What Should Bible Study Look Like?

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Bible study is an integral part of what the church does, but what is Bible study supposed to look like? If you think about it, we don’t have a clear picture in Scripture of how Bible study was conducted in Biblical times. We have lots of examples of sermons and speeches, but never a vivid description of Bible study. We have stories like Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) which give us some clues about what a personal Bible study might look like, but even then we are not given many details. There are a few vague references to corporate Bible study scattered here and there, but nothing that explains the nuts and bolts of Bible study.

Over the years, Bible study has not always looked the same. We have moved from an oral culture that focused on hearing the word to a literary culture that places a great emphasis on reading the word. In most modern Christian homes, you will find multiple Bibles and translations, but for most of Christian history the Bible was not as readily available as it is today. Bibles were expensive. They were not always written in the native language of the people, and many people could not read. During these times, the church and corporate Bible study were essential.

We are a nation of individuals. We prize our individuality and believe we can do almost anything on our own. This mentality has rubbed off on the church. We speak often of personal Bible study, and although we offer corporate Bible study, it is not attended by everyone. Personal Bible study is great for our individual spiritual health, but corporate Bible study is essential for the life of the church. God works through human beings. If we neglect corporate Bible study, then we are neglecting an opportunity for God to work in our lives.

Since we are not given a manual for how to do Bible study, this means God has allowed us much freedom in how we conduct ourselves. Recognizing this fact and thinking through it is essential. We should consider the purpose of corporate Bible study. We should also contemplate what it is we want to accomplish.

There are multiple ways to do a Bible study with a group of individuals. It is important to consider these options and choose the right fit for your congregation.

Lecture

Perhaps, the most popular class style in churches in America is lecture. This is where one individual leads the class and spends most of his or her time addressing a subject or text. Questions may be asked, and others may comment, but the teacher is clearly in charge and speaks much more than anyone else. This can be a great way to learn, especially if the person is well-prepared and knows the subject. I love a great lecture, but there are others who are turned off by the idea of having to listen to someone talk for 45 minutes. This style is well-suited for large groups, and you get the benefit of receiving a lot of information in a fairly short amount of time.

Communal

A communal style is maybe less familiar but offers some great benefits. There is still a leader, but, in this case, the leader acts as a facilitator and does not spend all his or her time speaking. Instead, the church is encouraged to read the text together, and offer comments. This allows the church to have a voice, and everyone can learn from one another. This type of study has the potential to shape us into the image of Christ, but this also makes it more difficult. It demands that we listen to one another. It insists that we respect each other even when we disagree. It encourages people to be vulnerable and bring up ideas or issues they might be wrestling with. It makes us learn to trust one another. There is great potential for this type of study to help the church grow and flourish, but it can also go terribly wrong if people are not respected, and if there is a lack of trust in the community.

Moving Forward

As you try to determine what Bible study should look like in the congregation you belong to, here are three essentials that should be a part of every Bible study.

Freedom

People have an interest in Bible study. They have questions and they want to know what is right, but in order to encourage their study and help them grow in their faith, there must be freedom. Bible study needs to be a safe place where people are free to ask questions and explore ideas. Sometimes a person will make a comment, and it is like a rush to see who can shut them down the quickest. When we do this, we are not following the command given to us in James 1:19, nor are we encouraging the person commenting or others to be open. Even if a person is wrong about something, we should listen to them and help them to think through what they are saying, rather than making a simple comment that ends the dialogue.

Formation

The purpose of Bible study is not simply to fill our minds with as much information as it can contain. Knowledge is valuable, but without formation, knowledge does us little good. Our goal as Christians is to be formed into the image of Jesus. This should be a goal of everything we do as Christians. The Lord’s Supper helps to mold us into this image. We are shaped by singing and serving others. We are also formed when we engage in Bible study with fellow believers. We learn to listen and be patient. We learn submission by allowing others an opportunity to speak even though we might have much to say. We learn humility by being taught by people who are younger than us and maybe have not studied as much as we have. The way we do Bible study can be just as important as the content of the study itself.

Foundation

What we learn in Bible study should give us a foundation for all that we do. It gives us an identity and a story. It teaches us ethics and how to live. It prepares us for good times and bad times. We gain wisdom through our study of Scripture. This foundation is absolutely necessary, and the best way to build it is to engage in study with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you are not a part of a weekly Bible study, then I would encourage you to find one. Christianity must be done in community, and this includes our study of God’s word.

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Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

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