Following my first post of the discussion on sermons, I was asked to elaborate how I teach the Bible in a household congregation. So here’s a description of how we do it in our congregation (it may well be different in other TCH congregations).
We do classic interactive Bible studies in which the teacher identifies the big idea of the passage, and then produces a sequence of investigation and interpretation questions that lead the group to that big idea before exploring its implications in their lives.
We have found, however, that this is still a strongly literate mode of learning – somewhat akin in many people’s mind to an English comprehension exercise. I know graduates and readers (like me) find this hard to grasp, but non-book people struggle with this mode of learning. We have found it can therefore disenfranchise people from the Bible. The truth is arrived at through a process that appears mysterious to them.
I have also started using a more open process of investigation (using mixing it up a bit to be honest). I still do just as much preparation as before, but come with few prepared questions. Instead we read the whole passage and then I divide it into small sections. I read one of these and then say: Any comments or questions? This creates a discussion which I guide. I’ll then move us on to the next section. I keep the sections short to avoid the group jumping around from one bit to another. The aim is to wrestle with the meaning and implications of each section in turn. I also encourage people to ask the Why? question (which often gets missed out in preaching ): Why does it say this? Why does it say it here? Why does it say it in this way? Why does it say it to these people?
Two important qualifications. First, the discussion is open-ended in the sense that I do not know where it will go. But it is not open-ended in the sense that anything goes or any opinion is valid. This is one of the great fears people have of discussion – that it will descend into a postmodern, relativistic, mush of opinion. We have a clear sense that the text means some things and not other things. Wrong interpretations are challenged and people are (gently) encouraged to see what the text is not saying as well as what it is saying.
Second, we also include presentational element. This is really important. We do not want simply to understand the passage (to engage our heads). We want to address the heart. We want to feel it! We want our affections re-wired. (For more on this see Tim Keller’s excellent audio lectures, Preaching to the Heart. These presentational elements are pre-planned and introduced as and when appropriate (often as a climax to the discussion). They can take many forms: direct address, testimony, exhortation, songs, film extracts and story-telling.
More recently we have also begun exploring the use of story-telling, influenced by Soma Communities and also drawing on the wealth of missiological reflection on chronological Bible storying. The teacher tells the story and then we discuss its significance. I may blog more on this at a future date. In the meantime here’s the set of questions we used for the book of Judges:
1. What questions do you have about the story?
2. Can you see any similarities with other stories in Judges?
3. How do we see the pattern of human disloyalty leading to God’s judgment?
4. How do we see the pattern of human repentance leading to God’s mercy?
5. What do we learn about human nature in this story?
6. What do we learn about God in this story?
7. Is there anything in this story that points to Jesus or shows our need for Jesus?
8. Are there any links to our stories? How are we like the Israelites?
9. How does the story challenge or encourage you?
10. How does this story help us understand what it mean to walk in God’s ways?
11. When might you tell this story to a Christian?
12. When might you tell this story to an unbeliever?