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Bible Engagement in Small Groups

Getting together with a micro-community of believers to read/hear God’s Word is an effective way to get to know God and understand how to live in a vibrant relationship with Him. Here are ten ways to strengthen Bible engagement in small groups:

Bathe everything in prayer. Pray before, after and during the time spent together. When you begin, pray something like, “God we’re going to be reading your Word. Help us to engage it actively, but also to listen attentively. You are the Teacher and we’re your students. Please convict, guide and transform us. Amen.” For the duration of the gathering be prepared to stop the dialogue to pray the Scriptures into personal needs or situations. When you close, pray something like, “Thank you Lord for the way we’ve met you in and through your Word. Help us apply your Word in everything we say and do. For your honour and glory. Amen.

Get to know each other. Create time and space for building relationships. Strong relationships are needed for heartfelt/meaningful dialogue. Foster an environment that’s friendly, respectful, and builds trust. Look for practical ways to love, encourage, and celebrate life together.

Read the Bible in multi-sensory ways. Be creative and three-dimensional, i.e., move beyond the printed page. For example, when reading about the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist/Communion in 1 Corinthians 11, have a fresh loaf baking in a bread maker so that the smell pervades the air. When you finish reading the passage, eat the bread while discussing the text.

Teach public reading of Scripture. When we read the Bible together we should aim to read it well. Some basic instruction will help people read more confidently and meaningfully. For more information check out the Bible Engagement Blog post, Reading the Bible Publicly.

Don’t reduce the Bible to a sourcebook for finding the right answers. The purpose of a small group Bible study should never be ‘knowledge about the Bible’. Bible knowledge isn’t an end in itself, nor is it a means to an end. The aim isn’t right answers, it’s knowing the One who is the answer. Interact with God’s Story in ways that our stories (as individuals and as a group) are formed and transformed by His Story.

Use open-ended questions. Allowing the formulation of any answer, rather than a selection from a set of predetermined possible answers, will help people press into God’s Word. Ask questions like, “What stood out for you?”, “Did it raise any questions for you?”, “Do you see the Father, Son or Holy Spirit in the text?”, or “Why is this in the Bible?” As a discussion progresses, direct people back into the Word. Ask, “Where do you see that in Scripture?”, or “Is there something in the text that informed your perspective?”

Make the main thing the main thing. Spend more time reading the Bible than reading books, commentaries, curriculum, or study guides about the Bible. It’s not a Bible study if the main thing is reading someone’s book about the Bible, listening to someone preach/teach on a topic from the Bible, or watching a video series about the Bible! God’s Word, read/heard, should be the primary text/content, and the Holy Spirit should be the ultimate teacher.

Discuss the uncomfortable/difficult passages. Be prepared to struggle with the ‘hard’ Scriptures, even when you don’t find satisfactory explanations. Wrestle with different points of view in a respectful and mature way.

Aim to read/hear the Scripture through the voices/ears of the whole group. Recognise how your own view of Scripture is limited, and that the fullness of Bible reading comes into its own when God speaks through different people.

Listen beyond your traditional theological grid. Allow God’s Word to challenge your presuppositions. Be humble. Be aware of the limitations of your insight and understanding. Be open to how God works mysteriously and powerfully, in and through His Word, to redeem and restore your life, and the lives of everyone in the group.

Using different methodologies may also be helpful. Try implementing one of these strategies:

The “Book Club” approach. Ask group members to read a whole book of the Bible prior to getting together, or read a big chunk when you are together (an entire story). Then open it up for dialogue. Discuss the writers intent, themes, plot, characters, what people liked or didn’t like, and so on.

The “Visual Arts” approach. Read a portion of Scripture, then view art forms (from different cultures and centuries) such as ceramics, drawings, paintings, sculptures, stained glass, wood carvings, and such, that illustrate the text. Discuss the artists context, how s/he interprets the biblical narrative/event, and how it may or may not be true to the text.

What would you add? Share your tips for strengthening Bible engagement in small groups.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Bible Teaching Principles

The way we learn varies from person to person. There are 7 styles of learning: visual (spatial, using pictures and colour), aural (auditory, musical), verbal (linguistic, word-based techniques), physical (kinesthetic, using sensations or role playing), logical (mathematical, using reasoning), social (interpersonal, in groups), and solitary (intrapersonal, working alone, self study). Most of us incorporate a mix of these learning styles and rarely fit in only one category. My predominate learning style is intrapersonal, but I sometimes need an interpersonal learning strategy to help me reflect on and critique my understanding. I’m also very dependent on logical systematic thinking and word based techniques.

Because we’re all different in the way we learn it stands to reason that when we teach the Bible we should do so in ways that facilitate different learning styles. So with this in mind here are 12 creative Bible teaching principles:

  1. The Paul and Timothy principle. Learning is strengthened when it’s under the guidance of a Christian mentor (cf. Philippians 4:9). Some biblical examples include Jethro guiding Moses (cf. Exodus 18), Priscilla and Aquila explained the way of God more adequately to Apollos (cf. Acts 18:26), Paul teaching Timothy sound doctrine and practical faith (cf. 2 Timothy 1:13, 2:2, 3;10, 14), older women training younger women (cf. Titus 2:4), and the ultimate example of Jesus investing 3 years into the spiritual development of the disciples.
  2. The yacking principle. Some people love to chat. Bible teaching is strengthened when people are given occasions to verbalize their thoughts and discuss what they’re learning.
  3. The theme park principle. Memorable learning experiences help to etch God’s Word on our hearts and minds. Working in a soup kitchen is a more powerful learning experience than reading about the poor. According to Edgar Dale the least to most effective teaching methods are: verbal activities, visual symbols, simulated experiences and direct experiences.
  4. The Sherlock Holmes principle. Some people are more motivated to learn when the answers aren’t obvious. Simplistic yes/no questions should be avoided. Jesus, the master teacher, used parables with hidden meanings. When we teach the Scriptures we should interact with the mystery and suspense that’s ingrained in the Story.
  5. The sticky principle. The only Bible learning that really sticks is that which is Spirit informed (cf. John 14:26). Human teaching must be subject to and guided by the Teacher (the Holy Spirit) because only He can ultimately inform, transform and conform the learner to His Word.
  6. The Sandals Beach Resort principle. An environment that’s comfortable is usually more conducive for learning than one that isn’t. On a purely practical level the Bible is best taught in settings where there are suitable lights, furnishings, an ideal temperature and the distractions are eliminated.
  7. The action-attitude principle. We believe what we do more than do what we believe. Christibible-teaching-button-300x169an education professor John Westerhoff says, “If we want people to be able to accept or reject the Christian faith, we have to turn our attention and emphasis from teaching about Christianity to offering within the church experiences which demonstrate our faith.”
  8. The concrete principle. Organized, rationale, logical thinking should be the underlying foundation for all teaching. Learning that requires abstract, hypothetical, or philosophical thinking should be built on concrete foundations.
  9. The show and tell principle. My wife, when she was a full-time kindergarten teacher, scheduled a weekly show and tell. It gave each child an opportunity to show and tell the other children about something that was special or important. Show and tell shouldn’t be restricted to children. Facilitating creative space for all age groups enhances the learning experience.
  10. The Google principle. The ability to search the internet for facts, answers, opinions and such enables us to take ownership of what we learn and when we learn it. Bible study is strengthened when there’s shared ownership of the process.
  11. The travelling supper principle. A variety of settings enriches the learning experience. I’ll never forget studying Acts 17:16-34 while sitting on the Acropolis rocks where the Areopagus would have been situated. And I’ll never forget Psalm 30:5 after singing it over and over again with a congregation of poor believers on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.
  12. The iTranslate principle. We learn new things better when we’re given a chance to put what we’re learning into our own words (e.g. Matthew 16:13-20).

 

Have your say. Share your Bible teaching principles.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5