Moving on from Covenant Bible Study

Note: I plan to share this post with the editors of Covenant. I have sent an email on the Covenant Bible Study website asking for contact information.

Last spring I heard of a new 24-week Bible study course called Covenant. As a Bible study leader I am always looking for new offerings, especially since Disciple Bible Study stopped producing
new materials. Covenant was introduced in a few random test market churches and the feedback was positive. I read a couple of sample lessons online and viewed some of the companion videos. The
videos, in particular, were impressive. I attended a training event for prospective Covenant leaders and began encouraging folk who had taken Bible studies with me before to sign up. I love the metaphor of the one table featured in every location where the videos were shot. And then two nights ago, ten weeks into the 24 week study, our class decided to quit Covenant and go to something else.

Before the class began I started feeling pangs in my gut telling me to change course. The cost of Covenant is high- $50 per person. Even so we still had 20+ registrants. A colleague teaching
Covenant in another church told me the material was very thin. From the very first lesson I found the materials frustrating. The study manual and the leader's guide were disconnected, with no real sense of continuity. There was very little reflection or application for every day life.

After we decided to quit one of the participants made the excellent observation that there was never any connection to previous chapters. This is due to the style of Covenant. The presenter/scholar of the weekly video also writes the commentary for that particular lesson, and then these exact points are
recalled in the leader's guide. 24 different writers= 24 different themes and perspectives. That is OK, as long as there is a consistent narrative- the one thing or takeaway you want participants to experience. When I preach one of my goals is to preach one sentence to one person. I attempt to focus the message so there is one clear idea I want to communicate. There is no such takeaway in Covenant. The editors seemed to be more focused on marketing than on content. Every lesson includes an invitation to download more content, at additional cost, per video. Participants
have already paid $50!

As the weeks progressed I grew more and more frustrated, and shared this with the class. I began to hear some concerns from the participants. We took a couple of weeks off for Christmas. I hoped
things would improve as we moved in to "Living the Covenant," the second eight week phase. It didn't. Sunday night I once again struggled to prepare. I decided to recommend to the class that we
move to another course. Then something serendipitous happened: my car broke down and I was late. By the time I arrived they had started the DVD lesson, and forty-five minutes later we finished
our discussion for the week. I then shared my thoughts about transitioning to another class- only to learn that while they waited for me they shared similar concerns with each other! Their thoughts and concerns assured me of the Holy Spirit's movement in our decision to move on from Covenant.

I shared a previous thought I had discussed with Jerry Butler, adult education coordinator at Custer Road: that Covenant could be a sort of warm up for those considering Disciple- or even
Christians new to Bible study. This idea was soundly disputed by folk in the class. The material is too over heads, lacks focus and continuity, and would be very frustrating. I am not writing this to shame the editors, writers, or presenters of Covenant, but as an invitation to re-examine the goals and
possibly revise the curriculum. What made Disciple so effective was the level where the bar was set: high. Excellent commentary written by one person for the entire study. The videos featured
different scholars each week, but their thoughts were not echoed again in the manual and the leader's guide. Give participants more space to ask questions. And have an overall focus, as well as a
weekly theme that builds and relates to the whole. And reconsider the cost. $50 for 24 weeks limits who can participate.

So our class decided to substitute the 10-week mini Disciple Introduction to the Psalms course. I led this class at Oak Lawn a couple of years ago and really loved it. Surprisingly so.


1. Follow your instincts. If the material doesn't feel right to the leader it will not translate to others.
2. Create an environment where feedback is welcome. Listen and respect others' voices. Vulnerability and honesty will always be appreciated and welcomed.
3. Never assume participants have a certain level of expertise. Sometimes it is less, often times much more than they know or admit.
4. Don't keep doing something for the sake of deadlines or schedules. If it is not working folk become frustrated and we end up harming rather than building up.
5. If Bible study is not fun something is wrong.
6. Ultimately the Spirit still moves! Our class bonded and wants to stay together.


Sundays, 6:00-7:30, Feb 8 - April 26
Materials are free! I'll post a registration link when it is available. Or, if Sundays aren't good for you, click here to sign up for my Lenten Bible study, Wednesdays, 7:30-9:00, Feb 18 - Apr 1.