Written by Peter Blanch
Another year begins: and we’re about to kick off our Bible study groups once again! These groups form the backbone of our church family life together because through them we can build friendships beyond what is possible on a Sunday morning. Now is the time to join a group and get stuck into life together!
As our groups kick off for the year, we might ask questions like: “How does this group work best for me?” or “How can I get the most out of my group?” But far better questions to ask would be: “What can I be doing to help the group thrive?”, “What part can I play so that other people benefit?”
People go to Bible study groups for all sorts of reasons – some out of a sense of duty and obligation, some to make friends, some to receive encouragement and wisdom, some to give encouragement and wisdom, some so that they enjoy a meal without having to cook every week (some of our groups share dinner together before the study).
Now while most of these reasons might be perfectly acceptable, the first and indispensable reason must be clear in our minds.
Our primary reason for belonging to a Bible study group is:
To give us opportunity to love and encourage other people in Christ.
First and foremost a Bible study group is not about me, it is about others. And it is about others because of Christ.
This after all is what the Christian life is about. We are to love other people as Christ has loved us, to lay our lives down for them as Christ laid his life down for us. This applies to Bible study groups just like it applies to marriages, families, work places and all of life.
This means that we go to our Bible study group not primarily to have our needs met, but to meet the needs of others. Of course we have needs too – but we should let others worry about them, and I’ve most often found that my needs are met along the way as I seek to love others.
There are many ways we can love and encourage the other people in our groups. The simplest and most obvious way is to be there regularly each week. Just being there each week is a powerful encouragement to the other members of the group. In making the group time a solid commitment, to be missed only in times of emergency, you send a very clear message to the other people in the group: “Being with you matters very much to me. Unless something very important comes up, you can expect me. Encouraging you is a top priority for me.”
Notice that the opposite is also true. When you don’t turn up, you send a very discouraging message. No one would ever say this out loud but in effect what you’re saying is: “I don’t mind coming to Bible study with you, but its not that important. If I feel a bit tired or something crops up, don’t expect me to be there. Being with you and encouraging you isn’t really a priority for me.” The great thing is that turning up regularly requires no special gifts or talent. We can all do it and it is a powerful way of loving other people.
Another great way of loving and encouraging others in our group is to pray for them. Praying for others is hard work; but it is real work. One of the most loving things we can do for our fellow Bible Study group members is to pray. Part of the reason it is hard work is because it is done in secret and often with no real thanks. If we take a meal to someone in a time of need, we have the pleasure of receiving their thanks. But prayer is usually private. You pray for one reason and one reason only – because you care for that person and you want what is best for them in Christ.
A final way of helping your Bible Study group to thrive is to be willing to work hard with your group at understanding and applying God’s word to your lives. This will mean that you’ll have to be open and honest with those in your group and this is not an easy thing to do. But groups thrive when all members interact willingly and deeply with the Bible together. Many of us would much prefer to keep quiet and not give too much of our life and thoughts away, but it is by opening up and sharing our thoughts and struggles and joys that we love people and do a great service to them. We not only show them that we have the same struggles that they have as christians [where they might have thought they were alone] but we model the godly christian life to each other as we seek to live for God in this world. This openness helps us all to stand firm together because we are then able to specifically encourage and pray for each other.
Of course, as we study and share together we must not monopolise the conversations, and listen as well as speak, heeding the wisdom of Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Our Bible study groups are key to our growth as disciples of Jesus. Please, in the service of others, join a Bible study group this year and help it thrive to the glory of God.