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Thursday, February 23, 2012

from members into leaders. keep it simple

I suggested this in a Bible study at work and saw it embolden co-workers who did not consider themselves Bible study leader material and I'm seeing it work with high school students I'm working with now. The secret is simplicity, the process to get there took me thirty years.

As an eager Bible student myself, I started out in Emmaus Correspondence Bible courses, which were fill in the blank or prompted writing responses. Then in high school my youth pastor, a former Intervarsity staffer, introduced me to manuscript study in the epistle to the Philippians. I loved it. The bare text and many colors of pens and pencils. It was inductive Bible study on steroids. My youth group small group leader facilitated a great study format, which I liked but didn't appreciate. Our discussion meandered all over the place and did not have any pre-determined take home points. Then I started leading studies in college and after college. I loved studying the Bible and I started buying commentaries and Bible software so I could learn as much as possible to teach to others. I led an inductive study through Mark's gospel, but I noticed that when I started expounding, no one else talked, nor seemed as engaged. I didn't want a mini-sermon, because when that happened, the life seemed to get sucked out of the room. I wanted new people to share leadership responsibilities with, but no one else was wired like I was, and felt intimidated in trying to initiate me, even in the simple inductive method of Observation (who? what when? why? where? how?), Interpretation, and Application. I loved the inductive method so much I even bought a Kay Arthur Inductive Study Bible and marked it all up. As I led other studies, I couldn't find a confidence building way to encourage new leaders. Every time, I was a hub, necessary for the wheel to turn, and I felt that was not how it should be. I also used a Serendipity Bible, with it's inductive questions, but, again, the study depended on the supplemental material.

I encountered the house church/organic church movement and their anti-clerical, priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9) ethic. I'm not anti-clerical, but I liked how the advocates aspired to help all believers embrace their title of priesthood. As I read and learned our work Bible study was encouraged by the visiting clergy to lead it ourselves. I came across, somewhere, in the midst of my reading on organic churches, a method that I think was credited to the Navigators, a Bible reading group instead of a study group, in which the facilitator's job is to make sure the chapter(s) are read aloud, then ask if anyone had a lightbulb moment, a question, or a personal response. That's it; three topics to launch discussions, and launched they were. Because the format was the same every week, those who had the most questions and difficulties in understanding were also able to have a turn in the monthly rotation of facilitators. The facilitators were not responsible for the answers. Instead their job was to make sure the passage was read and the opportunities were given for everyone to respond to the passage.

After a couple years of this at work, I had the opportunity to lead high schoolers at church through the Bible for a year. So I picked John's gospel, and I contextualized the questions to the age group. I told the kids that each verse was like a Facebook update and I wanted to know which verses would they click the "Like" button. After everyone had an opportunity to say what they liked and why they liked it, I told them there was also a "Dislike" button. Each kid was free to not like verses in the Bible. It was also the opportunity to tell us what they didn't understand. Finally, I point to John's purpose for writing the gospel in John 20:30-31 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. So then I asked them what did they learn tonight that helps them believe that Jesus is the Son of God. After everyone had their turn, we broke into smaller groups to pray for each other. From September to January, I usually facilitated. But this month, I asked the kids if anyone else would like to try it. A brave fellow volunteered and I haven't facilitated since. My role is to help the group keep the passage in focus. Adolescents have a hard time not being distracted and posturing and making jokes. But we have a great time.

We are reading the Word of God together and talking about it, and now several of the kids have taken on the simple role of facilitator. I am encouraging them to bring this to their schools and their friends. It is so simple. It also gets out of the Holy Spirit's way. I no longer bring an agenda to the room. Everyone who engages the text with us, leaves with something from God to ponder on. We also have a common experience with the Word to refer back to, especially in our prayer time. It's really exciting and I'm thrilled to pieces with how it's going. May the Lord bless you as well who attempt to get out of His way.

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