The end of August is synonymous with back to school. This one event affects a vast majority of the population. Children, teens, young adults, teachers, parents - everyone jolted from the ease of summer to the demands of the school year. There are a whirlwind of activities that surround this...
I guess I first should say that before I was ever a part of a small group I used to think that these groups were for “weird” or “religious” people. Even being an outgoing person by nature, I didn’t think it would be something I was comfortable participating...
The end of August is synonymous with back to school. This one event affects a vast majority of the population. Children, teens, young adults, teachers, parents - everyone jolted from the ease of summer to the demands of the school year. There are a whirlwind of activities that surround this event. Once the flutter of initial activity begins to lull there is one thing that remains. The delight of studying. It does not subside or end if success is in the student’s future.
“Study hard!” “Don’t forget to study.” These are just a couple pieces of advice we give students.
The same could be said to all of us. This is especially true when looking at the most important book on the bookshelf. This book is more than just classroom material but instead something we consider a way of life. Do you see the Bible like this? If so, you too need to study.
How can the Bible be studied effectively so it is not just academic but a personal and applicable to our lives?
- read to receive inspiration
- examine with a group
- listen to a podcast
- take in a video series
- read, researched, and review
- read Scripture, Observe the culture and activities, Apply to life, bath in Pray (SOAP)
So many ways, so little time! Each approach may be of benefit to you or maybe just one is in your wheelhouse. Test them out and see what’s best for you and your way of learning.
Read to Receive Inspiration:
This is just what it says - jumping into reading, pondering, mediating on Scripture anywhere in the Bible. Then listen, gain insight, and be inspired. You may need to be patient. Some hear the voice of God sharing his insight… others often have to wait. Mediate on what you have read. What resonates could be the inspiration God has for you.
Investigate with a Group:
When we have a difficult topic to master at school, in college, or at work, we often try to get with others as a group. Investigating the Bible is no different. Its okay to not understand and to lean on insight from others. Gather some people together and read. You can then discuss what it means, how it makes you feel, how it applies, and why it’s important. Need a Connect Group? For more information, call the church office at 410-551-6654 or go on line at http://severnrun.com/connectgroups/.
Listen to a Podcast:
Although this may seem high tech to some, its not difficult to tap into and learn from podcasts. There are many great speakers that produce podcasts to educate on the the Bible. Google “Bible study podcasts” and you will get a plethora of choices. Well liked Biblically based teachers include Chuck Swindoll, Max Lucado, Andy Stanley, Ravi Zacharias, and Frances Chan, to name just a few. (If you are unsure about the Biblical beliefs of a podcaster, see if you can find a statement of their faith on their website or in the podcast description.)
Take in a Video Series:
Many women (and some men too!) love Beth Moore. Woman love her energy and excitement and most importantly her love for God and women. She brings excitement and energy to any space she enters whether physically or via technology. She and others teach using video series along with the study guides available for purchase on line or on dvd. Other Bible teachers include Pricilla Shrier, and Anne Graham Lotz. You can find these resources (and more) at lifeway.com.
Read, Research, Review:
The Bible is comprised of 166 books and two separate testaments. Where does one begin? The book of John is an often recommended starting place. This book is John’s account of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. After reading each chapter, take the time to consult with various resources such as study guides or internet searches that speak to the meaning of the passage. Go back and read again, determine from the text and your research what it means to you and applies to your life.
This is another approach to reading Scripture a section at a time. While you read, Observe the culture of the time and activities of the chapter. Move to Apply the principles of the text to your life. Finally bathe in Prayer what you have learned and how you will apply it each day. Additional reading on this approach available at www.soapstudy.com. Want to go deeper with this method? Read “The Devine Mentor” by Wayne Cordeiro.
All these sound great but one thing is missing…YOU! What’s most important is that your study is an intentional and planned out process. Good intentions are only as good as the plan behind them.
It may be necessary to:
- Set aside time
- Put on your calendar
- Give up an activity (TV or device time)
- Get up earlier
- Go to bed later
- Ask another to hold you accountable
- Be patient!
This is a process. What works for one person may not work for another. God is faithful and will reward you regardless of which method you try or decide to use. Study his word. Take notes. Open your heart. Stretch your mind. See what happens.
I guess I first should say that before I was ever a part of a small group I used to think that these groups were for “weird” or “religious” people. Even being an outgoing person by nature, I didn’t think it would be something I was comfortable participating in because I had a fear of not fitting in. Then Sean (my husband) and I joined one because of a specific financial study they were doing. It is something that to this day I look back on and I am so grateful we decided to try it. It grew our faith and relationships in so many ways, and it was the furthest thing from being weird!
So, when the idea came up about starting or leading one myself, I thought, “Ugh, now people are going to think that I am weird too!” But, I also knew that if I was willing to be okay with that and put myself out there, God would use it to bless me and other people through authentic relationships. Of course, I also thought a lot of other negative thoughts as well, like most of us tend to do when the enemy wants his way. Things like;
- “Am I qualified?”
- “Who am I to want to start or lead a group?”
- “Who in their right mind would want to hear what I have to say?”
- Or, “Who in the world would want to hang out with me?”
Those were a lot of things I had to work through by remembering that it wasn’t about me, it was about Jesus, and that if he had a hand in it, people would get what they needed from it. So, I did it!
When I first felt a small tug from God to lead a group, I think I did want to do it, but I was hesitant because of fear. I’m sure I am like a lot of people when it comes to opening myself up to others because most people just don’t like being vulnerable. I had a fear of being unqualified, a fear of failing, a fear of not knowing enough Bible verses, a fear of not knowing how to lead a group, or what I was supposed to do. But, what I have learned is that you can’t let things like fear and hesitation stop you from doing what God has called you to do. That’s called disobedience, and that’s not something I wanted to be to God after what he asked Jesus to do for me. After all, it repeatedly says in the Bible that we are supposed to be in community, that we are supposed to be relational, and that we should look after the interests of others. So, who am I to tell God “no” when I see verses like Galatians 5:13, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” Or, in 1 Peter 4: 10-11, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen”
Of course, even once we decided to take the plunge, I would get all in my head with things like imagining opening my home and having no one show up. I also would play out scenarios about what I would do if this or that happened and even found myself worrying about seating, or if they’d be hungry or bored. So, as a result, I over planned, over bought, over prepared, and prayed a lot for God to help me figure it out. I also had this ridiculous fear of praying out loud, and I had to work through that as well, realizing it was the enemy, once again, trying to psych me out, getting me to play his games, and stop me from doing what I knew God was telling me to do.
But you know what? I was amazed that after the very first small group meeting, everything came easier! It was like I just had to get that initial hurdle over with and from there I was good to go.
Don’t get me wrong, I would still get nervous or worry about things too much (which I think is silly now), but I also got a taste of God’s joy and peace just from being obedient and connected to others for God’s glory, and that completely outweighed any of the other stuff.
In general, I think that we all hesitate at some point to put our “true” selves out there for fear of judgment or rejection. But, what I have found instead is that when I am at my most transparent, people are most willing to hear me. When I am the most vulnerable, people feel the most trusted by me. When I am willing to walk out my faith in real life ways and I am not content to stay the same, the more people want to be a part of that journey too. Even today, after years of leading small groups, there are studies that Sean and I do that are out of our comfort zone, or sometimes the size of the group gets big and I worry about all those “Martha”-type things (Luke 10:38-42) that make me think people are not going to enjoy themselves. But that’s when I remember that there is nothing “special” about me or Sean that make our group or our leadership something fantastic and wonderful, except for our relationship with Jesus Christ and our willingness to be his disciples. “It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.” (2nd Corinthians 3:5). The key is the Holy Spirit, just like we see in the book of Acts, where he goes before us and apart from him, or without his blessing, nothing we do will bear fruit.
We also must remember that spiritual warfare is a real thing. The enemy wants us to stay on the surface with relationships and keep us superficial and putting up a front like we’ve got it all together, because when we aren’t truly connected with other believers he can keep us isolated and alone and it is in those isolated places that he can do his best work. He uses things like guilt, shame, or embarrassment to prevent us from making bold moves in our lives for Christ, and if we aren’t careful we tend to believe those things and avoid stepping out because we feel we have to “protect” ourselves from the ridicule we believe we are going to receive instead. The craziest part is that the complete opposite is true- because when you do put yourself out there for Jesus, you get to truly experience the joy, comfort, and peace that comes along with it, and it is something not worth giving up on.
Despite things getting better, there still have been (and continue to be) some hurdles to get past. Like most people in our area, the biggest challenge for me is time. I’m a wife, a mom of three active kids, I work two jobs, I serve and volunteer when I can, my husband owns his own business, and we have very big extended families that are all close as well. If we aren’t careful, and praying, and working together to keep it prioritized as something that is important in our lives, it would be easy to push it to the wayside or not give it much thought. Add to that, we live in such a busy time, and such a busy area of the country, that it is difficult to find the time, energy, and sometimes even desire to keep it on the schedule. But the funny thing is that we have taken breaks in the past and I can honestly say that during those times life feels a little bit harder, and we really miss the connection with other people.
But despite all the difficulties we’ve had, nothing can compare to the eternal friendships, life change, and growth we’ve experienced. Not to mention, what a tremendous impact it has had on us personally with our own faith and family! To see friendships and bonds form, to see marriages restored, and families transformed is an amazing thing to witness. We have had people become believers by coming to our group and have watched so many people grow and mature in their faith. We have had the privilege of walking beside people who were down in the deepest valleys of life in a variety of different ways, and I can’t even put in to words what it feels like to see them persevere and stand firm and come out on the other side. And, to be able to witness to one another about all we are seeing happen in each other’s lives and how the blessings of God are visible in one way or another, it’s just an amazing experience. Just think… when we are really doing life together then we’ll have the opportunity to make friends right now in this broken place; friends that we’re going to also know in heaven where everything is perfect. Isn’t that cool?
Vicki wanted to offer two things to those people out there who might be considering becoming a small group leader. Here’s her advice:
First, pray! John 15:4-5 says “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Ask God to show you what you are supposed to be doing, and once you know what that it is, you need to act. Don’t ignore what he is telling you to do because you will miss the blessing in it.
Next, don’t do it alone, after all, life is better connected! Ask for guidance from people who have started them in the past or from the connect group leader. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel and other leaders can be a good resource for helping you narrow down your vision or purpose for your group.
Also, I can’t stress enough for you to be obedient in putting your armor on daily like it tells us in Ephesians 6: 10-18, because I can guarantee you that as soon as you step out and act boldly for Jesus, the enemy will attempt to push you back down.
Finally, C.S. Lewis once said, “Remember that He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted –i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep looking at it.” (C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3).
If you are letting God direct your path, there’s nothing to worry about. Be courageous and step out in faith! God has a plan and you are part of it, and what is he going to say if you refuse to do your part? If you really do believe you are going to meet God face to face one day, do you want him to ask you why you wouldn’t serve him? Or, do you want him to say “well done”?
If you want to get involved in a group, or lead a connect group, contact Amber Adams on our Connect Page.