The format I’m proposing for LEAD! is what I’m calling a “Transformational Small Group Bible Study”. This builds on my many years in InterVarsity Small Groups during eleven years of college, as well as numerous “home groups” in churches since then. The key aspects are:
• Bible Study
History and philosophy have their place, but for sheer impact nothing beats digging directly into the Word of God. The primary method of teaching is working inductively through a specific passage of Scripture, with additional resources acting as supplements. In addition to implicitly teaching good study skills, this also opens the door for the Holy Spirit to provide insights beyond the wisdom of the original author (i.e., me :-).
• Small Group
The best way to learn is in a small, focused team of 6-8 people (or, more broadly, 3-12). This provides both a sounding board for digesting information as well as accountability and encouragement for living it out.
The ultimate goal of the group is not so much to acquire information, but to be personally and corporately transformed — by and while transforming the world around us.
Below is a suggested format for achieving that…
0. Reception (15-30 minutes)
One of the unusual things I’ve noticed about the California church is that (over-generalizing just a little):
- people are always late
- everybody complains about it
- nobody does anything about it
The solution is actually pretty simple: a) have a “fellowship” period in advance, then b) always start on time.
The main reason people are late is that they aim to arrive exactly on time — nobody wants to arrive early! — but overshoot. Instead, I propose give them a “window” with a valid purpose (food, fellowship, praise, prayer, whatever) 15-30 minutes in advance, to provide a reason to arrive a little before the “official” start. This in turn makes it easier to start precisely on time (even if not everyone is there), and create an environment that encourages promptness and punishes tardiness (rather than the reverse).
A. Adoration (5-10 minutes)
The study of theology is inherently dangerous: the temptation to treat God as merely an object of study, like a bacteria under a microscope, is difficult to resist — especially for the intellectual types (like me) who are drawn to such topics. To counteract that, it is important to spend time submitting “face upward” to God. This is also true for the latter, more practical sections, to remind us to trust in God’s strength and wisdom rather than our own.
The format for adoration can vary widely, depending on both the group and the topic. My goal is to provide a “psalm, hymn, or spiritual song” the group can read together as a “warm up”, but some groups may choose to do a devotional or even 1-2 worship songs.
B. Bible (20-40 minutes)
The center of our intellectual exploration is and must be Scripture, for all the reasons outlined above. In an ideal world, I’d love to lead personally people through a pure “heads down” manuscript study. In practice, however, we need something that is both more scalable and more directive. To be honest, though, I’m not sure how exactly to achieve that. For now, I plan to simply blog through the relevant passages and topics the way I normally do, and worry about how to turn it into a usable “study guide” later.
C. Conversation (15-20 minutes)
If you’ll forgive the biological analogy, a small group should be like the small intestine: a place to actually absorb what was broken down earlier. The goal of this “face to face” time is to explore how the intellectual issues raised during the study of Scripture apply to our lives, families, ministries, and community. This requires a skilled, trustworthy, and authoritative discussion leader — whom I will attempt to supply with cogent questions.
D. Decision (5-10 minutes)
I believe that the study of scripture should always end “face forward” with a R.A.W. response: Repentance, Action, or Worship. If not, then we’re doing something wrong.
E. Encounter (20-30 minutes)
After identifying a few “RAW” issues as a group, the class should break into their accountability “pairs” of 2-3 people. The goal is to share and pray heart-to-heart about issues that were raised during the session (or otherwise going on in their lives).
F. Further Investigation
For the intellectually curious, a 90 minute session will merely scratch the surface of the dense topics we will be investigating. Thus, I want to eventually annotate each session with (optional) resources for further exploration. This may consist of online articles, or chapters from an appropriate companion volume.
G. Group Activity
In addition to the regular weekly meeting, I believe groups should participate in some sort of team project during the course of the twelve-week trimester. We would join two “pairs” into team of 3-5 people to work collectively on some sort of deliverable. I would propose they be responsible for coming up with a “creative” work reflecting what they are learning which could be shared with the entire church. That could be a worship song, a skit/video, the Sunday message, or even a set of poems.
The rationale is that the biggest challenge facing the modern church (IMHO) is combing ancient truths with modern presentation, and working through such issues as a team is a great way to internalize them. Plus, it may actually create a “corpus” for future classes to draw upon.
Finally, I think it is important to have relevant homework. This would be some combination of practical outgrowths of the RAW decisions and background reading to prepare for the next lesson; of course, if we succeed in developing a strong narrative thread then it would automatically be both!