Build a Studying Community

These five disciplines can help leaders guide a group Bible study with confidence.
Acts 18:24-26

Small group leaders often fear scripture study. Some of this fear is legitimate, coming from a desire to be faithful to the biblical text. Many ministers experience the same feeling when they are preparing to preach on Sunday mornings.

But some of the fear need not be present. People in the church are often intimidated by pastors and other "experts" who seem to know all the answers and who appear well trained. But we don't need to compare ourselves with others. God can use our attempts to do good work just as well as those of a charismatic speaker.

Here are five disciplines that contribute to good study. If these five are present, and if the small group has the goal of discipleship, the foundation of leadership and the structure provided by community, then group study can be positive and fulfilling.

1. The nature of the study has been agreed on by the group. Members expect the study to meet needs in their lives. If a strong leader or a majority has pushed a study topic on the group, then some people may not feel that the study is relevant. The place to start in group study is where everyone has a legitimate, and felt, need.

2. The study has been broken down into legitimate units of study, and each student knows what is expected in weekly preparation. People are going to benefit from the small group study if they have work to do on their own during the week, but this can also be counterproductive. If half of the group members are setting aside times alone with God and the other half are not, then home assignments will do more damage than good. You will do better to start with small assignments and work up as people feel fulfilled in their study.

3. The study has definite application in the life of each group member. Not all studies will be beneficial. The goal of discipleship must aslways be kept at the forefront of group study.

4. The group studies Scripture in its historical context. Another characteristic of good group study is that the study utilizes exegesis (discovering the author's original intent) before attempting hermeneutics (understanding the passage in today's world). We sometimes feel tempted to make up for our Bible comprehension weaknesses by jumping to quick conclusions. But the Scripture is not trivial reading, and we are wise when we read it carefully.

5. The leader understands his or her role in the study process. The process of discipleship does not call for Scripture "know-it-alls," but for people who can stimulate learning and application. Small group leaders need not come prepared with extensive notes, thousands of questions or cute illustrations. Instead, the leader should come prepared to facilitate the learning process.

~Jeffrey Arnold, from The bog Book of Small Groups (InterVarsity Press, 2004).