by Albert Hung

When I go to a restaurant with friends, sometimes we say, “Let’s eat Chinese style,” which is not necessarily a suggestion that we go for Asian food. What we mean by that phrase is, “Let’s all order something different, put everything in the middle of the table, and share.” In Western cultures, which tend to be highly individualistic, each person orders their own complete, self-contained meal. But in Asian cultures, which value community, we order as a group, and we all share in the bounty. Everyone gets a taste of everything.

At its best, group Bible study is like a shared meal in which we feast not on physical food but on the Word of God. We come with eager anticipation, having spent significant time preparing our hearts and minds to engage the Scriptures and the God who inspired them. When we come together, we understand that we are not only there to feed ourselves but also to feed each other. We don’t just eat off our own plates. We also get to sample what others have brought to the table. As we share personal insights, celebrate each other’s growth, and pray together, the whole body of Christ is nourished and strengthened.

 For us to grow as Christians, we need to study God’s Word both in private and in community with others. There are five practices that have helped our church get the most out of the limited time we have together on Sunday mornings or during midweek small groups.

WE CHALLENGE OURSELVES

It’s been said that if you don’t want to learn, no one can help you; but if you are determined to learn, no one can stop you. We’ve noticed that the more we challenge ourselves, the more we grow. Our small groups require a significant commitment of time and mental energy. Yes, there is homework, and we actually do it! Don’t shy away from a study group simply because there is some work involved. Anything worth doing takes effort. And what could be a worthier goal than pursuing a deeper relationship with Christ?

Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our strength, and all of our minds (Matthew 22:37). A disciple is a learner, and will be for the rest of his or her life. Whether it’s reading the Bible cover to cover, trying a new study method, becoming versed in basic apologetics (the art of defending our faith), studying doctrine and church history, or even learning basic Hebrew and Greek, make a habit of doing things that stretch your mind and your faith. Do hard things. Challenge yourself.

EXPECT GREAT THINGS, EVERY TIME.

WE COME PREPARED

My parents taught me never to come empty-handed when someone invites me to dinner. It doesn’t matter if I show up with salad, a casserole, or pie; just bring something. We’ve adopted this same attitude when we gather in our small groups. We believe God can and does speak to his people during personal devotions. Therefore, we encourage people to prepare something to share with others by reading a particular passage of Scripture ahead of time and recording their observations, questions, and insights. We tell them to write in their Bibles (yes, it’s okay to do that), highlight key phrases, and use study tools like online, interlinear Greek and Hebrew Bibles, concordances, maps, and charts. Most importantly, we urge them to pray for God to reveal himself through the Scriptures and guide their devotional times through his Spirit.

Want to shock your pastor? Try asking her to show you how to do a keyword study or how to properly exegete a passage. Ask him to explain to you, step by step, how he prepares for the weekly sermon so that you can use those same tools in your personal Bible study. After your pastor picks up his or her jaw off the floor, he or she will be delighted to answer your questions. The better you prepare for your group Bible study, the more fruitful it will be for everyone. Make every effort to come with something to share.

WE EXPECT GREAT THINGS

Part of the fun of enjoying a fine meal with your friends is the anticipation. We expect to have a good time and eat great food. Do you expect great things to happen when you go to Sunday school or your midweek Bible study? Do you expect God to show up? Do you expect to come away inspired and even transformed?

When we gather around God’s Word, our attitudes matter greatly. Arrive on time and with a sense of excitement. Have your Bible in one hand and your journal in the other so you can record new insights as well as any prayer requests that are shared. Greet one another warmly and be fully present (i.e., put your phone away). Expect great things, every time.

WE ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE

Church is so much better when everyone is an active participant. “When you come together,” wrote the apostle Paul, “each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:26, NIV). In our Bible studies, we encourage everyone to speak up, even those who are shy or introverted. Because our people come prepared, they have plenty to say, but it wasn’t always this way. It took some time for people to get comfortable with sharing their thoughts and questions.

One practice that helped us open up to one another was learning how to be good listeners. We have learned to verbally affirm each other’s contributions and celebrate their discoveries. We choose to avoid petty arguments over minor theological differences or political issues that have little to do with the topic at hand. We come with the assumption that God may have a word to speak to us through someone else in the group, so we’d better pay attention. When you go to group Bible study, resolve to be an active participant. Speak up, ask questions, and listen well.

WE FOLLOW THROUGH

Finally, we’ve decided that every time we gather, we will do something with what we’ve learned. Jesus made it clear that the difference between wisdom and folly is all in the followthrough. “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24, NIV).

There are many ways to respond to Scripture. Sometimes the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, which we then “confess to one another in order that we may be healed” (James 5:16, NIV).  At other times, God may prompt us to repair a relationship, care for someone in need, take up the cause of the oppressed, or simply rest in his abundant grace. When you study the Word of God, does the Holy Spirit speak to you? And when he does, do you obey his leading because you trust that his plans for you are good? Does your faith lead to action? The goal of our small groups is not to know the Bible but to know God and join him in the renewal of all things (Revelation 21:5). When you come together, expect God to lead you to take action, and resolve to follow through.

At our church, Bible studies are no longer taught by our pastors or any one person. We have all become teachers. It’s messy at times. We’re still a work in progress. But we are convinced that this is a far better way to make disciples. When nobody comes empty-handed to dinner, no one leaves hungry.


ALBERT HUNG is the lead pastor of Trinity Church of the Nazarene in Monterey Park, California. He previously served as the international chaplain at Azusa Pacific University. He is passionate about leadership, cross-cultural ministry, and church revitalization.

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