I have attended many church business meetings considering purchases for furnishings, the outdoors, classroom supplies, material for edification, gospel meetings or special services (with associated advertising efforts), and a host of worthy matters. Inevitably some decision arises where members express the concern that it is a waste of the Lord’s money (money contributed to the local church on the first day of the week). I contend that Bible Class books are a waste of this money that is to be used for benevolence, edification, and evangelism.
Looking at an online bookstore I found some very educational material by Robert Harkrider for about $6.95 per book. Bob and Sandra Waldron published excellent books on the history and geography of the Bible that will take you on an insightful journey through the Bible for about $9.95-14.95 per book. These books reflect extensive study, organization, and writing by true Bible scholars. Even question books at the low cost of $3-4 per book would still fall into this category of wasted money.
Why is this a waste of the Lord’s Money?
Growing up, my mom’s greatest frustration was when we would “throw our money away.” Buying candy and playing coin-operated video games seemed like a wise investment of funds to my ten year-old mind but fell into her “thrown away money” category along with unnecessary fees for late library books or movies, gas used on wasted trips, and food purchased but not eaten. As a father I have adopted her view. We hate to see hard earned money wasted. It is frustrating to see Christians contribute hard earned funds and see it wasted. But you say Bible class books are useful material and provide direction for the class, how could it be a waste of the Lord’s money?
Lost Books: Few things frustrate me more than students–adults and kids–losing their class books by the second or third class period. By the middle and end of the quarter some are using replacement books or the visitor copy. The average class quarter is three months! Some students are costing $15-30 per quarter (serial offenders then are wasting $45-120 per year). Anyone who is responsible for ordering class material has known the frustration of counting the members and adding copies for visitors then reordering books after the first month because some brethren need a book. It is especially frustrating for those who have to copy, collate, and assemble class books (a boring job) to hear a teacher say “we need you to print some more books for our class.” Several years ago I spent hours making a class book (not counting the many hours writing it) and told the class that I would email them an Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word copy of the material if they lost their book and they could reprint copies to their heart’s desire. Some chose to share a book with their neighbor instead.
Unused Books: The often unspoken disappointment of teachers (and I am speaking it here) is walking around an empty classroom or auditorium seeing Bibles and class books left behind for retrieval at the next class period. You know that lesson will not be read and those questions will not be answered in preparation for the next class. Once I asked an adult class to turn to the question page, close their eyes, and hold their pages up and out so that only I could see them. Sadly, a large percentage of the lessons were blank. I wonder if their children had completed lessons?
If many in the congregation will leave their class books in the church building or car or lose them quickly, then it is wasteful for the church to continue to spend money purchasing the material. If 90 class books are ordered (for members, visitors, and replacement copies) and 60% will be unused or lost, then $540 will be wasted that quarter, $2,160 for the year.
I have some fantasy solutions to address the problem. They are fantasy solutions because I doubt anyone would actually do it; but a man can dream.
Solution 1: At the end of the last class for the quarter announce the topic for the next quarter and direct the students to a bookstore to purchase the material. After the shock and silent outrage sets in, tell the class that if they will bring a completed class book to the teacher immediately after class, the church will purchase the next quarter class book for them. After students purchase at least one quarter of material themselves to turn in (completed) at the end of the quarter, they might realize the cost involved and the educational value of completing the material.
Solution 2: There are two classrooms. Someone is posted at the door to the first classroom and those who show a completed lesson (or are visiting) are allowed to enter. Those who have lost books or have not completed their lessons go to the second classroom. In the first classroom the students have an engaging class on the topic because they know the material and perhaps have brought questions developed in the preparation of the lesson. The teacher doesn’t have to teach what was supposed to be prepared ahead of time so the class can get into the material at a greater depth. In the second classroom there is no teacher but a facilitator and the class can discuss whatever jumps in their head. Brother “I Think”, Sister “Preacher So-and-So used to say”, and Brother Internet, who does a quick commentary reference and concordance search and spouts off what the search returned, can opine to their hearts content. It won’t really matter what they discuss since there is no prepared material to know whether the discussion is on track or not, or even scriptural for that matter. It will be full of discussion though, and that can’t be a bad thing!
How Bible Class Books Can Be A Wise Purchase
Keep them: Bible class books are not cheap either in finished product cost or the labor of someone to print and assemble. Keep up with your class book. Kids in public school are given several books and are expected to keep them for a whole school year–nine months! Generally we just have to keep books for a third of that time. Great books like the ones mentioned above are great resources to keep permanently and one can build a useful library with good class books (especially with completed questions and notations of lessons learned).
Use them: A class is enhanced when students come prepared, having read the texts, answered the questions to reinforce their understanding of the subject, and developed their own questions or observations to share with the class. Consider that preparing such a lesson in this way will take longer to complete than the time it takes to ride to the church building.
If we keep the books, the church will not have to purchase more material than necessary, exhibiting wise stewardship of the Lord’s money. If we use the books, then the money will be expended for edification, not an illusion of it, and a wise use of the Lord’s money.