Many churches have small group ministries. These small groups are sometimes called discipleship groups, community groups, life groups, growth groups, Bible studies, or some other clever name. These groups exist to provide a more intimate environment in which people can weekly meet other Christians, encourage one another, share a meal together, study the Bible together, pray together, and even plan service projects together.
If you’ve ever been part of a group like this, then you know that studying the Bible with other people can sometimes be an uncomfortable activity. When you mix together a group of diverse people from different family backgrounds, different races, different political parties, different ages, different theological standpoints, and different personalities, and then you give that group the task of reading, studying, and applying the Bible together, you’d be naïve not to expect some type of friction.
So why do we do this? Why do we read the Bible together in groups? Why not take the path of least resistance and have the pastor preach on Sundays, and then, if we feel like reading the Bible in our own time, then we can. But why the hassle of trying to read the Bible TOGETHER? What are we trying to accomplish by studying the Bible together at our community groups?
Let’s take those questions one at a time.
First, why read and analyze and apply the Bible together every week? Well, why do we do ANYTHING as a team? Why not do EVERYTHING by ourselves? Because we are likely to see more details when we look at something with more eyes. Because we are more likely to persist in doing activities when we do them together. Because we believe that knowledge is not to be hoarded by a few, but to be available to all and shared with one another. Because there is joy in knowing that we are not alone. And specifically, for Christians, because God gave his Word to save and edify and mature an entire body of people, not just a few people. God says that we are bound to one another, and we need one another in his church.
Second, what are we trying to accomplish by studying the Bible together every week?
Here are 5 ideas:
1) We want to see God as He really is, and we want to treasure him for who He shows himself to be in His Word. And since we often see God in new ways the more that we read his Word together, we subsequently treasure God in new ways the more that we read his Word together. Some of us have read the Bible for many decades, and some of us have only read it for a few days. Either way, we can help each other see new things in Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit—either by having brand new spiritual eyes or by having seasoned spiritual eyes. God is glorified as we treasure him together.
2) We want to abide in God’s word together, and we want to have his word abide in us together. God’s word is not something we read once and then put on the shelf because we “finished” it. God’s word isn’t even like one of our favorite books that we re-read every few years because we thoroughly enjoy it. God’s word is our bread of life. It is sustenance to our souls. It is honey to our lips. And we want more of it, because God has given us hearts that delight in him, in his word, and in his gospel. Just as Jesus’ life and love pulses inside and between Christians, so also Jesus’ words simultaneously pulse in and through the members of Christ’s body.
3) We want to bring our thoughts and lives into alignment with God’s truth together. Our minds are always being shaped by outside influences. What will shape our minds? What will shape our churches? What will shape our priorities and mission? Will we primarily be shaped by the truth of God’s Word? Or, will the media, our neighbors, the economy, and social movements be the primary forces that shape our worldview? Jesus’ goal for his church is that it would be of one mind and one purpose--a united body of individuals whose minds have together been filled with and shaped by God’s word.
4) We want to encourage one another in the faith. When we gather together and hold up the mirror of Scripture to our community group, we’re going to see some ugliness, some sin, some brokenness--that is, if we’re honest with ourselves and with one another. Rather than seeing our reflection as a negative thing, and rather than pointing the finger at one another for one another’s sins, we can ENCOURAGE one another with the Good News of God! No, we’re not who we should be, but because of Jesus, we’re not who we USED TO BE! And Jesus isn’t DONE with us yet! God is working on us and in us, and our community groups should be environments of grace in which we encourage one another and point out the evidences of grace we see in one another’s lives! We encourage one another to keep running the race, because God is working all things together for the good of everyone who belongs to him!
5) We want to look for treasure. A variety of factors determine how much we “get out of” community groups on any given evening. Sometimes people talk longer than they should. Sometimes people don’t talk enough. Sometimes people camp out on their hobby horses that just don’t interest most people in the group. And sometimes, the group’s discussion is well-balanced and seems beneficial for everyone there.
Honestly, it’s virtually impossible to know what God is will do in our lives every time we open the Bible together. I would just encourage all of us to be attentive when we open up the God of the universe’s book. Look for nuggets of gold in there. And when other people talk, you you probably won’t relate with all of their comments, but listen discerningly for nuggets of wisdom in what they have to say.
When you open God’s Word together and ask him to move among you, then expect God to move among you! Listen for God. Look for gold. Savor the concepts and ideas that are shared in the group that make you see and treasure God more! Take the treasure with you during the week, and thank God for sharing it with you at community group!
In conclusion, treasure the Bible, and be thankful that God has put other people around you who are genuinely interested in learning the truth and savoring the truth with you. Show grace to one another as you process ideas out loud. Don’t attack one another. Humbly seek God together. Love one another. Open the Word together and celebrate the incredible treasure that we have in the written self-revelation of God!
Dan Hallock is the lead pastor at Cedarhome Baptist Church in Stanwood, Washington. He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and Denver Seminary. He loves music, fishing, and hanging out with his wife and three kids.