Thirty years ago, I was working in a large publishing company for a weekly magazine, and I had recently started writing a new column about small groups. One afternoon I was in the men’s room when the publisher, an older guy who had also been a church leader, walked up next to me and started asking me questions about small groups. He was skeptical, and I didn’t exactly feel like talking. But he asked me an interesting question: “What’s to keep these small group Bible studies from becoming just a sharing of ignorance?”
People of his generation were used to adult Sunday school where a teacher instills knowledge to a class. Discussion-based small groups were different—and somewhat frightening for many. Ordinary people sharing with one another the truths of Scripture—along with stories of groups that went off the rail—led some to investigate, as our publisher did, and others to excoriate.
I believe the publisher’s question was a good one, for which we should have good answers.
How do you make sure the group Bible study you are leading is—well, biblical? How can you assure, as much as possible, your group discussion around God’s Word is true to Scripture … that your discussion goes in the direction of biblical truth rather than personal opinion, poor interpretation of the text, a secular worldview of participants, or other issues that take Bible studies off track?
These are important questions, whether you are in a group, lead one, or oversee groups in a church. With that in mind, I am developing a series of several posts intended to help groups study the Bible in accordance with the truth. This is intrinsic in the mission of Small Group Leadership: “to equip ordinary people to courageously lead extraordinary small groups.”
As Christian leaders, we have a significant responsibility to God’s Word. The apostle Paul encouraged his leader in training Timothy with these words: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, my emphasis). That doesn’t mean a small group leader must be a Bible scholar, but I do believe it means you should be continually growing in your knowledge and understanding of God’s Word by reading and studying it regularly and diligently. I believe it’s less important how much you know, and more important how much you love God’s Word. We must start with the attitude of the psalmist: “Oh, how I love your law [a sentiment he expressed four times in this one psalm]! I meditate on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97). When we love God’s Word and meditate on it constantly, we will also know it well enough to lead a God-honoring, truth-centered discussion of Scripture."When we love God's Word and meditate on it constantly, we will also know it well enough to lead a God-honoring, truth-centered discussion of Scripture." Click To Tweet
God’s Word is truth (John 17:17 and many other Scriptures), so as Christian leaders we are also responsible for teaching truth—that is, to correctly handle the word of truth. Unfortunately, however, many people exchange the truth about God for a lie (Romans 1:25) and they “turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:4). In fact, “the time will come,” said the apostle Paul, “when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). That time has come.
We must be devoted to truth!
The January/February 2023 issue of Christian Standard will focus on the topic of “truth.” (I serve as editor of Christian Standard.) I believe this topic is vital for our faith, our mission, and the future of the church. In his article in this issue, Mark Moore points out that in John’s gospel, the word Truth almost always refers to Jesus, what he said or did. “For a Christ follower, Truth must be relational, not merely propositional,” says Moore. “It is not a fact or formula one can read from a book or even hear from a sermon. It is a person with whom we have a relationship. We don’t stand for the truth; we stand with the Truth.”
In his article, Mark Scott put it this way: “If one loves the truth of God, then one will live the truth of God. The choice is ever on the horizon. Living God’s truth is a daily challenge; temptation always exists to supplant God’s truth with a more convenient truth in our lives.”
So yes, we want our group studies to be full of grace and truth (just as Jesus was, and we are his body). But we also want to be sure our groups are embodying that truth—living it out in and through our Christ-centered community.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll give you several principles and tips for leading a group study based on the truth of God’s Word. We’ll talk about the role of the Holy Spirit, the importance of a biblical worldview, how to develop better interpretation skills and keep the Scriptures we’re studying in context, how we can better prepare, what we should (and should not) study and how we should approach it, and the role of our individual time spent with God in all this.
I’m hoping this series will be helpful and will prompt spirited discussion among us … so long as that discussion is true to Scripture.
More resources for leading small group Bible study discussions.