October is small group time at CCB. Old timers are back from the summer, the newcomers have settled and we’re good to go.
I’ve always thought that our small group Bible studies are crucial to the spiritual health of our congregation. It’s the context for deepening relationships as we discuss the application of the Bible passage to our individual lives. But we don’t always get it right, which is a shame.
I have no idea what your experience of small groups is. I’ve had some absolute shockers. I can think back to the earliest days of my Christian life and recall some complete car crashes. There was one in which I went head to head with an ardent Arminian, one where I fell asleep on the sofa during a meandering discussion about Abel’s wife and one where I was the only man in the group consisting of a recently remarried divorcee, a middle aged spinster and a young woman with whom the other two were very keen to see me involved. Happy days!
Over the last week I’ve been thinking what makes for a good small group. Here are my five top tips of how to transform your small group Bible study.
1. Pitch up
Imagine being part of a group where, on the whole, everyone is there. Imagine not having to listen to those excuses from absent group members who’ve texted at the last minute to explain why they’re not there. It’s hugely encouraging to be part of a small group where people are committed to pitching up. It actually takes no great skill. But it speaks volumes. It says ‘you guys matter, you can rely on me and come what may I’m going to be there’. Inevitably some things intrude, like Grandma’s 80th, or a pressing work deadline. Everyone understands that. But it’s the dodgy last minute excuses that wind us up! Why not try and be one of the most consistent attenders this year, rather than one of the most consistent absenters!
How could we not? Think about what happens when you open the Bible. God speaks to us through the words on the page. He addresses us in our heart of hearts about the issues that matter most to him and that impact us. How could we not give that some thought before we arrive. All too often our time in small groups is spent trying to work out what the text says and what it means aragter than trying to work out what it implies. The small groups that really work are those where together we’re thoughtfully applying what God has said at a personal level. So why not do some work on the text beforehand. Don’t come to it cold. Why not have one or two questions ready to ask. It’ll scare the living daylights out of your leader, but that’s no bad thing. They’ll cope. I bet they study a little bit harder for the next time! It”ll encourage them to raise their game. And actually it’ll be a massive encouragement to be leading a group where people are so engaged. They’d much prefer to be leading a group that strecthes them than one in which everyone looks so thoroughly disengaged.
Actually get involved. Contribute to the small group discussion. Don’t be the personal equivalent of a black hole sucking the life out of the group. Make the running in conversation both before and after the formal study time. Don’t be someone who never engages with the other people God has given to you. And go along to the social things. Don’t be the one who everyone assumes will find a convenient excuse to duck out on the social. Even if the suggestion is playing fussball at the Jackdaw and Rook, go along and find someone to talk to. Be someone who generates a bit of the buzz in the group. You don’t even need to be extrovert. You just need to participate. But most of all, be someone who particpates in trying to engage with God’s word. I can think of one or two people who have been absolutely brilliant in groups. They can be unpredictable but they certainly produced an edge to the study!
When the study and discussion is over, why not be one of the first to pray? Why not be someone who talks to God about the things that he’s just raised in his word? You could set the praying temperature for everyone else. You don’t even need to be any good at public praying. Perveresely that might even be more encouraging to others. If you’re not hugely accomplished at praying out loud in front of a crowd and yet you give it a go, others will feel that they can do so as well. And then be someone who prays about others outside the group. That’d be a great thing. That’d be a rare thing. But imgaine the transformation that could come to your small group if everyone was committed to praying for the others within it. The atmosphere would be electric, the fellowhsip would be fantastic, wouldn’t it?
Maybe we’re stretching the alliteration a little at this point. By pastor I mean encourage and support. Take responsibility for being someone who comes along for the sake of others. Recognise that you’re part of a group that’s there to help one another in the Christian life. And don’t think for a moment that your leaders don’t need encouraging. They do. Leadership is lonely. Leaders assume that everything is their fault. And though it probably is why not find someonthing encouraging to say to them. Even if the study has been complete toilet, they’ve committed some exegetical howlers and they’ve been unbelievably insensitive to all the female members of the group, find something encouraging to say, even if it’s only ‘I loved the way you handed out the Bibles’! Take very great care of your leaders. Honour them and encourage them. They’ll get better if you keep encouraging, supporting and praying for them.
In my experience if a small group is committed to those five things they’re on the way to having a great time learning together from God’s word. And that’s no bad thing!