Increasingly, the sort of Bible studies I attend go something like this (including the ones I lead – I just follow the trend!):
1. We read a short passage of the Bible – one verse each as is the custom in every Bible study group I have ever attended. This makes a rather quirky patchwork of translations as you usually have 4 NIVs, 2x the Message, 2x the Living Bible, 1 ESV (that me), 1 KJV (that’s the person who couldn’t find their regular Bible), 1 Amplified and a couple of others.
2. The Bible study leader announces three or four questions, and people get into groups to ‘discuss’
3. The people get into groups and chat about random stuff for a few minutes before remembering they were supposed to be answering questions
4. People answer the questions with whatever comes into their heads (after all, they’ve come completely fresh to the passage – they haven’t prepared or read it in advance). This leads to the following types of contribution:
a) basically correct but bluntly stated answers to the questions (e.g. “we shouldn’t sin”)
b) one or two embarassing hermeneutical blunders which hopefully are politely corrected, but often go undetected
c) a few discussions going off on a complete tangent that misses altogether the main point of the passage
d) hopefully, the odd genuine insight
5. Now we get back together into a big group. And guess what? Each group regurgitates everything they discussed for a second time. Hopefully some of the dross is filtered out in this process, but it still usually takes a considerable time for people to report back.
6. Time is virtually up, so the Bible study leader quickly blurts out the answers he was hoping people would give. A few “oh yeah’s” go round the room as people realise what the passage was actually saying.
OK, so I am exaggerating a bit, but you get the general picture. I am a firm believer in the importance of Christians meeting together in small groups. And I also believe that devoting some time to Bible study during those meetings is essential. The early church, amongst other things, devoted themselves to “the apostles teaching”. Now I know they didn’t have an apostle in every small group meeting, so what did they do? Did they have a “discussion” like the one outlined earlier? Or perhaps someone with a gift of teaching shared something for 10-20 minutes? Maybe the latter occurred and from that a discussion broke out, about the issues raised or questions people had.
I can’t help thinking that this might be a more appropriate model for small groups. For one thing, it would allow a lot more ground to be covered in the short time that is available. It does of course require that the person doing the teaching has something worth saying and is able to communicate it well. Making the change might also be controversial – I imagine that there could be quite a bit of resistance to people having to listen to a “sermon” when they were used to having a discussion.
I would be interested to hear from people who have tried different approaches to teaching in small groups. Do you preach a sermon? How important is it that everyone contributes to this part of the meeting? Does anyone want to defend the discussion model?