Friday, December 18, 2015

Tips for Preparing a Group Bible Study

This is the second installment in a series about preparing a group Bible study.

Step #1: Slowing down to notice the content

Have you noticed that when you’re familiar with a Bible story you tend to kind of skim over it? If you’ve been going to church since you were young, this can be a problem! You may find yourself zoning out through many a sermon or personal study time. What to do?

Write it down: Take a chunk of the Bible, like one story, one chapter, or the portion assigned to you as leader that week. Take quick notes in writing of 10-20 items you observe, in order. Do not attempt to spiritualize anything or go deep at this point, but simply write down each location, character, and plot development as it occurs. Here’s an example from Matthew 4:1-11.

v. 1          Jesus is led into wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil
v.2           Fasted 40 days; hungry
v.3           Tempter asks him to prove he’s son of God by turning stones into bread
v.4           Jesus: it is written man shall not live on bread but word of God
v. 5-6      Devil takes Jesus to temple, tempts him to jump off; it is written angels will protect you
v.7           Jesus: it is written do not put God to the test
v.8-9       Devil takes Jesus to high mountain and offers him everything if J. will worship him
v. 10       J. sends Satan away, it is written worship God only
v. 11       Devil leaves, angels come and take care of Jesus

Notice the details: Now look for repeated phrases or interesting details that jump out at you. For instance, doesn’t it seem like an understatement to say that Jesus was hungry? Isn’t it interesting that for the first nine verses, Jesus is the one being led, but in verse 10 he just sends Satan away? You probably also noticed how many times the phrase “it is written” occurs. Both Jesus AND Satan are quoting scripture here!

Practice makes perfect: Doing this exercise every time you prepare to teach or lead a Bible discussion will help the tendency to skim a familiar or difficult passage. Leading your group through the same exercise gives them the same benefits, and also demonstrates to newer believers a high view of scripture and a method that will enable them to begin studying on their own. Some groups immediately fall into talking about how the passage makes them feel rather than what it communicates about God, so utilize this tool to ground the group Biblically and create a solid foundation for growth.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Teaching the Bible in Small Groups

Most of us desire to include Bible study in our small groups, but as the week wears on and our preparation is thin, it can begin to seem more like a burden than a blessing. The next few posts will contain some practical tools for deepening your group’s connection with God and each other through studying the Bible together.

First, some encouragement about the benefits:

Knowing God: The primary purpose of engaging with Scripture is to know God better in order to have a deeper and more loving relationship with him. God has given us the Bible as a way to understand and know his character, and true worship grows in us as we more fully know the truth about Him. Even if this seems obvious to you, remember that some of your group members may be exploring the Bible for the first time and need your encouragement and guidance to understand why they should keep going.

Getting the wrong idea: Because sometimes people forget (or don’t know) that this relationship is the purpose of Bible study, they can be tempted to approach it primarily for other reasons. People often see it as an item to check off their list in order to make God happy, or as something to dread because they think of the Bible as a list of failed to-dos. In an attempt to avoid negative feelings, many want to focus only on isolated verses that bring happy thoughts, or see the Bible as a self-help book with themselves as the center. It’s even possible to enjoy the intellectual pursuit of Bible knowledge without giving a thought to really knowing God.

It’s complicated: When we delve into study for the purpose of truly knowing God, we may experience a wide range of feelings—awe, conviction, grief, wonder, joy, humility—just like we do with any real person, because God is a real person we are getting to know. We will miss out on the richness of this relationship if our primary goal is something other than knowing God himself.

Give it time: For this reason, every single foray into the Bible does not have to result in complete understanding or a neatly presented package. Sometimes, we observe the lament of the prophet and spend a few weeks lamenting our own culture’s shortfalls. We might wrestle over exactly how to apply a New Testament injunction to our present situation. We may struggle to come to terms with what we learn about past and future judgement. When this happens, we may simply arrive at a prayer: Lord, help us to see your face in this, help us understand your heart, illuminate your character, bring us wisdom.

Don’t give up: Rest assured that when we seek the kingdom of God first, everything we need is given to us (Matt. 6:33), and that knowing God’s word enables us to resist temptation (Matt. 4:1-11), walk a godly path (Psalm 119:105), teach our children what is right (Deut. 6:4-9), remain strong in our faith (I John 2:14b), grow in holiness (2 Tim. 3:14-16), and experience joy (Jer. 15:16).