How to Prepare, Conduct, and Participate in, Group Bible Studies
Study No. 138
Are Home Bible Studies Scriptural?
Aquila, a Jewish tentmaker, was born in Pontus, then moved to Italy, and later was thrust out by Emperor Claudiusí persecution of the Jews. He settled in Corinth where he soon encountered the Apostle Paul. Together, Paul and Aquila dwelt together and made tents, Acts 18:1-4. Peloubet says this was the Cicilian tent of haircloth. Catacomb inscriptions indicate that Aquila's wife Priscilla came from a distinguished family of high standing in Rome and was a woman of unusual talent (Halleyís Bible Handbook, page 576). After 18 months of working with Paul, Aquila and Priscilla accompanied Paul on his journey to Syria, verse 18. At Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla expounded God's word to zealous Apollos, helping him understand more than just the baptism of John, Acts 18:24-28. Aquila and Priscilla led a church in their house, Romans 16:3-5, I Corinthians 16:19, II Timothy 4:19.
In Colossians 4:15-17, we are told that Nymphas of Laodicea had a church in his house. Philemon also had a church in his house, Philemon 2. Archippus of Laodicea served among these churches (same verses).
Henry H. Halley writes in Halleyís Bible Handbook, page 632: "There were no church buildings [in Ephesus]. Houses for Christian worship did not begin to be built till two hundred years after the days of Paul, and were not general till Constantine put an end to the persecutions of Christians. In Paulís day churches met, mostly, in the homes of Christian people. Thus, the scores of thousands of Christians, in and around Ephesus, met not in one, or a few, great central congregations, but in hundreds of small groups in various homes, each congregation under its own pastoral leadership . . . . [the evangelist] Timothy's work was primarily with these pastors [elders], or congregational leaders."
Religious services and Bible Study in the home is certainly the Biblical way.
Method of Teaching
I Corinthians 14:22-40 describes the worship services in the church at Corinth. These are the major scriptures given to show how the New Testament worship services were conducted. The Corinthians were doing it wrong. In their zeal, everyone wanted to proclaim a doctrine, an interpretation, or give a revelation. There was too much chaos and confusion. Some spoke in foreign languages that couldnít be understood by the others. Paul admonished the Corinthians that services must be conducted with proper order and decorum, because God is not the author of confusion. Women are not to speak during religious services. Every male adult could speak, in his own turn, so that all may learn. It is evident that after the speaker was finished, open discussion was allowed.
Matthew 13:10-11, 36, 51 shows that Jesusí method of teaching His disciples encouraged questions and discussion. In Matthew 16:5-23, Jesus asked questions, to make sure the disciples understood.
Acts 17:1-4 shows that Paul "reasoned with them out of the scriptures" in the synagogue. First Century A.D. Jewish synagogues allowed a great deal of discussion and reasoning. Verse 11 describes the Bereans who didnít fall over and play dead, but checked Paul's teachings against the scriptures to see if they were true. This is the Biblical form of church service, Acts 18:4.
The Biblical method of teaching and religious services, or Bible Studies, should be balanced between the allowance for free and open discussion (among the males), and reverent order and harmony.
Keep It Simple!
I was once a member of a church organization which has a very scholarly leading minister. He brags about his "thousands of hours of study" and "copious notes." One has to have a dictionary along to understand some of the big words he uses. One Feast, this minister gave several sermons attempting to cover the Book of Deuteronomy. He never got past the first chapter! He puts out cassette tapes, some of which go into more than a hundred tapes on one topic. If you ask him a simple question, the "answer," if you can understand it, may take an hour or longer. One Sabbath he gave an especially forceful sermon. Afterwards, I asked a lady in the audience what she thought of the sermon. She exclaimed that the sermon was wonderfully inspiring. When I asked her to summarize the message for me, she could not do so. Neither could I. He might as well have spoken in a foreign language.
The purpose of preaching or Bible Study is "edification, and exhortation, and comfort," I Corinthians 14:3. In verses 9 and 19, Paul said that "except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air . . . . Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."
Preparation for Bible Studies
The Preparer of the Study. Remember I Corinthians 14:26, "Let all things be done unto edifying." Choose a topic that will edify, instruct, help, and encourage others. Do not choose a pet theory, a subject too close to you, something to "preach at" someone else. Pray about it. Prepare notes with scripture references and subtopics, using a concordance, topical Bible, Bible dictionary, or your Bible center margin.
Often you will find that you need to write down all the relevant scriptures with brief quotes, then later arrange them in topical order. Think about your subject during the week, especially when praying. You will be amazed at the new ideas that "come" to you! At least 4-5 hours preparation go into most short Bible Studies.
Always keep in mind the purpose: to help others, and in so doing, you will learn a great deal yourself.
The Participants in the Study. Be prepared to listen, take notes, and make comments when there is a period of discussion. In group discussion, some make the mistake of not listening to others because they are too busy planning their next comment.
Conducting the Study
There are many forms and varieties of Bible Studies that can be educational and done in a respectful manner to the Eternal. One form of Bible Study is the "Sabbath School" format. The leader has prepared a list of scriptures on a particular subject, and has each person in turn read a scripture, after which he or others may comment. At Troas, Paul resorted to straight preaching, his speech continuing from the evening meal until midnight, Acts 20:6-7. Obviously, being accustomed to the synagogue form of worship, questions and discussion were more than welcome after the completion of the discourse.
The scriptures should speak for themselves. The participants can often add color and meaning by stating what the scripture says in their own words, and how it relates to their lives. The leader can stimulate discussion by asking questions, reading or having the scripture read, and then stating or asking someone to state the answer. When studying the Bible, always ask and answer the two questions: "What does the Scripture say?" and "What does it say to me?"
Avoid These Pitfalls
Here are common pitfalls to avoid:
(1) The leader should not dominate the session by taking all the time talking. Preaching a sermon and closing the service and leaving, is certainly not an effective way of teaching. Not everyone grasps the contents of the message immediately. Discussion often helps to clarify what was said. Paulís long sermon at Troas led to Eutychusí falling asleep and tumbling out of the window. After the healing miracle, there was a period of talking for "a long while," Acts 20:9-12.
(2) Lack of preparation leads to lack of learning. As Edison said of his inventions, so a leader can say of an inspired message that it is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Are you willing to put forth the effort to make Bible Studies effective?
(3) Participants who lead the discussions off on tangents can disrupt and confuse the others. Donít do this!
(4) Donít argue. Argumentation has no place in worship services. Love does not argue and seek to have its own way. Few have learned to allow others to believe a little different than they do. Read Romans 12:1-10. This should be our attitude in every group Bible Study.
(5) Not listening to others results in not learning, with zero benefit to you and others. The study has been only a forum for your own ideas, not a learning session for new ideas. This goes for both the preparer and participants of the study.
(6) Also, some groups of people make the mistake of becoming "tape worms." They invariably meet together and do nothing more than play sermon tapes from "headquarters." Whatís wrong with this? Plenty. Such people are becoming spoon-fed automatons and cannot think and reason for themselves. The Eternal doesnít want robots parroting the party line. He wants solid, individual believers who cannot be swayed by others. Tapes are fine, but often it is better to listen to them at home.
Closing the Study
Usually 1-2 hours is the longest that most can keep their attention. One to two pages of notes (both sides) usually is sufficient to keep the study going this long. The conclusion, or summation of what has been learned, is usually done by the leader. Prayer and dismissal is then a natural process. Sometimes, a common meal concludes the day.
Why Group Bible Studies?
Some take these studies too seriously. They want to use them to plug their own ideas. Others do not take them seriously enough. They do not prepare, so often the study may become merely a "bull session."
Why have group Bible Studies? Why donít we merely study on our own?
In Hebrews 3:12-13, we are told to exhort one another daily, lest we ourselves be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. I Corinthians 14:3 tells us to exhort in order to edify and comfort, so that all may learn, verse 31. In Acts 13:14-15, the scriptures were read, and exhortation was given. If only churches today were conducted like this, more would be able to come to the knowledge of the truth!
A lesson from Hebrews 12:3-7 is that we need exhortation and correction from Godís Word, even at times from others. We too often study scriptures that agree with ourselves. We need to listen to scriptures picked by others as well.
I Timothy 4:12-16 shows we must be an example to other believers, in word, conversation, etc. We are to read the Bible, exhort one another, speak of doctrine, help others stay on the right path and take heed ourselves. In doing this, we will save ourselves, and others who hear us. This is a responsibility for everyone. We need to utter words of exhortation fitly spoken to exhort and encourage our brethren.
Hebrews 10:24-25 [Amplified Bible] "And let us consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another, studying how we may stir up (stimulate and incite) to love and helpful deeds and noble activities; Not forsaking or neglecting to assemble together [as believers], as is the habit of some people, but admonishing ó warning, urging and encouraging ó one another, and all the more faithfully as you see the day approaching."
Let us encourage our brethren by conducting, and participating in, uplifting Home Bible Studies. W
If you feel you lack the skills to conduct home Bible Studies, we suggest that you obtain a copy of The Bible Home Instructor, available from Giving & Sharing. Written by Church of God, Seventh Day Elder A.N. Dugger in the early 1900ís, this classic work covers numerous Bible topics in an easy, "Sabbath School" format of a dozen or so questions with scriptural answers. Each lesson is sure to provide a delightful Sabbath discussion, and springboard for further study.