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Bible Engagement Blog


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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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In Community

Among the highlights of my early adulthood were the times spent lying on the campus lawns at the Johannesburg College of Education while reading and discussing the Scriptures with fellow students. We had no program, no leaders guide, and no set time for our meetings. No one told us to do it. We simply had a desire to get together, open the Scriptures, read and debate. It was organic, compelling, and Spirit empowered. Along with, and spawned out of our Bible reading and discussion, we provoked and encouraged one another to love and good deeds. Our campus lawn meetings usually lasted for a few hours. Generally we’d read a whole book in one sitting (we chose the shorter ones). To this day I still remember our lively deliberations as we reflected on the prophecy of Hosea.

The Bible reading and discussions on the campus lawns resulted in significant outcomes. It deeply informed our faith development, and for many, clarified God’s calling on our lives. Several members of the group have served, or are serving, as full-time vocational missionaries, pastors, evangelists or teachers in Singapore, Egypt, South Africa, USA and Canada.

One of the characteristics of the church should be community. Yet individualism is often deeply entrenched in the church. Bible reading and reflection are a case in point. A strong person centred approach is the hallmark, particularly of Evangelicals. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with personal Bible reading and reflection – far from it. But it is to say that the fullness of Bible engagement comes into being when we read the Bible in community. This shouldn’t surprise us. God is shaping me as a person; but more importantly He is calling, gathering and forming us as a people. We’re in Christ together. That’s why life with God, by definition, is life shared with God’s people.

So what does this mean in practice? How do we do Bible engagement in community? Here are three suggestions:

  • Read, discuss and live out the Bible at the dinner table. Families should crack open the Bible together. The starting place for reading the Bible in community should be the home. God placed us in families. One of my highlights most every evening is reading and chatting about God’s Word with my wife, mother-in-law and children.
  • Read the Bible in a Bible reading small group. Now there’s a unique concept! Many church small groups are program centered or needs oriented but rarely Bible-centric. Imagine a small group where the primary focus is reading and listening to the Scriptures. Why not give it a try – it changed my life!
  • Read the Bible publicly. The norm for most Christians, historically and biblically speaking, is listening to God’s Word. Some local churches have strayed from these roots. When we gather to worship, the Bible should be read “not as information, not just as instruction, but as a summons to assemble together” Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams.

We’ll leave the final word to Richard J. Foster: “Wherever we are located within that all-inclusive community, we have the great privilege of seeing the Scripture through the eyes of the whole community . . . How boring life would be if we listened only to our own insights! How narrow our vision would be if we limited it only to our own understanding! How sad it would be if we missed out on what God has for all of us by failing to listen to how God speaks at various times and in various ways through parts of the whole.”

© Scripture Union Canada 2013