Introducing the 9Marks Study Guides
Interview by Matthew Claridge–
Carl Trueman recently made the provocative statement: “The gospel is insufficient.” For Evangelicals who have rediscovered the centrality of the gospel for all of life and doctrine, this certainly comes across as fighting words. However, let’s hear Trueman out: “For Paul, the gospel is not in itself sufficient to ensure the continuation of the gospel … it needs a church structure to help safeguard its content.”
Long before Trueman sounded this important note, the ministry of 9marks has been bridging the gap between the gospel summons and the church’s polity, seeking to fulfill Paul’s words: “guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” The newest vehicle 9marks has produced to extend this vision are the 9Marks Healthy Church Study Guides written by assistant 9marks editor, Bobby Jamieson. Bobby sat down with Credo to answer some questions about this exciting new resource.
Tell us a little about how this series of 9Marks study guides came about.
9Marks exists to equip church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources for displaying God’s glory to the nations through healthy churches. In terms of publishing, up to this point we’ve mainly done books, which means we’ve primarily gone after the “biblical vision” side of things.
But we also want to put tools into pastors’ hands that they can directly put to use in their churches. So Jonathan Leeman and I came up with the idea for a curriculum series that covers the biblical basis and practical outworking of each of the nine marks (laid out in Mark Dever’s book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church) in a road-ready format.
These study guides, I should add, aren’t tied to any book or other resource—they’re just engaging with Scripture on each of these topics.
The initial test course for these was a 65 week-long Core Seminar track at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. A handful of other churches taught through all or some of material and provided feedback as well.
This series is meant to be a practical tool for church reform. If you want to change the direction of your church, say, to make membership more meaningful, or to move toward elder leadership, you have to teach and teach on those subjects until they’re part of the bloodstream of your church. We hope these booklets will help pastors do that.
These booklets are described as “study guides.” How do you envision these booklets being used in church life?
These are all inductive, discussion-driven Bible studies. They’re meant to be taught in any kind of group context: Sunday school, Wednesday night Bible study, small groups, and so on.
The studies all focus on church-related topics, and the application constantly pushes toward implications for the life of the whole church. So, the ideal situation would be to pull together as big a chunk of the church as you can manage for something like this, especially if you’re trying to change the DNA of your church. But again, they could be used in any group teaching time.
Do you recommend any order that you think churches could use while working through this series?
After an introductory volume that gives a biblical overview of the church, the series just works straight through the “nine marks of a healthy church.” Since there’s a pretty logical flow to the nine marks, if a church is up for it, they could just work straight through the whole series.
Of course, each volume stands on its own as well, so churches should feel free to pick and choose. Also, I know many churches follow something like a 13-week track for their Sunday school. These studies alternate between 6 and 7 weeks, so it should be pretty easy to mix and match them.
How would you advise a teacher or pastor to prepare themselves for presenting this material in their churches?
First, read through the Bible passages the lesson covers and maybe make a few of your own notes on it to ensure that you’ve internalized the point of the text.
Second, there are teacher’s notes for each lesson in the back of the book, so I’d recommend thinking through the questions and answers on your own, and again, maybe jotting down a few notes of your own to help get the discussion going if need be.
A pastor or church leader who’s familiar with other 9Marks material could easily teach these without much preparation at all. That’s our desire, anyway—for these studies to be pretty easy to just pick up and use.
Also, one pastor friend used the exegetical discussions as a springboard and then came up with his own application questions specifically tailored to his congregation. As far as I’m concerned that’s a fine way to use this stuff!
Many of our readers may already be familiar with 9Marks, but if you could, please provide us a sense of what makes the ministry philosophy of 9Marks, and the philosophy of these study guides in particular, distinctive from other resources or curricula available for churches to use today.
Our ministry is built on the conviction that the Bible has a lot to say—maybe more than we often think it does—about how our churches should live together.
So, one way these study guides differ from lots of other material in this genre is that they are relentlessly whole church-focused. That is, the application doesn’t focus on the individual Christian life, but how we live together as members of local churches. And there’s a lot of application to how we do things together as local churches, like corporate worship.
Often, we as Christians don’t really think in corporate categories at all. We can even approach church mainly through the lens of “I,” “me,” and “my” instead of “we” and “our.” By contrast, I hope this series will get people thinking in corporate categories. Hopefully these studies will help people see how membership in a local church is fundamental to their lives as Christians. My desire and prayer is that they will help church members to think more actively and creatively about how they can build up their whole church.
Bobby Jamieson is assistant editor for 9Marks, author of the 9Marks Healthy Church Study Guides, an MDiv student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church.
Matthew Claridge (M.Div. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Th.M. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is an editor with Credo Magazine and the senior pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, Idaho. He is married to Cassandra and has two children.