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Bible Seminars

I had the honor of being part of one of the two Truth Corps teams in 1975. It was a life-changing experience as it opened my mind to the importance of me and my ecclesia being actively involved in regular outreach.
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I had the honor of being part of one of the two Truth Corps teams in 1975. It was a life-changing experience as it opened my mind to the importance of me and my ecclesia being actively involved in regular outreach.

Bro. Roberts wrote in the Ecclesial Guide that there are two purposes for an ecclesia: edification of the members and outreach to those outside the community. When there is a balance of edification and outreach, the ecclesia often seems to reach a healthy state that can be lost when one dimension gives way to the other.

When I returned from Truth Corps that summer, I was excited to get involved and support the outreach work of my ecclesia in Pomona, CA. Generally, in the 70s and 80s, this took the form of a public lecture. We would diligently handbill in adjacent neighborhoods, advertise as best we could, and invite the public to come to an address, often given in a public setting. If you measure success by the number of visitors, it was almost always discouraging. I found myself taking empty comfort in what some would say about the current generation. People just aren’t interested in the Bible. We live in a dark and degenerate age and the best we can do is be witnesses to the world around us. Deep down, however, many of us wondered if the “lecture” format just wasn’t relevant for external outreach, though undeniably it had value for our own young people who were learning the Truth. Maybe the ineffectiveness was about us, not the gospel?

When there is a balance of edification and outreach, the ecclesia often seems to reach a healthy state that can be lost when one dimension gives way to the other.In 1993, the Reseda, CA Ecclesia held a meeting for all Southern California ecclesias to hear about the Learn to Read the Bible Effectively seminar that had been developed by Bre. Randy Coy and Dave Noble in Ohio. It seemed like a novel idea and we were all excited to give it a try. This was during the days of overhead transparencies, so we all got working on the creation of our presentation materials. It was also highly recommended that the advertising spend be significant. In 1994, during our first seminar in the Pomona, CA Ecclesia, we spent nearly $3,500 on six half-page ads in the local, mid-level circulation paper. We scouted out locations and selected the Montclair Community Center, which held 70 people. We thought this would possibly be way too big, but we hoped to have ecclesial members attend also. Our expectations were high — anticipating ten visitors or more. The responses started coming in and it was remarkable. For our first seminar, we received 325 registrations! We had to quickly secure a second and third room and a new set of presenters to handle the overflow. To borrow a story from the gospels, our “net broke.”

I cannot adequately describe the awesome emotional experience this was for us. The room was full of people who wanted to learn about the Bible. They were eager to come back each week and learn more. Progressively, many would stay after class to talk. The follow-up classes were on Genesis and it really seemed to help the students apply many of the skills they had learned in the seminar. Further, this seemed to be where the real learning and bonding occurred. Now, some 25 years later, I am personally aware of more than 20 baptisms that resulted from seminars we’ve been involved with. I count this one of the richest blessings in my life. We wonder where we might be without the fellowship of those who accepted the Truth over these many years as a result of these seminars.

The success of the seminars was not a one-time phenomenon, nor was it unique to the ecclesia I was then attending. Since 1994, I am aware of many innovations in the seminar approach. For instance, it was delivered as a weekend seminar to accommodate a remote location. It was given by sisters for women-only in the mid-morning. The materials were adapted to improve the application of the skills with in-class exercises. It was given as an online webinar. It was incorporated into a multi-level series of progressive classes. Eventually, new seminars have been introduced. After the 9/11 attacks, a seminar called, “Understanding Bible Prophecy,” was built on the premise that almost all prophecy is established on the Promises in the Garden and to Abraham and David. Furthermore, the Promises rest on the foundation of God’s Master Plan to fill the earth with His glory. In many ways, this seminar presents some of our most unique and important first principle teachings, while satisfying the desire of participants to understand many of the popular prophecies. The Understanding Bible Prophecy seminar presentation slides and instructor notes are all now available on www.tidings.org/preaching. This seminar has had similar results to the Learn to Read the Bible Effectively seminar, though it seems to attract a different kind of student — often those with some basic Bible knowledge. There have been other seminars created on Genesis, the Kingdom, and God’s Master Plan. Recently, a class has been completed called “Walking with Jesus Christ.” This demonstrates how the Bible is an effective textbook for Interpersonal Relationships: The Use of Money, Marriage and Family, Stress and Anxiety, Being Good Citizens in the World and finally, How to Have a Future Focus. We are excited to see how well this new seminar attracts the public. We hope to have it available in coming months on www.tidings.org.

However, it seems the seminar’s attractiveness to the public has waned over recent years. The triple-digit registrations often now are a dozen or less in many cases. Even the ecclesias with the seminar as an ongoing part of their normal activities have noticed a drop. There are, of course, many possible reasons for this change. Today, the amount of Biblical education available online is staggering. Many may choose to watch a podcast or video series in their pajamas rather than come out for six or more weeks during the evening, as it is easy and accessible at any time. Interestingly, I have recently heard similar comments by brethren about the seminars that I remember hearing about public lectures back in the 70s and 80s. “The seminars are passé.” “No one is really interested in the Bible anymore in our communities.” Some even have ventured to say that we have “saturated” our communities with the seminars and that’s why interest is declining. This last view can hardly be substantiated when we consider the enormity of the communities we live in.

We ought to enlist all ages and genders in our constituency when we brainstorm new methods to teach the Truth.When some say we might want to jettison the seminars, as they are no longer effective, I generally ask them, “What do we have now that we can do that is more effective?” If someone could answer that, I think we would all gladly change. To my knowledge, the seminars remain an effective way for us to reach our community. The number of registrations may be down, but we are still getting students and baptisms. Bible seminars should not be the only thing an ecclesia does, but they remain an effective tool for connecting with the communities where we live and work. We ought to challenge ourselves to create new materials, new seminars, new advertising, new methods of delivery. The future may not be live public Bible seminars. We ought to enlist all ages and genders in our constituency when we brainstorm new methods to teach the Truth. We can learn from the example of the Apostle Paul about flexibility in our teaching methods, so we might appeal to new people, with different needs in unique ways.

At the end of the day, there is a huge benefit to individuals and ecclesias involved in the public seminars. They sharpen our message, build faith and accelerate spiritual growth. They help us avoid isolation from the public, a grave danger to ecclesias. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts is one to ourselves. They remind us just how beautiful and inspiring the Truth is and how remarkably it is revealed in Scripture. This joy also can be seen in the faces of men and women who attend the classes. By God’s grace, we pray the Lord will lead us to more!

Dave Jennings
(Verdugo Hills, CA)

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