In several denominations for several years, I had the blessing of leading Bible study groups with Christians from diverse backgrounds. Depending on the hosting church, we followed Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, or interdenominational study guides, usually on a particular book of the Bible, but sometimes on a biblical topic such as prayer, healing, or the Holy Spirit.
Interestingly, the groups could have swapped study materials as information overlapped and the format seemed much the same from one group to the next. In other words, the study booklets offered background information and scriptural references to read beforehand with questions to discuss in the group.
We all learned a lot but mostly gained information rather than insight. In addition, the leading questions often led us away from whatever the scriptures privately evoked, so we didn’t need to give much thought to what we thought!
When my mid-week Bible study group wanted to change that, I balked. Someone suggested we just start reading the Bible and talking about it, but I hesitated for fear this would mean more research on my part. However, the leader of the Sunday School class decided to give it a try, so that group began with Genesis.
The first Sunday, the leader came in loaded with handouts and background information, which confirmed my worries! So, at first, we had a lecture class, which none of us, including the leader, wanted! Then someone asked if we could just start reading aloud, so we did.
As we began to read God’s Word with no guidance but the Holy Spirit, the class took on a new depth with many moments of spiritual awakenings. Once we realized that was what we were looking for, we began to rely on God to teach us, which alleviated my fears about doing something similar in my mid-week group, and so, our Wednesday morning study of the Gospels began.
With many months behind us and a lifetime of Bible classes, too, I have to say, this is the most wonderful Bible study I have ever encountered. Much of its success has to do with sweet-spirited people, eager to participate. More important, the members treat everyone in the group as though God will speak through them at any moment! Even with the arrival of a new person, we look forward to the questions that will arise from that day’s reading.
Having written Bible stories and teaching guides in earlier years, I certainly don’t want to imply that those study materials are no longer worth buying. Especially with children, new Christians, and people new to a denomination, those guides can be crucial in building faith and showing why a church body believes and worships as it does. Therefore, it may be that the best Bible group ever might be reserved for a spiritually mature audience.
Deciding this is between your group and God, of course, but if you feel led to proceed, these 5 steps will help:
- Pray beforehand then begin and end each session with prayer and/or prayer requests.
- Encourage members to bring their favorite study Bibles, preferably ones that focus on cultural and historical events, rather than a denominational bias.
- Take turns reading aloud the scriptures, pausing for discussion at the change of a scene or topic.
- Ask the group what thoughts or questions came to mind and/or if they see something helpful in their Bible footnotes.
- Allow ample silence. Give the Holy Spirit a chance to speak to each person then encourage members to share those insights.
Some people might be timid at first, but once they realize their responses are as valuable as anyone else’s, they’ll not only say what God puts on their minds, they’ll develop a love for the Bible that extends into their reading and discussing God’s Word at home.