While the purpose of Bible study groups appears obvious — to encourage participation in a moderated study of God’s Word — local study groups demonstrate that collective study also involves fellowship and loving care. A combination of patience, time for socializing, and a shared interest in spiritual texts can go a long way toward making a group work.
While the purpose of Bible study groups appears obvious — to encourage participation in a moderated study of God’s Word — local study groups demonstrate that collective study also involves fellowship and loving care.
For example, the Tuesday morning adult Bible study group at First Presbyterian Church recently welcomed back Barb VonBehren after an extended absence because of shoulder replacement surgery.
Group members, including her husband, Lou, rejoiced over her return and gave her the floor when she reported about her three weeks of recuperation.
“I thought they were committing me for the rest of my life,” VonBehren told the group. “About the third day, I had changed my attitude.”
The chance to describe her experiences to the group is just one of the benefits members of Bible study groups get from belonging, according to “Small Group Bible Study — Growth Through Fellowship” available online at www.allaboutgod.com.
Small groups, according to the article, also offer a place to connect with other believers in fellowship, a chance to grow in understanding of the Bible (as Jesus’ own small group of disciples did), meet the needs of others in the group in ministry, become equipped for evangelism and to worship God through practicing godly behavior.
While many people study spiritual texts alone, the article cites author and pastor Rick Warren, who says, “God didn’t create you to be alone.”
For people looking to start a small Bible study group, several resources offer tips, including Autumn Black, director of public relations for the American Bible Society, and the article “How to
Start a Bible Study,” available on ehow.com.
Be prayerful about the calling to teach others.
Black cites James 3:1: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” (New King James Version)
“Be sure you are called to teach and be honest about the humility it takes to remain faithful when encountering critics and/or challenging students,” Black said.
“Make sure to count the cost. Bible study is a form of dedicated discipleship. You are interpreting, communicating and discipling some of the tenderest souls for the long haul. Most people who attend Bible studies are intentionally seeking guidance into a deeper relationship with Christ.”
Start with a minimum of three people.
“How to Start a Bible Study” states that more may be recruited later.
Black suggested that once you are sure you want to proceed, spread the news in your church, to co-workers and on the street. Introduce a Scripture based on a person’s point of need to whet their appetite for the Word — then lead them to your Bible study class for more information.
The adult Bible study that meets at 7:30 a.m. Tuesdays at First Presbyterian Church is fairly new to the church, evolving from a prayer breakfast for businessmen who worked downtown, member John Murphy said.
“They gathered around 7 and then went to work … and then it sort of morphed into what it is now, but it’s been a continuous thing for quite some time,” said Murphy’s wife, Barbara, who took over leadership of the group about 14 years ago.
Pray together and discuss how to organize the Bible study.
A single book in the Bible may be studied, or a particular theme that is spread throughout.
Decide on study details.
Will there be an assigned reading each week, or will the passage be read at the beginning of the study? What materials will be used? The Bible may be read and discussed, or study materials may be purchased as guides, according to “How to Start a Bible Study.”
The American Bible Society provides Bibles for free or at a nominal cost (submit requests to email@example.com). It also has tracts for small groups that can be customized to people new to Bible study, and to mature Christians who want to “stay steady on the path,” Black said.
Schedule meetings that are convenient for most of the group members.
Don’t reschedule unless it’s necessary.
Open the Bible study with prayer. If desired, sing worship songs to get everyone focused on God.
Dive into God’s word with the help of friends.
Be patient — like any in-depth study, someone is bound to raise difficult, if not sticky, questions from the text.
For example, Barbara Murphy recently guided the Tuesday morning adult Bible study group at First Presbyterian through a study of “God Calls the People Out of Egypt” (Exodus 14:15-25, 30) from the book “The Present Word, Summer 2009.”
She pointed out that Moses assisted God in delivering the Israelites out of Egypt from enslavement. To accomplish that, “the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore” (Exodus 14:30, New Revised Standard Version).
Murphy asked the class if anyone was bothered by the fact that thousands of people died as the Israelites were saved. Comments in the lesson’s pages indicate some Christians wonder how a good and loving God could destroy the soldiers who were under orders.
“But God killed those people in defense of these innocent people,” Davyd Daly said.
“What Israel experiences as salvation, the soldiers will experience as judgment,” Murphy said.
The Bible study lesson that began at 5:30 p.m. on a recent Tuesday at The Salvation Army also faced tough questions during a recent study on the spiritual gift of prophecy.
Among the lessons learned that evening was that prophecy proclaims the Word of God to people in order to edify, exhort and console.
“I had a friend once that said, ‘Give me any gift, Lord, but don’t give me prophecy ’cause all your prophets died,’ ” said Maj. Paul Logan, corps officer of the local Salvation Army.
“Either that or they were taken up to heaven without dying,” said Maj. Barbara Logan, the study group’s leader and a corps officer with her husband, Paul.
Barbara Logan later encouraged attendees: “Don’t just believe Major Paul and I just because we tell you what it says. ... If you have a question about it, you better open your Bible and go find the answers or ask God to help you find the answers.”
Add video or audio lectures to your Bible study for variety.
Make the study interactive, Black said. Build in time for questions, comments, testimonials and resource-sharing.
Set aside time for socializing.
This allows people in the Bible study to get to know each other. Snacks help stimulate socialization, according to “How to Start a Bible Study.”
The Tuesday morning study at First Presbyterian offers a continental breakfast. A light supper at 5 p.m. precedes the Tuesday evening Bible study at The Salvation Army.
Tamara Browning can be reached at (217) 788-1534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.