The Gospel of Peace classes form a Bible Study course designed to enable students to discover the truth of the Bible message through their own study within the Word of God. It is designed to be taught in a face to face setting, in a home environment, in small groups.
The course has been designed and modified over the last few years, and incorporates a detailed teaching philosophy. We rejoice that it has been richly blessed by God to date, with a high proportion of the students attending coming into active fellowship relationship with God.
There are plans to publish the entire course in print and make that material available. That edition will incorporate revised content based on feedback from past students and facilitators.
Teaching Philosophy—Let God Speak
The course is designed to let the Bible speak for itself. There are many teaching strategies that support this fine intention but, in the opinion of the course developers, very few actually deliver on that promise. To achieve this class lessons are generally limited to one or two sentences of our own thoughts before we get into a few thousand words of scripture. God’s voice MUST precede ours. This is a bonus for teaching in other languages, too, because the bulk of the text is actually scripture and therefore very easily obtainable online in a variety of languages. (The course is available in both English and Spanish.)
Right from the start there must be a clearly defined end date. Whilst this date can slide a little, it must be announced up front so that all know that this isn’t a miracle flash-in-the-pan weekend seminar but, conversely, they are not just entering a comfy world of eternal chitchat which will go on ad infinitum.
Length of Course
There are 16 classes in all. But, one way or another, the intention is to make the process last at least 6 months and no longer than 12. Nine months seems to be ideal for Western civilization. This way it mimics an academic year, something our Western minds seem to associate with the amount of time in which one can “graduate” with a new learning. Western cultured minds do not seem to make significant life changes in less than 6 months, even though the Acts of the Apostles clearly indicates that the gospel message can be imparted in much shorter time periods. Conversely momentum and the very genuine and necessary sense of urgency seem to be greatly muted, if not lost altogether, in time periods much longer than a year.
In similar vein, to assist communicating that the student really is making genuine progress in understanding the Bible message, we recommend making a binder to hold all the print outs. 1.5 inch is generally a good size, and covers and spines for this are also available. Each member of the class thereby builds an ever fattening file full of information—a lot of which is written by the student, the rest of which is scripture, for their own possession. This seems a valuable factor in faithfully communicating the learning that is obtained from the course.
Length of One Class
The Gospel of Peace sessions, as they stand, tend to run for 1.5 – 2 hours; which is a long time, of course—appropriate to the historical context in which they were first designed. Additionally the format is such that everybody is talking: a “taught” class would have to be much shorter of course, else it would become interminable for the “listeners.” This you may need to adapt depending on your local setting. But that’s not a problem: it’s easy to simply do each class over 2 sessions, where each session would then be 45-60 minutes.
It doesn’t really matter whether the scriptures are read aloud or privately, but I would recommend that one reads from the printed notes—not from actual Bibles. That may sound an odd recommendation, but there are good reasons why. Firstly, everyone will be reading from the same translation (the notes are NIV). It can be confusing for some for a reading to be skipping from version to version as it proceeds. Additionally, many people have a ‘family’ Bible, which is generally KJV, and completely impenetrable for the modern linguistic palette. Even more importantly, when people read from their own Bibles ‘sidetracking’ can occur from notes made in the margins. These notes can be distracting when they have been used to construct former beliefs, and this is avoided when the unmarked scripture is read from the printed matter of the course.
Student Must Think
That each class member does actually determine things for themselves. This is inherent in most (nearly every) class. It is obvious how this works when the classes are seen. One former participant commented that they are pleased to be challenged to solve things rather than be spoon-fed.
Guide-students Must Listen!
I think an important feature of these classes has been that, after the scriptures are read together, the students write down what they think the scriptures say before the guide/teacher explains his/her view. You can see that just from the order of the pages. This seems to work tremendously well, perhaps unsurprisingly, in terms of the participants constructing Biblical views, more so than another existent Christian belief which does not hold Biblical foundation. That is to say the class takes the form: “What does this passage of the Bible tell you about subject x?” instead of “what do you believe about subject x?”—a subtle, but important distinction in study philosophy. It is also very important (if only in Western culture) to allow the participant feedback and genuine contribution. This is true in reality: the bullet point ‘suggested answers’ are actually almost never referenced, since the dynamic discussion takes precedence.
Purely from empirical observations I would recommend, wherever possible, that the classes be taught by a brother and sister team. The reason is extremely simple, there are people who naturally interact better with men and there are others who simply interact more comfortably with women. By utilizing the balance of a brother and a sister in the guiding team, the “connectivity” with the participants can be maximized at all times.
Most success has been realized from holding the studies in the home of (one of) the interested parties (other logistical considerations permitting). In the age of ‘home delivery,’ ‘home delivery’ Bible study seems to be richly blessed by God.
Differing Philosophies Incorporated
It is vitally important to incorporate different mentalities of people who are approaching the gospel in the classes. This is easy to say, but must be realized in deed. To do this the 16 classes are actually composed of three distinctive modules: each a different angle from which the gospel message can be discerned. One module comprises a set of 6 classes which teach the gospel by doctrinal breakdown; another module contains a set of 7 classes which teach the gospel by summarizing the whole Bible in chronological history and the third module contains 3 classes which teach the gospel from a “what’s all this got to do with me?/what does God actually want from me?” standpoint. We find this latter standpoint generally lacking in most of our literature and preaching styles. Theoretically this also allows for discretion on the part of the guide-students as to which modules may or may not be required.
All Equal before God
Whilst this is an obvious statement, and also one with a limitation to its application, perhaps one immediate consequence of this is not apparent. The guide-students do everything that they ask the students to do. This has particular consequence for the very last class, in which the participant is essentially required to write their own statement/confession of faith. Ergo, the guide students are required to do that also. Speaking from experience, it’s a very valuable process, even for those many years baptized, to write out a confession of faith. It can frequently be humbling to hear the extraordinarily insightful confessions from those both ‘new and old’ to their scriptures.
If at all possible (and here the guide students need to work well with local ecclesias), this is intended to be a “one-step” process, that is to say, after the last class is completed (in the ideal case, and with all going well) the candidate can proceed straight to baptism. The last class actually is designed to complete all the functions of what our community often calls the ‘baptismal interview,’ albeit in a slightly less stressful fashion. Ideally one would invite elders of the local ecclesia to the last few classes so that they are a natural presence at the concluding confession of faith class (and put to work just like everyone else, of course). Thus, on completion of the last class the assembled brethren may be able to agree that an excellent confession of faith has been given and a baptismal date is able to be set. (This has worked in practice.) But the bottom line of this philosophy is to avoid a situation where the feeling is “what’s next?” at the end of all the sessions, as often happens with our seminars. Invariably the “breaks” between different teaching series simply act as points at which attendances drop and, potentially, lives are lost.