When Facing Forward Feels Like Fast Forward

By Susie Rowan, BSF Executive Director

I bought my first iPhone in 2009, two years after the first one was released. Today, I have the iPhone X — the fourth iPhone I’ve owned to date — with new apps and updates. (Hello, Face ID!) Can you believe texting, selfies and mobile web access didn’t exist 10 years ago? Smartphone updates come unexpectedly when new releases are ready. I get a notice on my phone, and I’m eager to have the latest. Are you?

For the past decade, BSF has released updates regularly. But does the pace of change seem chaotic? Even confusing? Do you feel overwhelmed by new websites, names and procedures? If you’re like me, updates to my iPhone can seem easier to accept than changes in BSF.

So, why push the fast-forward button on change in BSF when change seems so … uncomfortable?

Rationale for Change

In 2009, when I became executive director, BSF board members showed me the writing on the wall. Once I saw the facts, I knew BSF must face forward and face outward to survive. In my first remarks to teaching leaders, just 10 days after assuming my new role, I said this:

“Now we’ve got some work to do. We are called to reach the next generation. We are called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to our communities and to the nations. It will take all of us. … We must be passionate for Christ. We must love people as He loves them. We must cherish the Word of God and believe that BSF is the best Bible study to teach the truth about God to the nations. We need to realize that we live in an ever-changing world ruled by a sovereign, never-changing God, who calls us to figure out how to proclaim His never-changing truths to the ever-changing cultures and generations of today. That is the task before us. I ask you to continue with me in this work.”

And you have!

The first change, in 2009, rolled out quickly. Do you remember? It involved our dress code. When I returned to the United States from teaching BSF in India, the pressing debate in BSF at that time involved the length of cropped pants in our women’s classes. Coming from a culture where persecution of Christians was horrific, I was heartbroken to hear that cropped pants were such a hot issue. I knew that passion for Christ and compassion for His people had to be preeminent over procedures. We needed some heart work.

But dress code was only the beginning. From several surveys and studies, we learned BSF no longer felt current. We barely had entered the digital age. Our procedures felt controlling, and the weekly study seemed more about homework than heart work.

While maintaining a reputation of excellence in Bible study, BSF also had a reputation for rigidity and legalism. We learned that while many BSFers knew their Bible well, they did not always live Christ-centered lives. As Mark Bailey, BSF board member and president of Dallas Theological Seminary, taught teaching leaders this summer, just because you know the Bible doesn’t mean you know the God of the Bible.

My heart is to uphold the vision of our founder, A. Wetherell Johnson, who had a passion for Jesus Christ and for in-depth Bible study. Board member emeritus Lois McCall knew her well and described Miss Johnson as a “teacher and a lover.”

She loved God, she loved His Word, and she loved people. As a great teacher of God’s Word, she found excellent methods and procedures for in-depth Bible study that pointed countless people to Christ.

But 10 years ago, we found ourselves in the position of many ministries. If we didn’t face forward and face outward, we would face fiasco. As stewards of BSF in a digital age, we are responsible for adapting our methods while maintaining our core principles and values.

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19

Reality of Change

BSF has undergone change and is undergoing change because we remain steadfastly and passionately committed to our God-given mission: Global in-depth Bible studies producing passionate commitment to Christ, His Word and His Church.

Our staff is committed to developing a culture of innovation while holding fast to the vision of our founder and the mission for which God created BSF. Innovation is more than a buzzword; it is essential to vibrant ministry. Through innovation, we take a timeless mission and find ways to accomplish it today. We understand and respond to our participants’ needs.

“Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”
– William Pollard

The work of the Spirit is sufficient for yesterday, today and tomorrow. But yesterday’s procedures and methods are not. God never changes, yet Jesus was history’s greatest agent of change. God’s Word never changes, but communication methods do.

Innovation allows us to bring an unchanging God to an ever-changing world. In doing so, we remain a relevant and powerful advocate for the Word over time.

BSF will innovate with passion to make Christ known.
BSF will innovate prayerfully, seeking to discern God’s will in every change.
BSF will innovate with deep empathy for those we hope to reach and retain.
BSF will innovate patiently. Despite the “age of acceleration” we realize it takes time to learn and adjust.
Innovation in BSF will involve pilots and pivots. We call that agility, allowing our methods to bend and shift.

In BSF we will often implement change on a small scale. Then, we pivot and make improvements from what we learn, then launch on a broad scale. Launch will be when improvements are ready, which may or may not coincide with the start of a new study year. Time is of the essence in this age of acceleration.

Throughout the past year, we threw several logs of change on the fire. They include discussion group options and new digital material. It’s our prayer that these changes — and any changes we introduce throughout the study year — won’t smother the flame but will fan the fire of a renewed passion for Christ in every local BSF class.

If we are willing face forward, and even accept some fast forward, BSF will not only survive, it will thrive!