Is that a hard question? Every group is different, different churches do them different ways, they can be long and dull or lively and fast—or both. But what should we expect of them?
People call them Growth Groups, Home Church Groups, and a few other names—I call them Bible Study Groups (BSGs) because the thing we need to do together is study God’s word. That’s the main purpose and the main activity. If your group is not reading systematically through Bible books then it’s not a Bible Study. Systematically is important because if we simply chop and change all over the place we simply take the bits we like and often relegate the hard stuff. A preaching program should have a basic ethos of preaching the whole Bible, not just the parts we like—the things some churches/preachers might leave out because they’re too tough—I’d rather tackle head on. It’s one reason to exercise caution with the NIV Study Bible—especially the study notes—they almost always only comment on the easy things—the hard ones they simply bypass. It’s still a good Bible Study tool and if it’s the only commentary you have access to then go for it – just remember it’s limitations and the bias of the authors of the notes – good, bad or indifferent they do not carry the authority of the Scriptures.
Back to BSGs… there should be a leader or leaders who are mature (for their age and experience) and able to lead. They should be respected in your church—and you should respect them.
In planning time together, the Bible study should take a majority of the time. In most groups I would recommend a minimum of an hour of study. We should be praying together and sharing, with an aim of building each other up in maturity. That aim means we should be cautious what we share—intimate and hard stuff are better done in smaller settings, say with one or two close friends. Too many groups spend all their time sharing and praying and next to none listening to God by reading his word.
Sometimes we have this idea of a home BSG as being a church – when two or three are gathered in my name… and that’s fair enough. But f that is the intention and your Bible Study is to be a church then it should have the NT elements of church—evangelism, mission, financially supporting the gospel ministry and the poor, praise and edification, the Lord’s Supper—all centred around the word of God—the church is to preach the word of God so there should be teaching and preaching, not just Bible Study but the proclamation of the gospel. The group would need an outward focus.
The Bible Study group can also be the starting place for pastoral care—your group might be the first you call on for help, and the paid staff of your church might be the last to visit you in hospital. more on this another time.
Get into a great Bible Study Group—they are the best place to grow as a Christian and to encourage others.
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