It's the same with home groups. Some tie in to Sunday worship and discuss in a weeknight group the themes and materials of Sunday's ministry of the word, others just keep meeting and chatting and praying and sharing fellowship, but most follow programmes of study and are on the lookout for study materials on a regular basis.
Over the years I've sometimes been involved in leading home groups, and always hit one particular problem — the study materials have too much content. There's usually an ice-breaker activity, some informational input, several discussion questions (sometimes in multiple sections), homework, prayer points . . . a lot.
In groups I have attended, led by others, a thing happens to which I seriously object. The people are given a subject to discuss, and are just getting into it when the leader claps its hands, starts to make barking noises of warning, and tells them to stop talking. The subliminal message is that while it is important for the people to talk to one another, what they are saying is of no significance. They can shut up now because the leader says so. This reinforces one of the church's weakest characteristics — what is sometimes called "style over substance"; get the behaviour right and what's really inside you doesn't matter. This is an unfortunate effect to achieve in a fellowship group, and it stems from over-crammed study materials. The leader, conscientiously trying to do what the notes say, tries to herd the people into achieving conformity to the prescribed structure instead of letting them do what they like.
To remedy this, I wrote some study materials of my own.
They are based on the following premises.
- In the discipling programme of the church community, Sunday worship has space for some serious teaching input (ministry of the word) and home groups take this further by discussion and interaction (rather than more large pieces of input).
- Home groups are of huge importance for forming bonds of friendship which create a web, or cradle, of nurture and support for the church members. These are made by interactions, which are valuable of themselves not just a pleasing subsection of supporting a leader's study input. A home group's conversations should be fed and respected; they are building the church. These interactions foster healing, nourish the spirit, and are foundational responsible for spiritual formation.
- Home groups benefit from the focus and structure offered by study materials, but these should be created and administered with a light hand, to respect and give space for the interpersonal dynamics of the group.
- Even when a study group ties in with the Sunday worship programme, there are often gaps here and there when a leader is helped by having some stand-alone studies to hand.
With all this in mind, I wrote my studies, producing a volume of a hundred stand-alone Bible studies offering a theme, some Bible texts exploring that theme, a paragraph of commentary bringing out some of the most important aspects, three questions designed to help build the bridge between the eternal word of the Gospel and the day-to-day reality of participants' lives, and a prayer to conclude.
The idea is that these materials be a resource, not a tyranny. So, for example, of the three questions, some offer the opportunity for group members to share aspects of their personality and personal history, while others explore matters of faith and theological exploration. The questions are specifically created to have no wrong answers. Nothing is there to catch people out or make them feel stupid or uninformed. The questions are invitations to share the truth and experience residing within each one of us, and so enrich the group.
These materials are also very handy for planning Café Worship, where timing is tight for the ministry of the word but interaction and discussion play a prominent part. The short selection of biblical texts, concise commentaries, and three open questions are perfect for formulating the ministry of the word in Café Worship.
I have been really delighted to discover, from the feedback of those who have used my study materials in their home groups, that these materials have particularly helped novice leaders gain confidence. It takes a leader of determination and experience — a real Border Collie of a leader — to herd the flock through the tightly timed sections of a regular Bible study, but the ones I've written give both the support a new leader needs and the space that makes the task easy.
Because home group leaders found these studies a valuable resource, I was asked if I'd write a second set. So I did. It publishes next month and is currently on Amazon for pre-order.
This new one has a section on what I called "sacred moments". These are the sacraments of the church, but since the term "sacraments" is alien to some church groups I described them (accurately I hope) as sacred moments.
Then it has a section called "The Way of a Disciple", which explores the cycle of conversion, sanctification, aridity, perseverance and renewal.
The next section is on Covenant, looking at the different covenants in the Bible and what they mean for us today.
Then there's a section on Atonement — an essential but often opaque area of Jewish and Christian faith.
Next comes a section on Watchwords of the Faith — for example, grace, salvation, holiness, meekness, hope, transformation, redemption and several more.
After that is a section on St John's Signs — how the miracles of Jesus are tied in to declaring his mission, in John's gospel.
The last section, Spiritual Charisms, works through all the spiritual gifts identified in the Bible, from the different places in the Old and New Testaments where these are listed. These include the more widely recognised ones like healing, prophecy and wisdom, but also some that are less frequently cited as spiritual charisms, like reverence, celibacy and mercy.
I've linkified the image for you, to take you to Amazon where you can also read the comments of these who have tried and tested Volume 1, helpfully added to the page of this new volume.
I hope you like this new book as much as you evidently liked the first, and that it becomes a valuable resource for your home group, your Café Worship, and your personal quiet times.
Written for you, with my love. It was quite a labour!!