by K. T. and Cathy DeVries
In living rooms and hotel rooms, with groups of hundreds or a handful, from children to senior citizens-my wife, Cathy, and I have taught many different Bible study groups over the years! Many people would like to be part of a Bible study or even get one started but do not know how. Here are some things we have found helpful.
Consider your target audience. Is this study primarily for teens, young adults, younger couples, mature couples, widows? Some Bible studies will work with a wide mixture of people, but in small group Bible studies people often like to gather with others like themselves. This encourages an opportunity for personal contact and sharing. Common life experiences build interest and make creating a sense of community easier.
Next, choose a study topic. It is often best to start with a book of the Bible that is easy to read and understand. People are at different levels of Biblical knowledge, so it is wise to choose something that does not require advanced training. For that reason, James, Proverbs, or a Gospel would be better than Hebrews or Revelation. The more difficult biblical books would work better in a frequent, intensive Bible study, rather than an occasional one led by a layperson. Find a leader's guide that any leader can easily follow and use to prepare to lead the group. It's best to check with your pastor to make sure the Bible study is appropriate for your group and doctrinally sound. Although it is not necessary for the pastor to be present at your study, he should always be made to feel welcome and aware of what you are studying. He is a wonderful resource should questions arise that cannot be answered by the leader. His advice and counsel can be sought and answers brought back to the group the next time.
The location of the study is also important. Alternating homes can be a way to get to know one another-if the members' homes are easily accessible and large enough to host the anticipated attendance. Others might prefer a comfortable setting at church. Each group can make that decision as you get started.
Next, select a time and day that is open for most people. Depending on your location and age group, certain times will naturally fit schedules and other times will be more difficult. For example, weekday nights are usually bad for parents with school-age children. Fall Fridays are reserved for football in many areas. Mid-mornings are often good for retired people.
How frequently the group meets can be determined at your first meeting. Some groups are able to meet weekly. Many will find a biweekly or even monthly schedule more manageable. Gathering any less often makes it difficult to hold people's interest and build continuity in your study.
Start inviting people. Personal invitations are always best, because they give you the opportunity to explain your objectives and answer questions. A personal invitation makes people feel special and truly wanted.
As you gather, don't fret about the size of the group. Remember that wherever two or three are gathered Jesus is also present. The study can be just as helpful for a handful as it is for a houseful. A large group can make sharing personal stories more difficult and even impossible for shy people. There is no magic number.
Take time for sharing and talking. People are interested in other people and their lives. Take ten or fifteen minutes and give each person who wishes an opportunity to share how things are going for him/her. This is a way for the group to get to know one another better, but it should not become a therapy session. If serious problems are shared, the leader might gently suggest that individual talk to the pastor or he or she will talk personally to them after the study is over. At no time should sharing time be allowed to become a gripe session against something or someone. It should not become a time to discuss or gossip about people not present. Any information that someone shares should be held in confidence. After everyone has had a chance to talk, the leader can begin with a prayer that lifts to the Lord any concerns or problems that may have been raised and asks His guidance on your study and each person present.
The study itself can last from 30 minutes to an hour. Most lessons can be covered in that time frame with time for questions and discussion. When the study time is over, you might pray the Lord's Prayer together or close with a circle prayer giving each person an opportunity to pray.
After the study time people may want to stay and visit. Light refreshments are often a nice touch. People seem to open up over a snack of some sort.
Help group members bond. Group members may grow close to one another by assisting in times of special need or emergency. Sharing God's Word with each other binds people together and enables them to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2).
As the leader of a Bible study you may question your effectiveness and wonder if it is worth your energy and effort. Remember that wherever God's Word is present He is present, too. God's Word, whenever it is shared, has the power to touch and influence people's lives. Sometimes the results are hidden or delayed, but in God's own time and way the Word will bear fruit. You will have the joy of knowing that you are living God's Word and that God is working through you, too.
Thoughts on Forgiveness
She Says ... I have lots of questions about forgiveness. How do I forgive a person who makes it a life ambition to set me straight? How do I forgive the person who ran a red light and almost ended my child's life? How do I forgive my husband for lying? Then there is the guilt. While I am busy pointing my finger at the hurts that have been done to me, I remember all the cruel words I have spoken in anger and my hateful thoughts. The question is: Can I forgive and feel forgiven?
He Says ... It is hard to forgive people. When someone ridicules my ideas or feelings or doesn't take me seriously, it is difficult for me to forgive. I can remember uncomplimentary or unkind comments for months, sometimes even for years. These thoughts fester like a slow burning fire, just waiting to rage out of control. Sometimes it is hardest to forgive myself. I am still haunted by things I did as a youth. Often it is too late to ask for someone's forgiveness. I need someone to tell me it's okay because everyone makes mistakes.
God Says ... Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool (Isaiah 1:18).
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
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