Small Group Barnabasses 1

Some reflections from a student Bible groups training I led back in Autumn 2009.


What is the aim of group Bible discussions? What do you want to accomplish with them?

The point of the question is that the way you think about the purpose of the group determines what you do with it and how you do it. In my view one of the biggest hurdles to discipleship, spiritual growth and missions in a student context is the received idea that we do inductive Bible study for its own sake. In student situations the easiest notion to sink in is that we study for the sake of education. You do that in every other context, and unless you are very overt, very specific and very applied that will be the assumption that people bring to small groups and Bible discussions. 

So let me start with a provocative plea: let’s get rid of the term Bible study. By which you must NOT hear “let’s get rid of the Bible” but let’s decide from the outset that the Bible doesn’t exist so that we can study it as an end in itself. Bible study is a 20th century phrase, rather than a biblical phrase. Small groups weren’t always defined like that or, indeed, always devoted to Bible study. Jonathan Edwards calls them “individual praying companies” that met for prayer and personal encouragement and spiritual accountability, but that came together for Bible input from a preacher or teacher. 

My problem is not with people eagerly searching the scriptures. Pouring over them, digging deep into them, meditating on them day and night, teaching them to our children and our children's children. Oh no! My problem is that today the word “study” probably doesn’t carry all the connotations of knowing God and obedience and commitment to missions that it once did. It carries the connotation of coming for an evening of education, rather than an evening of making our hearts happy in God, discipleship and following him to the ends of the earth.

I want to ditch the term in favour of “Bible discussion” or “Bible application” (or “Bible salivation”!). Or any other term that helpfully gets into our heads that Bible discussion in our groups isn’t done for its own sake. Its done for a purpose – namely that people do and live whatever it is the Bible requires of us. That we know and love and worship and adore and obey God and go into all the world with the gospel. Bible discussions for kingdom growth, not just for individual knowledge.  

How you define the purpose of the group determines how you see what the leader ought to do. And that defines how the leaders ought to be trained. I remember a student worker telling me he did 8 121s a day. He prepared an hour’s Bible study, sat in a  refectory, the first student came at 8, prayed did the study, prayed and left. And the next one came. If your aim is to communicate facts from one pad to another, that’s an efficient way to do it, and its easy to see how to train a leader to do that kind of Bible study. I hope you will never train anyone to do that in your life. I want you to think about leadership roles in completely different ways to that.

It is easy to think about leaders as people who fulfil a task – for example Bible study leader - and then train them to that task. What does a Bible study leader do? Leads Bible studies. Therefore train them how to put together a Bible study. Job done.

I want to give small group leaders a new title: your leadership role is now to be a son of encouragement, a daughter of encouragement. Not a Bible discussion leader because Bible discussion is a means to an end, not the end itself. The end is that the believers should be encouraged in God to live for him, love like him and speak for him.

Henceforth all small group leaders should be known as small group Barnabasses.