It was the highlight of my week; getting into God’s Word and having time to connect with each other deeply. We kicked off the Bible study with each person having twenty to thirty minutes to share their life story. They shared the highlights and hard times, the temptations and hurts as well as how God used them and people He used to impact their lives. Hearing story after story of the hard things these ladies had gone through, yet seeing how the Lord had used it in their life and the redemption He brought from it was overwhelming. Such pain, yet their weakness showcased God’s character. Through this small group Bible study where we got into God’s Word together, I felt known and loved.
Besides the group getting to know each other deeply and getting into God’s Word together, we would also have a short time of training on how to live out the Great Commission in our everyday lives. We would try to act on what we learned and share the next week how the Lord used it. It was life-giving.
I am a firm believer in the value of Bible studies. When there is an environment of grace and truth among a group of people and time of connecting with the Lord, He uses it to bring growth. Small group Bible studies also provide an excellent opportunity for ministry training (from how to share your testimony and the Gospel, to what discipleship is to how to live the Christian life) to happen. An environment where questions can be asked and ideas processed. Yet, many of these elements are often overlooked and not intentionally made part of the study. Here are five of them.
1. Foster and environment of openness. The greatest need of mankind is to love and be loved and feel worthwhile to self and others. This can't happen if we aren't known. A good way to help people open up and feel known is to give them time to share about their life and who they are. Like the study above, you could allow the first few group times together for people to share their life stories, or you could have one or two people a week share. It does a ton to share about our life and see that people love us anyway. You could also use something like the 5 H's to help them know what to share: Hero's, Heritage, Highlights, Hopes and Hardships. Often times hearing someone's story is eye-opening and causes you to see them and the Lord in a new light of redemption. The leader really sets the pace in this. To the degree you are open, they will be. If you are willing to share your life, and lead by example, most will follow.
Another important element is to make room for other people to share their insights, not just the leader. A main role of a Bible study leader is to facilitate the group discussion by asking good questions, not dominate the time together.
2. Encourage application. The Lord encourages us through James to be not merely hearers of the Word, but do-ers. It takes intentionality to ask the Lord how He'd like you to act on His Word. Therefore it's helpful to give a few minutes at the end of Bible study to process and ask God how what was read/studies applies to their personal life and how they can act on it this upcoming week. It's even neat to give time for sharing how it went the following week.
3. Foster an environment that clings to Jesus' perfection rather than our own. God has called us to something impossible, living the Christian life. But what is impossible with man, is possible with God. The only way we are going to live lives that please the Lord is through surrender, not by trying real hard in our own strength.
Whether we ever say or elude to wanting perfection from those in our group, people will most likely assume that is what is expected from them. So we have to go the extra mile in pointing to Jesus, to fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, rather than the rules or do's and don'ts. We don't need to offer up a picture of perfection, but desperate dependence; surrender to the Lord. So as a group leader, don't be afraid to fail or be afraid to share your failures. Model and praise surrender, not perfection.
4. Plan for multiplication. Without being intentional, multiplication wont naturally happen. Therefore it is a good idea to meet with the F.A.I.T.H. (faithful, available, initiative takers, teachable, heart for God) members of your group on a regular basis whenever possible. There are great resources like the Thrive discipleship study to use to help them establish a strong foundation.
Multiplying Bible studies are a great way to "make disciples of all nations." Acts 2 is an example of non-believers spending time with Christians and feeling like they belong and many times the result is surrender to Christ. Encourage and train a couple others to lead a Bible study of their own. One of the most essential things they will need in order to get started, and in order for the group to actually multiply is to help them meet people to start with. The goal is not just to have all the same leaders inviting all the same people to their Bible study. Imagine if the Acts 2 Christians did that? So help them think through how and who they can meet. And not everyone they meet will be able to go to a Bible study or will be interested, so the more people they meet, the better (especially people outside the church or ministry).
5. Help the group be outward focused. We, as humans, often need the reminder that this whole thing, life and everything in it is not about us. Even Bible study can turn into a place for gathering knowledge yet do very little to impact others around us. So it's a good idea to plan to serve together somehow as a group. You could help with ministries like Operation Christmas Child and bringing stuff all year long to be able to package it for the end of the year. Or you can give away water bottles with sports trivia tracts at sporting events. (Both of these are things a great small group my husband and I were a part of did and was encouraging to be part of).
Besides serving together as a group, it's good to put the reminder of the mission in front of everyone weekly, because vision leaks and the world clamors for our attention, time and energy. This could look like reading an exerpt from a book casting vision for the Great Commission (see our book recommendation list for books that will inspire in this direction) or sharing things the Lord is doing all over the world.
Adding a few other elements to a Bible study can take a study from good to great, effective for making disciples. Therefore I created a creative, interactive resource that will help group leaders to add these elements to their study without adding hours of preparation. They are called The Connect Cards, published by CRU Press and just released! Here is a video showing you what they are and how to use them.