SHEA PATRICK | CONTRIBUTOR
My spiritual life has been greatly impacted by participating in small group Bible study including coed life-groups, larger community Bible studies, and small groups through my church. I recently spoke to a group of women leaders who were preparing to kick off their fall Bible studies about the basics of leading small groups. Most of the questions they asked me to address were about problems that may arise while leading a group such as what to do about someone who talks too much or too little, or someone who proposes a position contrary to the Reformed faith. While these things are important to consider in our preparation, they are secondary to considering our motivation in studying God’s word together. Thinking about our purpose in meeting together brings focus and encouragement and spurs perseverance in the face of any challenges that may arise.
Why small groups?
We don’t want to do things because that is what we have always done; instead, we want to consider what we hope to accomplish by engaging with others in small group Bible study. Our purpose will then help to inform the practicalities of how we carry out our time together.
Our aim in studying the Bible with other women should be the same as our own devotional study of Scripture: heart transformation and life change. Our exposure to God’s Word in community leads to this Spirit-led work of sanctification that ultimately glorifies God.
As we gather around God’s Word, we want to grow in our knowledge of who God is. We marvel at His holiness, justice, truth, and omniscience as revealed in His Word. The Word also reveals the truth of who we are—desperate, needy sinners, who are affected in every area by the Fall.
As we study together, it’s against this backdrop that our appreciation of who Jesus is and what He accomplished on our behalf grows. When we see the chasm between a perfect transcendent God and fallen humans, we marvel even more at the cross. And our lives are changed.
This transformation (growing in the gospel and becoming more like Christ) focuses on both vertical and horizontal relationships. God is working to cause not just individual transformation but corporate transformation as well. Small groups are just one of the tools God uses.
As we prepare and pray for our Bible study, we long for study that forms disciples following the great commandment in Matthew 22:36-37, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law? And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’”
What Transformation Looks Like
Ideally, our time in small group reaches three areas:
1) Head – Our minds are changed as we are exposed to God’s truth as His word is taken in. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
2) Heart – Sin and areas of idolatry and unbelief are exposed and fresh fodder for repentance is discovered. As the psalmist wrote, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me” (Ps. 139:23-24).
3) Hands – Through the Spirit’s transforming work in our hearts, we find areas of new obedience, service, and love. Our study of God’s Word changes how we live our lives. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
As we look at what we want from our small groups, we also need to consider what small groups are not. We don’t want to engage in just an academic exercise or knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Nor are our groups intended to serve as a place for idle chit chat or even serve as a therapy session. Our study is focused on God’s Word because we know it is alive and active. There is more going on than just increasing our knowledge about something or finding a group of people with whom we can talk about our lives. Small group Bible study, through the context of relationships, engages our hearts and brings inner transformation. “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
Remembering our purpose (God’s purpose) of heart transformation and life change even helps us to address issues that may arise in our groups. We encourage women to deeply consider what God’s Word says after they study for themselves and discuss the text with their sisters. Community grows as we intentionally develop relationships and lovingly consider how to grow as disciples of Jesus together. We address problems that come up not as the Bible study “traffic cop,” but as a fellow learner and sinner as much in need of God’s grace as our sisters. As we sit together week by week, spending time digging into God’s Word AND wrestling shoulder to shoulder with its implications for our hearts and lives, God shows up and does deep heart work in all of us.
In the “ordinariness” of week in, week out small group study, women begin to see Jesus for how beautiful He is. They recognize more and more what He accomplished for them on the cross. And they begin to grasp how wide and deep is God’s love for them. As a result, hearts and lives are changed.
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