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Free in Christ: Congregational Bible studies

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly” (Colossians 3:16). Read how two congregations provide different opportunities to study that message.

I arrived in Menomonee Falls, Wis., in 2019. I had accepted the call to serve as the pastor at Pilgrim Lutheran Church. I was installed in August of that year, after a 13-month vacancy.

Often after such a long vacancy period, an incoming pastor might expect that ministry has slowed down. That was not the case at Pilgrim. One of the things that immediately stuck out to me was the culture of Bible study at the congregation. There was a joy and a desire to study the Word together with others. The attendance at Sunday morning Bible class was strong. There was a variety of opportunities during the week in addition to the Sunday morning study: a study group for moms, a lay-led study focused on generosity, a layled small group study for millennials, and Guys and God (Bible study after open gym).

Pilgrim’s approach to studying God’s Word involves flexibility in a lot of areas. In Christ, we are free to be flexible regarding time, format, topic, teacher, and target audience. We attempt to embrace that in how we approach Bible study. That continued during the pandemic. When we could no longer meet to study in person, we started an online Bible class on YouTube. Members really took to that, and even though we are no longer in lockdown, the class has continued. (This class even led to an adult confirmation.)

people at a bible study in a restaurant
In 2023, Pilgrim, Menomonee Falls, Wis., added a new Bible study called Theology on Tap to offer members and their friends more opportunities to dig into God’s Word.

This freedom we have in Christ also helps us be okay with the idea that some classes may not last. Some groups serve for a while and then run their course. Other new opportunities may arise. Now that we have two full-time pastors, we are looking to get even more of our people into the Word. One new way we have tried to do that is through what we call Theology on Tap. We are blessed to have other pastors as members of our congregation who are willing to serve. Once a month, a group meets at a local establishment, and the pastors lead a discussion on theology while people in attendance can enjoy an adult beverage. We encourage our members to invite a friend. This has been well received and is just one more opportunity for people to be in the Word.

This fall, we offered five different opportunities for our members to get into the Word. We don’t expect our people to attend every class, but we do encourage them to find one opportunity that works for them, whether it be our Women’s Book Club or Financial Peace (both of which are lay-led), the online class, the Sunday class, or Theology on Tap. For the last few years, this flexibility has allowed us to increase the number of people who have attended at least one class of one kind or another.

Not every congregation has the same resources or opportunities, but freedom in Christ enables us to find a variety of ways to study the Word together as God’s people. God bless your efforts!

Learn more > about Pilgrim’s ministry at pilgrimcares.org.

Collin Vanderhoof


Emmanuel, Tempe, Ariz., has identified seven core values that drive our church’s ministries. These values are the foundation on which we develop our vision of ministry and design strategies to accomplish our agreed-upon goals. When our leaders discussed these values, it was apparent that a comprehensive Bible class called God’s Ways would become an essential part of our ministries since it embodies six of the core values.

God’s Ways is a chronological and historic study of the entire biblical text from Genesis through Revelation. The class, taught over one-and-a-half years, meets for 60 sessions for 2.5 hours each session. Included are at-home worksheets and Bible readings.

Emmanuel has offered a nice variety of Bible studies, but God’s Ways adds another dimension. Our discipleship committee plans all our Bible studies. One committee member commented, “It would be nice if we could offer something that engages God’s people in his Word on a deeper level than just showing up for a Bible study and going through the material for an hour.” God’s Ways accomplishes that goal.

God’s Ways also builds Christian community. One participant remarked, “This investment of time with other Christians is like taking a course that demands more attention than is normal in a regular Bible class.” Someone else said, “I really enjoy spending this time with my fellow believers. We have fellowship time before and after each session, but we also have a break in the middle of the session to talk with one another with food and drink in hand. Pastor also builds in time for us to pray for each other and encourage each other when we meet. Our Christian bond is growing through the time we spend together in God’s Ways.”

Our congregation is building a new Ministry and Education Center, so God’s Ways meets offsite. We capped registration to 30 participants because of space, but we do have 8 others who participate online. As a pastor, it is humbling to see what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of his people through this course. After the first four weeks of God’s Ways, one of the participants said, “God’s grace has taken on a completely new meaning for me. As we look at Genesis, we see God’s grace time and time again throughout the biblical narrative, and dots are being connected that amaze me.”

A couple at Emmanuel, Tempe, Ariz., studying the Bible during Bible class
More than 30 people at Emmanuel, Tempe, Ariz., attend a comprehensive Bible class called God’s Ways that examines the entire biblical text.

In my experience as a pastor, there aren’t any shortcuts to growing God’s people. The Lord operates on his own timetable, but it is important for us to create opportunities for people to be in the Word. One member shared, “I felt the need to step up my studies of God’s Word. I was worried that I was taking the Bible for granted. After reading the Bible cover to cover each year for the past decade, I needed something to . . . help me understand the implications of what I was reading. In God’s Ways, my expectations have been exceeded. I am reading and exploring the Bible completely different than I have in the past.”

The Lord is growing his people. When God tells us that his Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), you can see firsthand evidence with God’s Ways. Another member said, “The study is thorough and has us spending more time delving into God’s Word. I honestly believe it has improved my attitude toward life and my neighbor.”

Praise be to God for what he is doing through God’s Ways! As a shepherd of God’s people, I give thanks to God for this opportunity every day.

Gary Pufahl

Learn more> about Emmanuel’s ministry at elctempe.org.

Read more about this new series “Free in Christ” in “Practicing Christian freedom.”

Author: Multiple authors
Volume 111, Number 1
Issue: January 2024

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This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Free in Christ

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