The Bible is the Word of God, and as the small group leader, it is imperative that you bring people back to it time and time again (Gal 1:11-12; 2 Tim 3:14-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21, 3:15-16). The Holy Spirit will use your intentionality in this way to bring the power of His Word to everyone’s hearts and work transformation through your group’s conversations (Heb 4:12; Rom 1:16). Bible study of the first century was all about community and it was just as integral to disciple-making then as it is today! In fact, the New Testament was written to be read aloud and lived out together in the emerging communities of believers who met in temple courts and house churches (Acts 2:36, 5:42).
As our standard of truth, the Bible will help you to navigate through the waters of spiritual conversations that ebb and flow as each person seeks to apply God’s Word to their life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers this insight: “A Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without [distorting] the truth… The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure” (Life Together). My learning of God’s Word is accentuated when I hear the insights of others. Their perspective added to mine brings things into sharper focus.
However, at times we have heard someone referring to biblical truth, but as they went on, we felt an uneasiness about what was being said. Later, upon examination in light of God’s Word, we realized that what was said did not harmonize with the Bible at all. Unfortunately, this happens in groups. Even those who know the Bible very well need to return to it again and again. Otherwise, people tend to read into the Bible what they think it says instead of allowing it to inform and instruct their opinion on a passage.
As the small group leader, there are things that you can do to bring people back to God’s Word continually and help them be more receptive to the Lord speaking to their hearts through it:
- Pray. Ask the Lord to impart His wisdom and reveal more about Himself to your small group members as they seek to understand and apply His truth to their lives during your times of Bible study and group discussion.
- Clarify from the beginning that your small group will hold the Bible as authoritative. That is, God’s Word will function as the ultimate litmus test for truth and guide how each one can become more like Jesus.
- Create an environment where biblical community can grow by continually bringing your discussion back onto the person of Jesus Christ. Ask yourself repeatedly: “How does this relate to Jesus? How does God want me to respond this truth so that I can grow closer to Him and walk as Jesus did?” (1 Jn 2:6)
- Include everyone. Be intentional about drawing everyone into the process of reading and interpreting what the Bible has to say on issues of life. A simple way of doing this is to acknowledge every contribution because this encourages involvement. The more free people feel to share, the more energy there will be to your small group’s conversations.
- AIM. Affirm people in seeking to understand God’s Word. Invite them into the reading, interpretation, and application of the Bible’s truths to life. Make disciples by challenging your small group members to respond to God’s Word in their daily living.
- Read the whole scripture passage under examination slowly and out loud. Sometimes it’s helpful to read different translations of a passage you’re focusing on because different wording can help people see the same truth from different angles and inspire them.
- Initiate a “pause” in your group’s conversation if someone makes a theologically inaccurate statement. Ask the person to clarify. Sometimes this clears up any misunderstanding or miscommunication. If not, turn to the Bible as a group and seek to understand together. It doesn’t have to be confrontational…journey together. If no clarity or conclusion is reached, it’s okay to research the question and return to it at your next gathering.
- Take your time, especially on more difficult passages. Don’t be apprehensive about using “tools” for digging deeper. Allow your small group to wrestle with the meaning of the text first before turning to resources for help. The Holy Spirit should be your first Bible study aid! In other words, consider resources such as Bible commentaries and dictionaries as secondary to your group’s study of the Bible.
These practices will encourage biblically-based conversations, help people focus on Jesus Christ, and deepen everyone’s experience of biblical community. Rest assured that your small group members will walk away more like Christ after every Word-driven conversation because the Bible is inspired (God-breathed) and He is with you (Mt 18:20)!