Questions as volleyballs

Q. Our small group study in Genesis is going really well, both the other leader and I think so.  Our group is fairly large (8-12 each week), so discussion generally flows pretty freely.  Your questions are good, although we don’t stay on them for very long.  I guess the discussion typically goes like a volleyball game.  The question serves the ball, then everyone hits it around for a while.  When the ball finally hits the floor, whoever is leading the discussion serves up the next question.  It works well.  The group has talked quite a bit about chiasm and the chiastic structure of the narrative (we just finished Genesis 15), and that’s been really enjoyable.  It’s definitely a new concept for most everyone in the group.  I’m just curious—is our study working the way you hoped?

I’d say your study is going exactly the way I hoped.  Once you pose the questions to the group, the goal isn’t to get everyone to “stick to the subject” or “find the right answer.”  As the guide explains in the instructions for leaders at the beginning (p. 4), the goal is to help you all reflect on “the meaning of the whole passage, in the wider context of Genesis, in light of your personal experience.”  That approach is necessarily going to generate a wide-ranging discussion.  But I think that should be welcome, as a counterpart to times when we may have been led to focus on the minutiae of details in the Bible at the expense of the big picture.

Postmodern young adults who have little or no biblical background are one of the main intended audiences for these guides.  I find that they’re accustomed to looking for meaning through the lens of their own experience.  While our personal experience can’t be the primary authority in our lives, I believe it does provide one legitimate avenue into the authoritative truths we find in the Bible.  In fact, it’s been said that we can’t understand anything in the Bible unless we have some partial kind of experience with it already.  So I’d encourage you to continue allowing and fostering the kinds of discussions you’re already having, even if you feel that you don’t stay right on the questions for very long.  From what you describe, I’d say they’re working!

Reading whole books out loud

Q. I want to lead a neighborhood Bible study using your guide to John, but I’m concerned that the people I invite won’t want to read all the way through the book out loud together.  I’ve never been in a group that did this and I think people will find it boring and tiring.  They might not come back.  Do we have to do this to start the study?

John study guide

All I can say is, give it a try, and you’ll be surprised how well it goes.  Both from my own experience leading groups with these guides, and from what I’ve heard from other groups, I’m convinced that you and your neighbors will find this one of the most refreshing and exciting experiences they’ve had with the Bible in years.

One group I know read through the whole book of Romans out loud—this took about an hour—and as soon as they finished the discussion was electric.  One person said it was the best Bible study she’d ever been in.  Another group was using the guide to Psalms, Lamentations, and Songs of Songs.  They got to the session where they were supposed to read Lamentations out loud and one member asked whether they really had to do this.  Another member, a young woman, answered, “Of course we do!”  She explained that all she ever got was bits and pieces of the Bible, “a chapter here and a verse there,” and she was really looking forward to hearing a whole book at once.  The reading and discussion were deep and meaningful.

It’s important to realize that we are now in a period of a “new orality.”  We are less of a silent reading culture and more of an out-loud culture, in which the primary means of communication is increasingly the spoken voice, as heard on television, on internet sites like YouTube, in movie theaters, etc.  Even people’s interactions with their smart phones are becoming spoken!  The original character of the Bible is perfect for this “new orality.”  The books of the Bible, as a rule, were composed out loud and intended to be delivered out loud.  Paul tells the Colossians, for example, “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans.”  Revelation says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it.”  So when you read the Bible out loud, you’re experiencing it as originally intended.

So give the members of your neighborhood Bible study the challenge and opportunity of reading John out loud.  (You’ll notice that the guide gives you the choice of doing this in one or two parts, so if you still have concerns, you can start by reading just the first half out loud in session 2 and the second half in session 14.)  I think you’ll be  pleasantly surprised by how well it goes.