CPx: Discovery Bible Studies, pt ii
In my last Discovery Bible Study (DBS) post I talked about the role of the facilitating and how they lead not in the traditional sense but in inspiring and encouraging everyone to participate. In this post I want to begin to get into the meat of the DBS program.
We’ll do this by looking at the steps for Bible study first. There are other elements to the meeting besides just Bible study but this is what I’m going to focus on this post. The DBS is designed to be a very simple (and therefore reproducible) method that anyone can follow regardless of schooling and background. It’s designed in such a way that you don’t actually need a physical Bible. It would work just as well with an audio copy. It’s also not dependent on a trained scholar of some type. A group could be made up wholly of pre-Christians and still get very deep into the WORD of God. And this is what I personally like so much about it — it takes people quite deep into the Bible. A superficial overview this most certainly isn’t. Substance isn’t at any level sacrificed for simplicity (and I think the substance in these studies is often much more challenging than the substance I’ve experienced in churches in the states). There are 5 simple steps that we follow when we do this with people in the townships:
- Reading the WORD.
The very first thing we do is read the Bible out loud. Often we read it more than once so that it everyone clearly hears. Sometimes we have everyone read it out loud. Reading out loud helps the words to sink into the reader and repetition makes it easier to remember for the hearers as well. And, when you take the other 4 steps into account, people often have read or heard the passage out loud 6 or 7 times. This makes it much more likely to produce lasting memory.
- Everyone retells the passage in their own words.
The first step gets people to digest the WORD of God and this step insures comprehension. If someone can retell the passage clearly in their own words, you can bet they have at least a basic understanding of it. This is something to have everyone in the group do — it’s another opportunity to rehear the word and meaning is fleshed out as everyone verbalizes it in their own words (although a retelling and not a meaning is what we are go for here — meaning will be discussed as a group in a later step). If you are able to put it into your own words you are also more likely to remember it and, for accountability purposes when you ask people to tell someone about the passage, they can do it anywhere they are at regardless of if they have a Bible on hand. In “closed” situations where Bibles are scarce this is also very important for people as it helps equip them to be able to recreate the Bible on their own.
- As the passage is being retold, asks the group if people are missing anything.
This step is done hand in hand with #2 as people retell. Putting the retellings to the test of the group insures accuracy and that people are drawing a right understanding. It also gives another opportunity for the WORD to be heard as people go back to the text to explain what others might be missing.
- Break the passage into chunks and look at the specific meaning.
This is the step that dives us into the meaning. The facilitator breaks whatever passage is read into small chunks and the group discusses the meaning of each. The chunk could be a verse, a phrase, a sentence or a paragraph — essentially anything that’s smaller than the passage itself and gives you ample room to talk about all the different meanings within the text. Generally a phrase or a sentence works best but you might have to do more than that depending on time. For a group getting started, they might not know where to begin with discussing meaning so a few questions that I have found helpful are:
What does this phrase tell us about God? What does this phrase tell us about man? What is God asking us to do or obey in this phrase? There could be many other leading questions as well that gets the group to dive in and discuss.
Here it is very important for the facilitator to keep people on task. It is in this step of the process that you want to make sure that not one person is dominating the discussion or completely checking out of it. Also it is very, very important to keep people in the passage at hand, allowing no outside wandering. For non-Christians cross referencing and other such things aren’t something they know about so this generally isn’t an issue but when you deal with people that have some exposure to Christian culture they might try to wander all over the place introducing all sorts of confusion. It’s important to let the text at hand speak for itself. If anyone at anytime tries to say something thats not in the passage read, ask them where in the passage it is and if they can’t show you remind everyone that the focus is just the passage read. As Bible studies become churches, they can begin to compare and do broader comparative studies as they become equipped to deal with such things.
- The obedience step.
Step 5 is really important. It’s in this step that we let the WORD of God sink from our heads into our hearts. When we don’t just hear it but actively choose to obey it — that’s when it changes us. And so, we ask everyone to be silent and think of all that we talked about throughout the DBS. We ask them to think specifically about one thing that God is highlighting to them that they can be faithful in obeying. We generally give them a minute or two to think about this and then everyone shares that one thing with everyone else. If everyone shares, there is accountability — they can check up on you throughout the next week or at the next meeting. Responses can be varied and that’s ok. What is important is that people are hearing from God through the Word and putting it into practice in their lives. One of our teachers told us of a Bible study he was in where the passage was Genesis 1. One guy mentioned how convicted he was that his horses where God creation and that he was exercising poor stewardship by beating them while other people could mention completely different things.
It may not be apparent from these steps but this is a long process. A selection of 10 verses could easily take you an hour or more to get through. As such, it’s generally best to select passages that are 10 verses or less. They should contextually go together (ie, you shouldn’t rip verses out of their context). If you need to go through a longer passage, it can span a week or more and that’s ok.
For groups of non-Christians (or people whose spiritual state we are unsure of) we tend to sequentially go through what we like to call God’s story: Creation, Rebellion, Sacrifice, Return, Commission. We also have a longer list of passages that takes them through the Old and New Testament that culminates in presenting a decision to chase after Jesus (it takes 20ish weeks to get through though — something that’s beyond our scope currently). As groups are baptized and become churches there can be a little more freedom in choosing passages and letting them discover church life and the Christian life as the dive in but we have lists that will take them through this as well.
One of the nice things about this process is that people can do it on their own. It’s actually a quite challenging Bible study tool and one that’d I recommend everyone give a try sometime. Obviously there will be differences if you are doing it by yourself (writing a retelling instead of verbalizing it for example) but its worth it.
I’ll have more on DBS’s soon.