It's almost Fall and do you know what that means? It's the perfect time to join a Bible study group. Mine is about to start after Labor Day. I am soooo excited!
I joined my first women's Bible study group sixteen years ago when a friend invited me to the one she was in. The hostess greeted me at the door, offered a refreshment, gave me a name tag, and the women spent time getting to know each other. The leader went over the mechanics of how the group works and the expectations for the group.
Each week on our own we read the chapter of the Bible study and the associated Scripture. Week in and week out we got together to discuss the study. What incredible discussions we have had! Through a few tears and much laughter, we grew spiritually. We witnessed God working in each other's lives. We encouraged and prayed for each other. Deep lasting Christian friendships were formed. We did life together.
Churches call these Bible study groups by different names - "Small Groups", "Life Groups", "Growth Groups" to name some. Whatever is popular at the time.
My experience is that small groups are not the same thing as Sunday School. There are some similarities, but some significant differences. And they aren't like taking a Christian class where a teacher relays information to you. Small groups are like a discussion group - think book club format only with a Bible study. The job of the group leader is to get the conversation going, not to teach. (Although I have been known to go into teacher mode, I try really hard to refrain from that.)
Here is what I like about a small group.
It is a small group.
Sounds obvious, but large "small" groups don't work as well. If a group is small it gives everyone the opportunity to participate in the discussion, to feel comfortable asking awkward questions and to share on an intimate level, and to truly get to know each other. At one point my women's group got to be 24 women meeting at my house! That was chaotic. We decided to split into 3 discussion groups - one meeting in the great room, one in the dining room and one in the basement. It wasn't ideal. Besides having to break into separate groups for discussion - parking on my street became an issue. When my friend and I started a new Bible study group years later we decided to limit it to a maximum of 12 women. This was necessary to keep it a "small" group - so we could all be together for the discussion. (Our church wasn't too pleased with us limiting the size of our group since there was a shortage of women's groups.) I have since been in a large women's Bible study at my church and a few large Sunday School classes and it only reenforced my stance on this. A "small group" should be just that - "small." It just works better in discussing spiritual matters.
There is some serious Bible study going on.
It wasn't until I was in a small group where I had accountability to do the study that I really began to read the Bible. You can go to church, take a Christian class, and go to Sunday School and never crack your Bible open. I would say being in a small group was the #1 thing that got me to begin reading the Bible. However, the amount of Bible study in a small group depends on the group. Some are more social than substance. Some have a study they do where they watch a video and hear a message by the speaker. I'm not typically a fan of those kinds of studies. Some groups pick studies without hardly any Bible reading. I've been in groups where members haven't even read the study. This annoys me to no end. Our group was and still is very purposeful about choosing studies that have you reading God's Word. And what happens when people spend week after week reading God's Word? Spiritual growth is what happens!
Life-long Christian friendships are made.
Life is hard. It is exhausting. There are times when you just need someone to hold you up and encourage you. Someone to give you sound advise. I have people who have my back - people I know I can confide anything to/ who I know pray for me/ who I know would be there at a drop of a dime to be with me if I needed them/ people who truly care/ who I know I can rely on/ who I can ask them any question and they are willing to try to answer me. It is an incredible thing! Can you imagine having that? Who doesn't want that?
I connect with God.
After years of being in various Bible study groups, I realized something. It may be hard to explain, but I will attempt it. I can go to church, Sunday School, take some classes and learn, and still not feel connected with God. I sometimes suffer from "blue" days when I am down for no reason at all. I noticed during the summer when my women's group wasn't meeting, I would get depressed. I realized it was because when they weren't meeting, I was slacking on Bible reading and prayer time. After this realization I became purposeful to continue having my own quiet time during the times the small group wasn't meeting. It keeps me on an even keel. Reading God's Word keeps things in perspective.
But it is even more than that. God speaks to me sometimes. Not in the audible way, but in my mind and heart. When I am meeting with my small group on a regular basis, I experience God much more frequently. I know it sounds whack-oh-doodle! But it is true. I don't know if it is the discussions we have, or if it is getting their perspective on a biblical topic, or something someone says stretches my thinking and understanding, seeing God work in their lives, or me being more focused on a topic. Yes, I can do my own thing at home and I do. But there is just something about that Christian relationship with others that brings me closer to God.
I have found the people in the small group to be genuine.
When we discuss a difficult topic, it has been my experience that the others are genuine. "I just don't get that." "I know what it says, but I can't seem to obey it." We go deep. We are real. You encounter a genuineness in small group discussions that I haven't experienced in other settings.
Honestly, of all the Christian things I have been involved in - church, Sunday School, taking classes, teaching classes, serving - being in a small group has had the most impact on my spiritual journey. Hands down.
Why not be purposeful and join one now?