The topics covered by Studies on the Go: The Philippians, the Colossians, and the First and Second Thessalonians by David Olshine (Zondervan/Youth Specialties 2009) are literally all over the (Roman Empire) map — from persecution and “Christian lifestyle” to friendship and prayer. These Bible study lessons follow Paul’s physical and spiritual journey through the New Testament books of Philippians, Colossians, and First and Second Thessalonians. Overall, the nature of the curriculum is predominantly exegetical (a verse by verse walk through the text); as a result, the “topics” are simply themes drawn directly from the passages. For example, session one is entitled “Joy in the Journey” because it is based on Philippians 1:1-6, wherein Paul proclaims (vs. 3-5),”I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” [ESV]. Therefore, perhaps the best way to characterize the “theme” of this curriculum is to read from the books of the Bible themselves!
As an individual currently immersed in both the “academic” as well as “practical” spheres of youth ministry, I can attest to the fact that Scripture has always and will always remain relevant to youths’ lives. However, the manner in which this relevance is made known to youth is constantly changing! With the rise of a postmodern youth culture, Bible study leaders can no longer enter a Sunday school or “youth night” setting with an outline of what they will teach the students during the allotted time frame. Rather, students must discover truths for themselves in order for those truths to have an impact upon them. Olshine uses postmodern tendencies to his advantage by presenting the entire lesson in question format, compelling students to wrestle through the text to discover the meaning and significance for themselves — a tactic which encourages both youth ownership and retention.
After a brief introduction to each book, focused on providing the leader with the “historical background and purpose of each letter,” the format of each individual session is as follows:
Leader’s Insights — concentrated context behind the session’s verses
Share — relationship-building warm up questions pertaining loosely to the lesson (what could possibly be called a more focused version of “highs and lows”)
Observe — specific questions allowing students with any level of biblical knowledge to analyze “what’s going on” in the passage
Think — questions aimed at getting students to wrestle with what Paul is saying
Apply — relevance questions that apply “Observe” and “Think” to each individual
Do — an optional activity pertaining to the passage
Quiet Time Reflections — take-home component of lesson (reproducible page) that encourages students to meditate individually on each verse in the passage
Because of the free-flowing discussion-based nature of the lesson, as well as its exegetical focus, this curriculum might be most effective in a youth night setting. Generally, youth are more at ease in this sort of atmosphere and, therefore, would be more willing to generate discussion with only occasional direction given by the facilitator. In fact, Olshine suggests that it works best in a small group setting or “even road trips and retreats.” I would add that it would make a great follow-up study for a major event like a mission trip.
Before giving this study to a volunteer or teaching it oneself, it would be beneficial to read over the lessons prior to teaching them. Though many modifications for an LCMS setting would not be necessary, I did run across a few phrases and sentences that would need some revision before presenting them to the youth. For instance, the Leader’s Insight section in Session One refers to “inviting” Jesus into our lives and becoming “partners with God” to do good works. One other note for LCMS church workers is that since the study heavily relies on interpretation of short passages, the lessons do not always include a balanced teaching of Law and Gospel. Most of the necessary alterations to the lesson could be solved by a simple discussion with other leaders before teaching the day’s lesson.
There are a couple of additional things you might want to know before purchasing this curriculum, both pertaining to the studys exegetical nature. First, because of the nature of Paul’s letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, most sessions are “response”-oriented (i.e. our day-to-day response to the Good News). Also because of this exegetical nature, the historical background given at the beginning of each book is fairly dense. I had to read these short sections twice in order to digest their information — but don’t get me wrong, this was one of my favorite aspects of the curriculum, the information was simply very compact!
These truly are “Studies on the Go.” Preparation time for leaders/facilitators would literally take less than ten minutes. Since the character of the study is such that it is discussion-based, I would be inclined to use it as a High School youth night study and allow students to rotate leadership. Though some parts of the lessons-prep section refer to “your students,” etc., there is really no reason that it could not serve as an opportunity for youth to practice their Christian leadership skills.
As for adding anything to these studies, I would comment simply that they are self-sustaining; however, some additions could be added to make the studies even more effective. In lesson one, for example, one of the warm-up questions in session one asks “What’s the difference between joy and happiness?” To prime youths’ minds for this question, I might read to them a quote from C.S. Lewis on the topic of joy. Also, there are some aspects of the lesson that could be tweaked to better suit this tech-savvy generation. I love the reflections aspect of the lesson — it allows the take-home component to be directly applicable to the lesson and to students’ lives. Because of its brevity, it makes completing the questions and readings very accessible. To heighten its accessibility and encourage conversation, I might start a blog or Facebook group devoted to a discussion of the questions and allow for students to share their reactions.