Small Groups: Actually Study the Bible

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I don’t have a neat graphic for you. I don’t even have anything particularly nice to say. Brace yourselves.

Small groups need to be about Bible study.

As in, you have to actually study the Bible.

Not the pastor’s sermon. Not a book. Not a video.

The Bible.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about flopping your Bible open, pointing to a verse and deciding what it means. I am ALL FOR workbooks and commentaries and concordances and lexicons. I couldn’t understand the Bible without that stuff. What I’m talking about here is reading a book by a Christian author, discussing its contents and calling it good. That’s not Bible study. That’s a book club.

There’s nothing wrong with book clubs or sermon/video discussion, but don’t tell me or anyone else that you’re in a Bible study group (or leading a Bible study group) if that’s not what you’re doing. Can you belong to a book club? Sure. Is it okay to be involved with people who meet and discuss video teaching? Sure. But there has simply got to be space and time in your life when you’re cracking open those pages (even if they’re electronic…sigh). If that book club or video group takes up that space and time, as in you can’t fit Bible study into your schedule, then you’d best be ditching that and plugging in somewhere else.

Don’t tell me that Bible study is too hard. You have the Spirit of the Living God dwelling inside of you if you’re in Christ.

Don’t tell me that you’re can’t find a group. You and I both know that’s not true. If believers around the world can bravely face imprisonment or worse to meet together and soak in God’s word, then you can get off your butt and look through the church bulletin or website.

If you’re called to start a group, don’t tell me that you’re too scared to do it because there isn’t a single teacher out there worth his or her salt who isn’t terrified of screwing up.

Books are great. Videos are great.

God’s word? It’s in class by itself. It is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). It comes directly from Him (2 Timothy 3:16). You can find yourself dying without it (Hosea 4:6). You’ll be deceived if you don’t know it (Colossians 2:8).

If you don’t care about any of that, if you don’t want to learn from God and fall more in love with Him, then, my friend, your priorities are all wrong. Don’t talk to me about how busy you are, because if you have time for Facebook or Netflix or getting your nails done or going hunting, then you sure as heck have time for Bible study. The fact is that it’s not about you not having time. It’s about not wanting to, and if that’s the state of your heart then you need to repent.

See? I told you I didn’t have anything nice to say.

Bible study matters. And since we’re rejecting the “just Jesus and me” thing, studying the Bible in a group setting matters. As the world grows ever-more wild, it is essential to come together to learn from the Lord. We must embrace His word. In so doing, we will be equipped for the spiritual battle that rages all around. Remember: Satan doesn’t play fair. There’s nothing he’d like more than to distract and isolate and then beat you up for giving in to the temptation to hide. So, fight! Don’t just go with the flow or do whatever you want! Get in Scripture. Find others who are going deep and pulling out the treasures.

We need to grow up, put on our big kid pants and do the thing.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Small Groups miniseries, go here.

Photo Credit: Westside Church

Small Groups: Who You Are

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

We’ve discussed the importance of defining group expectations in order to spur people on to commitment both to growing in the Lord and to the group, but perhaps more important is knowing who you are as a leader. In the past I’ve been very uncomfortable with who God created and called me to be. I’ve allowed myself to be walked on. I’ve allowed the opinions of others to dictate how I would lead and teach. Really, I wasn’t much of a leader at all. When depression walloped me with the force of a tornado (read more about that here), I took several years off. I didn’t think I’d ever teach again. I didn’t want to be in charge.

God had other ideas.

As He does.

That time of rest was key, for when my pastor asked early last year if I’d be willing to “beta test” a small group in our church, I was ready to begin again – and this time I was far more sure of myself because I was far more sure of God.

I’ve made a million little mistakes. My mind works faster than my mouth and I stumble or stutter. I forget to tell people what page number we’re on in the workbook. I go off on tangents. I try to teach the entire Bible in a single session every time we get together. Sometimes I’m crabby and I don’t really want to open my home to anyone. Once in awhile I even think, “I guess I have to teach these people about Jesus but I’d really like to just sleep.”

Jonah, man. I get him.

Over and over again, through all the mistakes and the missteps, God works. He uses this flawed woman to communicate His love and holiness. (What is that? I mean really, what is that? Incredible). Somehow He gets the message across. More often than not, I find that I learn far more than I teach – and that’s a good thing.

The best small group leaders want to learn everything they can and simply can’t avoid telling others about it. Couple that with a desire to see others know and love the Lord and you’re well on your way to success. It’s not about having a polished presentation or the nicest house. Love God and love others. That’s it.

Again, it’s important to know who you are. What “style” of Bible study are you attracted to? Workbooks, commentaries, footnotes, original word searches? How many hours a week can you devote to preparation? Are you willing to try new things, read new authors? (Spoiler alert: You’d better be). Are you able to embrace the fact that you’re a really flawed and often stupid human being but that’s okay because it’s all about God anyway?

Every leader is different. Every group is going to have it’s own unique flavor. There isn’t necessarily a “right” or “wrong” way to go about teaching, but here are some of the things that I’ve learned through a whole lot of failure:

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Leading and teaching are tough jobs. There are going to be problems. Billy Jean isn’t going to like Bobby Joe. Jimmy is going to hate one of the studies. Maggie won’t want to pray. Dave will get divorced. Sarah will get sick. You’re going to have as many eye-rolling and tearful moments as you are delightful ones. Go with it.

More painful than any of the above, there’s going to come a time when the Lord sees fit to bring a particular group to an end. It won’t come with a bang or an explosion. You’ll just know, as will the others, that He’s accomplished whatever He set out to accomplish and it’s time to move on. That final meeting will tear your heart to pieces. Remember that you’ve done a good job, the best that you can, and the Lord is pleased with your obedience.

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In the next and final installment of this miniseries, we will turn to what usually winds up being the last thought on anyone’s mind: content. You need to actually study the Bible.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Small Groups miniseries, go here.

Photo Credit: Westside Church

Small Groups: More Than “Just Jesus and Me”

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

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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.

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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.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Small Groups miniseries, go here.

Photo Credit: Westside Church