Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bible Study Break Through . . . Or Set Back?

Several months ago I initiated a small group Bible study at our church. Another guy and I co-lead it. My desire was to recreate the small group experiences that I've had a few times in my Christian life. Within these groups is where I think the true church is played out.

However, things didn't go as I had hoped. Speaking philosophically, it is part of this church's long standing culture not to speak of personal things in public. I think there are several reason for this, including the Dutch tradition of keeping a stoic face.

I had attempted to create space for personal sharing around the study of Hebrews. It was a log jam. Denise says it is simply because we (speaking of the whole group) don't have the depth of relationships to allow such sharing. But this is where I get confused. It is a catch 22. If you don't talk about your personal life, how do you create those relationships. Denise says it takes time. I've been involved with this church for 6 years now. Some of the people in the group have been around much longer. Isn't that long enough? I mean, I'm not going to live forever. I can't wait 10 years or more before I'm allowed to speak about real life.

My co-leader did not create space for sharing. I think the way he looks at Bible study (and the rest of the people probably do too) is that Bible study is for studying the Bible. If you are not talking about the Bible then it is a distraction at best.

This week it was my co-leader's turn to lead. We didn't have any sharing time but went straight to Bible study. We were studying Hebrews chapter 10. I didn't mean to cause a distraction. But when we got to the following passage:

22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
I couldn't help myself. I raised up the questions of how do we spur one another on when we don't know one another or are allowed to talk about what is really happening in our personal lives (of the 5 couples who attend, I know that 3 or 4 are going through some serious, but private struggles right now. I only know about it because their non-Christian friends now of these struggles and they in turn have told me).

I don't think I'm having any major personal struggles right now, but I've had plenty in the past. So I brought up my past experiences of trying to fit into the church when I went through two bouts of serious depression. This opened the door and one couple started talking about their present struggles.

We talked "off topic" then for almost an hour. The Bible study is suppose to end at 8:30 but we went well beyond 9.

Now, I came out of there feeling that we had a major breakthrough. However, I've been disappointed before. I have the sense that my co-leader would see the last meeting as a total failure because we didn't stay on topic and we didn't finish the chapter. I think if our pastor had been there looking over our shoulders he would agree . . . it was NOT a good Bible study because people did too much talking.

So time will tell. It will either be a break through, or once again, I will be seen as the trouble maker and the unspiritual guy who got us "away from the Bible."


Anonymous said...

Ooh! Sounds really hopeful!

Anonymous said...

Assuming the "wall in the mind" doesn't slam down, leaving only "BACK TO THE BIBLE! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! (Christian equivalent of AL'LAH'U AKBAR! AL'LAH'U AKBAR! AL'LAH'U AKBAR! optional)"

And Jihad against the Heretic who "lured us away from the Bible".

abmo said...

Sounds hopeful to me :-) I do not believe in formulas for small group success, but I do believe in friendship. The most "successful" group I've been in, was a group where everybody came to share what they have read, struggled with, wondered about etc. etc. but the core of the group were very good friends. The openness and loving interaction between friends were infectious for those that came to visit. We had one rule. What was shared in the group, stayed in the group.

Currently, I'm in a group of friends that just comes together to share lives. We rub off on each other and as time goes by, intimacy grows. In all of this, Jesus is present. We see Him, are touched by Him and loved by Him. But we seldom have a Bible study because Jesus is present in His body en He has opened our eyes to see that :-)

Anonymous said...

This is an article that I found linked to an entry at, and I thought that it addressed our lack of real relation between one another that you were addressing in this post. I thought I'd share it and hope you enjoy it.

MJ said...

As I read that article, and I may be very wrong, I sense the author is saying that our churches should be friendly places. I agree, but feel that they should go beyond being friendly.

The pattern I've noticed at our church over the past few years is that very involved families suddenly disappear when they go through hard times. Sometimes those hard times involves bad choices that someone made in their family.

So, if we make a bad choice and get in trouble, I wish the church was a safe place that we could run to for support and not judgement.

For example, if a man in our church, especially a leader, had an affair (and repented) I can't imagine him wanting to come back. I'm sure the church (like most) would want to rub his nose in it, such as "putting him under church discipline." In that case, he would set aside, not being allowing to serve in any role for five years, not being allowed to be close to any woman in the church for five years, etc.

I think the church should be a place that we run to and say, "I've really screwed up!" In response the people say, "But by the grace of God, it could have been me. I still love you and I'm here for you."