Community groups. Home groups. Life groups. Gospel communities. Missional communities.
Whatever your church chooses to call them, one of the central goals is the same: to see people interacting with, being shaped by, and applying God’s Word.
In my years of founding, leading, and attending such groups, however, I’ve come to believe that sometimes the groups we create to help people learn to submit to Scripture actually become a means by which they learn to avoid Scripture.
Maybe you’ve seen the same, perhaps even without noticing. In planting a church, it is vital that we both model and also teach how we are to approach God’s Word. Giving tools for understanding is important, but the right tools are useless if people approach the text in the wrong way.
There can be a strong force in these groups that pulls the discussion away from what the text clearly and most centrally says in order to focus on various tangential parts that are much less clear.
I believe this strong pull stems from two things: first, our own fleshly desire to hide ourselves and protect our sin; and second, spiritual forces that desire to keep God’s people at a distance from the lasting transformation of God’s Word.
As group participants, we instinctively know that if we focus on what the text most clearly and most centrally says, then we will have to talk about how it confronts us personally. But if we can avoid talking about what is clearly stated in the text, then we’re able to talk about the Bible for hours—without ever actually being confronted personally by its content. This is false piety at its pinnacle.
If we focus on what the text most clearly and most centrally says, then we will have to talk about how it confronts us personally.
It’s common for entire conversations to focus on questions the text does not even attempt to answer. Theory, theology, and hypothetical questions are debated and discussed. So are ways other Christians (or non-Christians) fail to honor the text.
All of this gives group members the impression of having interacted with the Bible, when in reality they’ve avoided its penetrating light. No wonder this approach is more likely to produce Pharisees than mature disciples.
As long as those who attend the groups in our churches are talking about the Bible, the Bible cannot talk to them. Intentionally or not, human nature will lull us into using Scripture to keep us from being seen for who we really are, and from being transformed into who we ought to be.
Shaped by the Word
The Word of God must always be shaping the people of God. If we are to plant healthy churches, we must let the Word shape everything we do.
My recommendation is that we stop mainly talking about the Bible in the core discipleship groups of our churches. I realize that sounds heretical. Yet I’m convinced that talking about God has become a chief way modern Christians avoid dealing with God. So instead of just talking about the Bible and theology in our groups, I propose we allow the Bible to talk to us.
Talking about God has become a chief way modern Christians avoid dealing with God.
Rare is the passage where the central point is not clear in the text (or was not made clear in the prior week’s sermon). Further, where the central point is less clear, a good Bible-teacher will make the main point clear so as to help people see what they are called to submit to.
Discussion vs. Response
Thus, it is appropriate to replace “discussion questions” that focus on the theoretical with one to three “response questions” that obligate participants to personally interact with the central and clear point of the passage. Where does this specifically expose sin or unbelief in my life? How does it specifically call me to change my thinking, redirect my affections, replace my behaviors, and trust my Savior?
Changing “discussion time” to “response time” may lead to shorter conversations, but we ought to measure the fruitfulness of our discipleship groups not by how long they talk but by how they talk.
A group that spends 30 minutes talking about how the text practically and personally applies to them—in that moment—will be immeasurably more fruitful than a group that spends two hours discussing Scripture in an abstract, impersonal sense. What’s more, the first group will have both significant time and significant needs for prayer.
If we are to plant healthy churches, we must let the Word shape everything we do.
In planting a church, this exercise becomes a rich way to discuss how a particular passage challenges us as God’s people to better live in light of the truths he has revealed.
Few things are more essential to the enterprise of planting healthy churches than the centrality of God’s Word. We must be exceedingly careful, though, not to mistake making Scripture the central topic of discussion for treating it as the central source of authority.
Let us help our groups move away from merely talking about the Bible and move toward taking in the Bible.