knew that, but I went into it with more pressure to be perfect that was necessary or desirable.

Doing a job well is something I always want to do. In fact, if there is any possibility I will really be bad at something, I don't do it at all. Hence, my reluctance to play laser tag. I went on one of those outings with my family in February, loathing every minute, because I'm terrible at shooting at things. And in all honesty, that's okay with me. I won't be doing it again.

I'm glad I went through the past few weeks of wondering and uncertainty about my health, because it really challenged me. Where is my faith? Is it in my ability to study well or produce well-written blog posts or bible study questions? If it is, it shouldn't be. My faith should be in Christ, and in His Word. My joy should be in the study of His Word, and how I want it to change me, not on getting an A. If I do, fine, but I think I'd rather not care so much if it means I'm missing the bigger picture: that the word is to be learned so that my mind will be renewed. That was my reason for going to seminary. Only three days in, and I was forgetting already. 

The good news is that my test results did come in, and it's something which can be treated quite easily with medication and diet modification. My tendency toward perfectionism can now be directed into researching these matters. In the meantime, as I prepare to hand in my first assignment tomorrow, I'm not going to give into the stress of thinking it has to be perfect. I believe I observed well, interpreted correctly, and put together some good questions. The best part is, one of the passages was James 1:1-18, about counting trials a joy. If my assignment is not as well-received as I might like, well, I guess I'll live with it. And I'll be glad of the lessons I've learned as I've studied. And I'll be praying that those lessons will grow in my heart.

Monday
Mar232015

What is the goal for women's bible study?

That question was the one of the first questions we discussed last week at my seminary class. Before we could even begin to discuss how to write a bible study for women, we had to ask ourselves what is the goal. The way the question was phrased at one point in our discussion was, "What kind of women we do want to be?" The answer was that we want to be women who love the word of God. Any bible study we undertake should leave us loving the word of God. 

Get into the text

As we discussed how to implement a study that would leave a woman as one who loves God's word and wants to meditate upon it day and night, we concluded that the study must contain a lot of interaction with the text. While there is room for preaching (where others exposit the text for us), there is room for women interacting with the text themselves. Therefore, bible study should contain a lot of interaction with the text. A lot.

But bible study is more than an academic exercise. What is the point of having in-depth interaction with the text if it does not change us? That is another goal of bible study: to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That means that bible study must be done with a mind to applying the truths to our own lives. Application is based on observing and interpreting the text, and that takes work.

As we studied the bible passages with the goal of producing lessons, we practiced observing the text, interpreting the text, corrrelating the text, and then applying the text. This can be a very lengthy process. One of my assignments will be to develop a set of flow questions, which include observation, interpretation, correlation, and application questions, on Mark 5:21-43. I began working with this passage in class last week, and I'm still working on it. Reading and re-reading, looking for things like contrasts, cause and effect, progression, comparisons, etc. This is similar to Precept's approach; it's inductive study.

We concluded that a good bible study will have the student engaging in a lot of observation before interpreting, and that the student will work toward her own interpreations, even if she does need a little help. Of course, commentaries are not suggested until the student has done her own study, and that's always how I have worked.  

Reviewing other bible studies

On the last morning, we reviewed bible studies which are published. We were each given one to look at, and were encouraged to flip through it and evaluate the study based on the balance between biblical depth and group dynamics. Of course, many were good with group dynamics and light on interacting with the text. Many of them asked more "feeling" type questions than they did observation and interpretation questions. 

One of the women had a study by Beth Moore, her study on James. We actually spent a fair bit of time discussing that as she gave her report. Many of the women there had done Moore's studies before. What was seen was that while Moore's studies do focus on a passage of Scripture, frequently there contains more of Moore's commentary than there does opportunity for the student to dig into the text, especially when it comes to thoroughly observing the text. In one example, the student was asked two or three questions, but that was followed by Moore's commentary. It was basically like watching Moore exegete the text, not having the student do it. Commentary is always more meaningful when we've done our own indepth study first. 

Doing studies with Moore may be good for a new student of Scripture, who feels uncertain about doing her own study, but for someone who really wants to dig into the text, we felt it wasn't the best option. A number of the women there said they started out doing Moore's studies, and ended up leaving them for something with more interaction with the text and less commentary. There was never anything negative said about Moore, and the other aspects of her ministry which has often been critiqued were not mentioned. We looked at it strictly from what is the best way to get a woman into the text of Scripture.

I have worked through a couple of Moore's studies. I have concerns with them. But from now on, when someone asks me about doing them, I will mention what I have learned. For getting into the text, they just aren't the best option. If you're not looking to engage deeply with the text, but want to watch someone else exegete the material, that's a different goal altogether.

Sunday
Mar222015

Seminary Notes - Day 3

The first three days of my four day module at seminary are completed. They were long days. I don't think I'd want to do every course this way. An intensive format is good in that the material is always right at the forefront of your mind, but it also eliminates the opportunity for mulling things over in between sessions. I arrived home around 6:00 each evening, and was in bed by 10:00 to get enough rest for the next day. The time I had at home was spent with my husband, and tending to my home. The hour drive home gave me time for thought, but mostly, I was just eager to get home.

I really enjoyed the first two days, but I found the last half of yesterday tedious, and I didn't enjoy it as much. The morning discussion was excellent, as we looked at evaluating bible studies, but the afternoon was all about how to train a "curriculum writing team." That was a major focus of the class, i.e. training others, so there was a lot of talk about people skills, group dynamics, administering training sessions, etc. Kind of reminded me of a corporate training session. And while I think training others is valuable, I had a couple of reservations.

A "team" of writers means a very different result than what you'd get from one person (or even two) working on a study. The approach to the team idea was that each lesson was worked on individually by a different person. Each lesson would be submitted to the editor. Before someone could be on a curriculum writing team, she had to go through training. It came across as a large-scale project. That is not the same as me sitting down to write a study for use in my local church or even to submit for publication in the way that Keri Folmar produced her studies for publication. I got the feeling from the professor that she is used to working with very large groups, on a large scale. She confessed to enjoying training others more than writing bible studies, and that was apparent. The young woman sitting near me was having a hard time envisioning this process in her little church which is less than 75 people. She just wanted to know how to put material together. 

My other reservation was that it seemed like the step from writing the bible study to becoming a trainer of someone to write the study was a little hasty. I don't know as if writing one or two studies qualifies me to train others how to write them. I wish we had spent more time practicing the various aspects of putting together flow questions for lessons. My "big" assignment for the end of the class is to write a five day lesson plan on a topical study. I don't like topical studies, and we spent very little time discussing that, so en route home yesterday, I was seriously wondering how badly I might blunder this big assignment. I wish we had looked at some examples, or at least done more than read those pages from the manual.

One of the things which did yesterday, which I enjoyed, was to evaluate bible study workbooks. There were some provided, and we were invited to bring some of ours. One of the women brought in a Beth Moore bible study on the book of James. There was absolutely no personal criticism of Moore nor were any aspersions cast upon her character. It was simply a look at what we determined were some shortcomings of her material. And for that post, you'll have to check back later, because I'm already a little long with this post.