Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 4, Lesson 13
Problems Associated with Bible Study in Small Groups
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Note: Whenever "group" or "team" is used, it can mean "group", "team", or "family".
Bible study can be either helpful or dangerous to Christian living and community. As a means to the end of Bible obedience, Bible study is critical. However, the way we usually use Bible study, it hinders obedience and cuts off community.
Our churches and small groups have become institutions for higher education rather than communities for holy living. That’s a serious mistake!
As long as we are satisfied calling educational fellowship “community”, we will never experience the real power of the church. But true, Christian community will lead to more life-changing Bible study than a hundred times the amount of time spent in Bible study groups that do not leave ample time for biblical obedience to what has been studied as well as needed Togethers for that time.
For example, a small group meets for Bible study and focuses one night on encouragement. All present see the great need for encouragement. The next meeting the group goes on to another topic.
But what if that small group met for Bible obedience instead? Then it would study the need for encouragement, perhaps grasping the more difficult meaning. Instead of “feel-good” actions, they see that encouragement profoundly means “putting courage into one another for the assignments of God”. Then, to be not merely “hearers of the Word” but actual “doers”, this small group would spend weeks going over each member’s assignments from God (father, mother, son, daughter, aunt, uncle, employee, church member, ministry, etc.), identifying where each member’s courage ends short of the level needed to faithfully carry out God's wishes.
I suppose our assumption is that if a person knows something, that person will do it, and do it consistently. Who are we kidding? This is a dangerously comfortable philosophy. It leaves us feeling good rather than frustrated. But, it is so very incorrect.
If it were true that knowing the Bible automatically translated into obeying the Bible, we would need to study it but once. Even Adam and Eve, before they were sinful, did not translate learning that they would need each other's help for what God asked of them into actually helping each other resist the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit. Bible study needs opportunities for obedience.
Adam and Eve could not avoid eating of the forbidden tree without one another’s consistent and vigilant help! The hard part for them (and the part that we also resist fiercely) was helping one another obey. Go to Genesis and read how Satan designed his strategy – the same strategy he has been using ever since. He talked only to Eve! He knew! He understood that God had “set him up” against a new kind of rational creature, different from the angels in that their strength would come from their community, their helpfulness to one another. (“Adam needed a helper.” Gen 2;18) And, so, what Satan did then and continually does now (with our willing cooperation) is divide people from one another and offer individuals what God does not want for them.
Every member of every Bible study worldwide needs the active, persistent and patient help of other group members to obey what has been learned. It is easy to learn, harder to do. Adam and Eve were created, as we are, to be too weak apart from community to obey in the face of the devil’s schemes. But together we were created by the flawless mind of God to be stronger than all evil, as well as Satan - when we help one another. Weak apart yet strong together – God’s way of using us to defeat the evil one so God can humiliate him for thousands and thousands of years.
Therefore, Bible study must have the laboratory of Christian community to transform lives through the continual practice of obedience. The church is people brought together in Christ, called out for the purpose of living for and glorifying God. The church is Christian relationships. Jesus Himself said to not look for the Kingdom with our eyes because it would be invisibly within (among) us. The Kingdom is the King and His People in relationship.
As soon as we learn something God expects of us from our Bible study, we need to begin practicing it right away in the group. For example, as soon as we comprehend what God wants from us when we read Colossians 3:13, “bear with each other”, we need the community of sinful people in our small group and church to be able to do this to the glory of God. And putting up with one another’s sin is very much like God’s tolerant behavior toward us. In reflecting back to God his own character in our bearing with one another, we actually worship God. And, because it costs, it is significant and valuable worship of our wonderful God and Savior!
So, the problems with Bible study in our small groups are these.
(1) Bible study is an absolute necessity as the start of a process that leads to Bible obedience. In actuality, we make Bible study the end rather than the start of this critical process of transforming lives. Bible study is an inadequate goal for believers; Bible obedience is what really counts.
(2) Bible study often seeks to have us learn almost every detail of Scripture. This is a task only for monks who have the time, and they probably are not interested in learning every detail and passing Bible quiz questions. Our Bible study should emphasize learning what God wants from us in the way of worshiping, thinking and behaving, especially in relation to one another. We need most of our time when we are together to help one another and thus live for and worship God right then.
(3) Too much time spent in Bible study can rob us of scarce “together time”. We have to help one another obey the Scriptures. We need to be together to do so. Intellectually applying the evening’s Bible study to life is not the same as helping each member go on to consistent obedience. We have settled for occasional obedience and foolishly think that we honor God. Consistent obedience is a lifelong struggle against the ever-increasingly powerful temptations of evil. We need each other for the whole distance of life if we are to praise God with our obedience.
Bible study can use up all of our time and keep us from living together to please God. He wants us to do many things together. He wants us to learn those things and then spend the majority of our time actually doing them. Bible study is merely one of very many things we are asked to do when we are together.
(4) Bible study can give us false assurances that we are living for God. We think that if we know the truth, God counts that for righteousness. That’s nonsense and contrary to the teaching of Scripture. The word “know” in John 8:32 (“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”) is not just “head knowledge”. It is knowledge believed in and acted on. Lawrence O. Richards writes in his book Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, “To know God or spiritual truth in a biblical sense, one must perceive truth about God, let that truth shape one’s understanding of life, and respond appropriately with faith and obedience.”
(5) Bible study must be followed up with months and years of help from other believers. That’s how we were created – to need one another constantly for obedience to God’s commands and requests. The Lamb's Bride Project recognizes that long-term help is going to happen in Christian friendships, families, and marriages. However, implementing The Togethers in a small group can either stimulate or augment Christian friendships, families, and marriages.
(6) Bible knowledge is fun. We love to learn interesting facts, especially those that are just interesting and do not demand anything from us. Just think of the popularity of Bible trivia games. But, the sad truth is that we would rather take five hours to learn interesting things in the Bible than spend those same hours serving God by struggling to live out biblical instruction and helping others to do likewise.
The conclusion of this argument is awfully clear. Knowing every corner of the Bible is not as important as doing what God has asked us to do in the Bible regarding our relationships. Our small groups should not meet for Bible study but to study the Bible in order to live obediently in community. Thus, Bible study should take up the least amount of our time together. Most time in small groups should be spent in doing what God has commanded us to do with and for one another. Not just out of the lesson from that meeting, but from all the Bible study meetings before.
The list of 65 Togethers should keep us busy as beavers helping God in his work of transforming our lives – and using us in the process as He has decided to do.
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Copyright 2013 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA