A Simple Structure for Community Group Studies
Posted: 13 February 2014
How do we move away from Comprehension Groups to Community Groups? How do we create deep discussion over God's word that takes us to the depths and beauty of the Gospel? How do we seek to reach the heart of the members in our groups, that we may see and challenge their true desires and dreams? How do we not have another "Guess what's in James' head" question, that makes us feel uninspired?
These are all questions I have had to wrestle with in leading the Bible time in our Community Groups, because I have lead studies of pure comprehension, studies void of the Gospel message, studies in which I am just calling people to get into my head rather than the bible. So here is an attempt to help guide you away from that, showing you a model for structuring the Bible time in your groups that creates discussion, goes to the heart, and pushes people to articulate the Gospel from every part of God's word.
TEXT --> TRUTHS --> LIES --> GOSPEL --> LIVES
Step #1 - Text
At Vine Church we have created the stucture in our Community Groups that everyone in group does prep work before coming to the Mid-Week Group. This prep work aims at getting everyone 'filled' with a knowledge of the text through study guides and the Sunday sermon. Thus the first step when coming together to read and discuss God's word is orientation over the TEXT. To do this, I give everyone in my group 40secs to quickly look over the passage we are studying so they get their bearings. Once done, PAUSE...and wait for any questions. Embrace the awkward silence for a bit, and see if anyone pips up. If not move on by giving them a very brief outline of the passage we are looking at, and maybe a quick context hint.
Example... To help me know Mark 1:16-3:35, I use JESUS MOVES OUT, showing us that this passage has 3 major sections, the first with 5 stories about Jesus (5 letters), 5 stories of opposition, and 3 stories of summary. It also helps that the grand theme of this whole passage is that Jesus is actually moving around and away from people for different reasons.
Step #2 - Truths
Within every text, God declares to us truths about himself that we as his creatures are called to love. It does not mean that we love them yet, thats for the Gospel, but there are truths there. Here I ask my group to find the TRUTH, and normally there will be one or two major truths that are to win our affections. This practise helps move us from little truths that are there, to see the text in greater context. Sometimes the little truths are too good to miss and we'll spend time on these, but usually there is a major truth that all the little truths point too. WARNING... if you dont focus on the one or 2 major truths but instead 10 minor ones you will not go deep in the time that you have. Though, sometimes you will find your group focussing on a minor truth in which you will need to make the area of your study on the night.
Example... Mark 1:16-45 has the major truth that the preaching of Jesus has primacy over the healings of Jesus, moving us away from our present needs to a King who declares a hope to come. Within this though, we see minor truths such as our King is a preacher with compassion as his heart is grieved deeply at the sickness of his world (vv.40-42).
Step #3 - Lies
As I said before, it is all well and good to find the truths and leave it there, but we must not forget that sin moves our hearts away from the truth to believing lies in the face of the truth. You and your group are all sinners who LOVE lies, so its a war of LOVES. This is the area in which often much discussion occurs as people start to open up. I get my group to list out a bunch of lies that stand in the way of the truth we are called to love. We then see all the things that hinder us from enjoying the truth, and often get a good glimpse into the hearts of our group. This will also be an area in which some will not share, and so we need to look out for them. It is also an area in which people can give very shallow answers, which means you will need to push people deeper by asking 'where do you see that lie lived out in your life...explain'. It is finally a great opportunity for you as a leader to share your struggles and sin.
Example... In Mark 1:16-45 I see that I can value the physical health of my children over the spiritual health of my unbelieving friends. I think about the emotional energy I put in when my daughter had Croop as we rushed her to the hospital, but the lack of emotional energy I put in preaching the kingdom to come to my friends.
Step #4 - Gospel
As we see the lies build up, they give us all the areas in our life in which we have NEED of the Gospel. God desires needy people and so in this step I always start/continue/end with prayer. Prayer soaks this step as our group prays for one another. It is also where we declare how the Gospel speaks into our lies, moving us to have an affection for the truth of God. We see how the life and death of Jesus our King speaks into lies, how His grace and mercy silences Satan, and how his Father's love and pleasure over us enables us to let go of temporary toys.
Example... The healings of Jesus in his life point us to our God's concern with our bodies, and his grief at how sin has cursed our world. But it is that God made himself one of us that shows us the depths of his anger with sin, and his deep love and mercy that lead him to climb on the cross so that we could be pulled of our own. He let the jaws of death shallow him that we may find freedom away from them, but our King is also greater than sin and death, and his resurrection proves to us that death is not the end. Eternity awaits with our Savior King, where his concern for us is no less, but is no longer distracted with sin but embraced in joy.
Step #5 - Lives
Finally, we want our groups to come up with tangible and reachable outcomes that they will do having seen the Gospel. These may be actions based on a new love of the Gospel, or for some it may be that they need to hear the Gospel more as they have not seen change. This is a patient and personal work in the people of your Community Group. Some will come up with a ToDo list and praise God. Others will need for someone to pray with them more, shine to Gospel to them more, and patiently walk with them further.
Example... I am going to call [insert person] tomorrow morning and organise a regular catchup with them, inviting them to read Mark's Gospel together. I am going to sell this toy of mind and find contentment in what I already have rather than seeking to get more and more. I need someone to meet with me and pray over my life because I am still basing my life on lies and I want help.
So there is one way to structure your time together in which I hope you find helpful. It does rest on the fact that people come to group 'filled' from a booklet or sermon, so you will need to encourage that all the time. Our hope though is that this allows you to have deep conversations with those you love in your Community Group showing each other how the Gospel changes our very lives.