Video Bible studies have become popular among many small groups. These include anything from the study’s author teaching the full lesson, to a short devotional type commentary from the author, to a local pastor creating a video to accompany his or her church’s small groups. Leaders and small-group pastors seem to love these, and with good reason. They exponentially reduce the leader’s prep time and uncertainty. Plus, they add authority to the teaching and uniformity to a church’s small-group strategy when groups are doing the same video Bible study.
But I remain unconvinced. Before you use a video Bible study, consider the risks and disadvantages.
They contribute to a celebrity culture in the church.
Video Bible studies implicitly teach that only people with a “name,” book contract, or title can teach. In this way, they contribute to a celebrity mentality where the majority of people in the church don't believe they have anything worthy to say about the Bible.
One of the assets of small-group ministries is that they encourage the church to be the church. By this I mean that lay leaders are equipped and given an opportunity to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). This effectively counters the celebrity or expert status of the pastor who teaches from the pulpit every week by reminding every believer to minister.
But when a small group uses a video Bible study, the teacher becomes another layer of celebrity, suggesting that he or she is more important and qualified than the lay leader, and perhaps more important than the pastor. I’ve listened to the awe in the voices of leaders and participants who eagerly tell me who teaches their video Bible study. While popular teachers like Beth Moore and John Ortberg are good teachers, they form an unhealthy following of fans. When I hear someone trying to impress me with who's teaching their video Bible study, I usually ask if they have anyone in their church capable of teaching or leading. I would much rather be taught by a fallible, teachable local man or woman than some distant icon.
They set up the teacher as an icon.
These popular authors and teachers featured in our video Bible studies are so distant from us, it can appear that they're living perfect lives. Of course this isn't true, but because they are distant, unknowable people put on a pedestal with perfect hair and makeup, we forget that they, too, are fallible people on the journey. Sure, they often tell self-deprecating stories, but do we really believe they have morning breath?
Unfortunately, we begin to believe that to be where they are, they must be perfect teachers with perfect homes, families, gardens, and cars. But how many icons have we seen fall? It almost seems to go with the territory. Then the teacher's fans are left in shock as their perfect picture crumbles before their eyes.
I want to know the people leading and teaching in my small group. I want to know they are just as human, just as fallible, as I am. And as a leader, I want to be known because being known keeps me accountable and honest. I can’t teach something that is contrary to my lifestyle because my group members will find me out. That keeps me honest.
They discourage lay leaders from developing leadership gifts.
Paul always stressed local leadership in the churches he mentored. He helped them get established, but quickly turned leadership over to the locals. In Ephesians 4:11–12, he noted that the role of the main leadership (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) is to equip God’s people. Ideally, local leaders equip local leaders who in turn equip other local leaders. And the result is that the church, the body of Christ, is built up. Sure, the local leaders may not be as seamless as a video teacher with unlimited scripting and editing. But as a person leads, he or she becomes more skilled and ever more useful to the body of Christ.