When it comes to Bible study, I can’t help myself.
Truckload of opinions.
I had the chance to participate in a small group leadership workshop at the retreat I went to a couple of weeks ago. One of the ladies asked a common question: How do you get people to stay plugged into the group?
I raised my hand and the verbal floodgates opened. I’m not usually like that among strangers, but, as I said, I can’t help myself. Scripture study is my passion. I don’t have “perfect attendance” when it comes to morning devotional reading (which I have no excuse for) and I don’t understand everything I read immediately. I’m not the brightest or the smartest. Honestly, I don’t think anyone has ever “arrived” in this area; there’s always more to learn, always a deeper level of love for the Lord to dive into.
While I’m far from the best teacher or leader out there, God has seen fit to light a fire in my heart for His word. I want to know what He thinks. I want to know what He loves. I want to know what He hates. I want to learn to appreciate His sense of humor. I want to recognize His voice. I want to know what is true so I can immediately turn away from what’s false. I want to spend time with Him – how amazing is it that the Lord of the universe saw fit to set up the system in such a way that we could be in relationship with Him?
You know my story. (If you don’t, go here). I’ve wandered and fussed and fretted and made some terrible decisions. I didn’t get into serious Bible study until just before I was married, and that was only because I was desperate. Nothing noble in the reasoning at all. There were some things I my life that I simply had no clue how to handle. I figured that I really didn’t have anything to lose in stepping outside my comfort zone and joining a group. So, with uncharacteristic bravery, I did just that.
God saw fit to place an excellent mentor in my life through that process. She recognized something in me, something I didn’t see in myself, and took the time to pour into me. Everything I know about teaching and leading I learned from her. The groups she led were well-attended, and from that I gathered two keys to getting people to stick around:
- Do away with the notion that it’s “just Jesus and me.”You need to be in church. You need to be in a study group of some sort. Church and groups can take a whole lot of different shapes; there’s no “one size fits all” model. But you do need to be part of the life of the Body. You need to be engaged. You need to ask the Lord to remove the lone wolf attitude from your heart and then lovingly challenge that attitude in others.
- If you feel God leading you to start a study group and others are just crazy enough to join in, require them to commit.
My mentor taught me that people will rise to a challenge. Members of those groups were from all walks and stages of life. Some had been with the Lord for ages while others barely knew Him. Some weren’t Christians at all. Instead of trying to cater to every individual, she just taught. She never dumbed down the lessons. She pushed us to dig in and learn. Questions were encouraged. We were safe to wrestle out the concepts and admit when we struggled. She led by example by always completing the homework and by sharing her life stories with us. Her joy in the journey was palpable and spilled over onto everyone else.
Expect little from people and you’ll get little from them. Expect them to do their best and they will. “Best” varies from person to person and that’s okay. The point is to establish that you’re all there to focus on growing in your relationships with the Lord. The goal is for each person to progress a little further in love, knowledge and obedience each day, whatever that looks like.
To that end, I think it’s good to ask each member of your small group to agree to some version of the following:
In the group I’m currently leading, I usually try to remind everyone of these boundaries every time we begin a new study. Doing so helps to keep the covenant at the forefront of each person’s mind. Nobody can say they “didn’t know” about something and nobody will be surprised by how the group functions. It also gives us a chance to “tweak” the boundaries if needed.
Group dynamics and structure is usually what people think of when they’re contemplating leading a small group, but that’s not actually the place to start. We who are gifted to teach a lead need to begin by considering who we are and how we operate. We’ll look at this in the next post.
For all posts in the Small Groups miniseries, go here.