OK – that title is a bit sensational, but it the title of a blog post by one of our volunteer heroes @ Northridge, Brad Files. We have a particular purpose for our small groups and it isn't to have a Bible study. Bible studies are great and small group Bible studies are wonderful, but that isn't the purpose of our small group ministry.
What follows is Brad's post on the topic. You can see the original HERE. (And I'm hoping this pressures Brad back into blogging regularly again…)
Banning Bible Studies
I remember that “Aha” moment clearly. Small Groups are not Bible Studies!
If you’re old, like me, you remember how Christians used to get together – we organized Bible Studies. Many today, especially the older saints, assume Small Groups is just the newer name for Bible studies. My friends, Christian and Shelley, were the first to sit me down and talk this through. “Brad, I really love your teaching. It’s great. But … it’s not really what being a Small Group is about. Small Groups are about people’s lives changing, mostly just from being in the group. As they hang out, interact, discuss, react to and apply the Bible, their lives just change.”
Early on in my Small Group experience we recruited hosts, a worship leader, and a teacher. Of course the great teachers in those House Fellowship Groups were mostly seminary students and many of them are leading churches today. So where do we look when we don’t have a seminary close by or a good supply of Bible teachers? More importantly, is that who we should be looking for? We had a hard time early on recruiting Small Group leaders (SGLs) because they all assumed they had to be good teachers. The irony is that some of our best teachers don’t really make very good SGLs. Why is that?
The ratio of good Bible teachers to the general population in a church is at least 100:1; awesome teachers, probably 1000:1. Yet we find the ratio of great SGLs to the general population is closer to 10:1. So what’s the difference?
- Bible teachers study and prepare new content to share.
- SGLs use content created by others (like the previous Sunday’s sermon along with a published set of questions) or published curriculum (e.g. listening to a teacher on DVD) and coordinate the reaction to and application of that content.
- Bible teachers operate in broadcast mode, beacons of nifty insights, sharing new content which all groups members receive. (One to many.) Often no response from the group is necessary other than the occasionally whispered, “Dude, they should make a video of you!”
- SGLs prompt and cultivate the sharing of current life concerns with an eye towards how the sermon, teaching, etc. might speak to it. Everyone in the group is heard and anyone in the group may be offering insights, encouragements, challenges in response. (Many to many.)
- Bible teachers have a unique role (gifted unlocker of Biblical mysteries) that always keeps them separate from the group. Sometimes the group may have a continuing identity but treat Bible teaching as a necessary service to secure. “Who are we going to get to teach us this quarter?” Teachers may come and go but the group remains.
- SGLs have a more humble, peer approach to the group. They share their role, encouraging others to contribute in every meeting and even getting others to lead the group from week to week. They are more like gardeners, preparing a healthy environment for growth, pulling weeds, and getting out of the way of good things happening.
- Bible teachers have a clear gift of teaching. Given the ratios I mentioned above, groups who seek teachers to lead their groups will just be frustrated by third string talent. Groups lucky enough to snag a good teacher will be stuck with him. He won’t be able to share his gift and he will not be easily replaced. This is all besides the point that groups are not best used for teaching, they are best used for growing. The inevitable flow of sharing from the teacher to the student is not easily reversed.
- SGLs use gifts of exhortation, mercy, administration and helps to great advantage. They are truly pastors, shepherds who care for their groups. Groups are the place where we drop our defenses and do open heart surgery on each other, sometimes without anesthetic. Gifts like mercy and helps encourage that.
Until your church embraces this paradigm shift, your groups will struggle, probably without knowing why.
Brad is one of our small group coaches. He helps small group leaders lead better. I constantly count on his input and feedback. Thanks, Brad for your leadership!