Muddling through

Every two weeks people in the congregation get together to study the Bible.  The name of the group is ‘Roots & Shoots’ which doesn’t tell people new to the church a lot about what we do, but it is a name that has stuck and which I emphasize as the ‘Roots & Shoots Bible Study‘.  In the back of my mind I still wonder if there will be a day when someone comes to the group ready to garden.  Despite the name, the purpose is simple: study the Bible.

For many years I have participated in Bible Study groups both as studies which take place in the churches, or as private home group Bible study.  Not a single group is the same.  Not a single meeting is the same and this causes both delight and frustration for many.

I can recall the first time I was asked to lead a Bible Study group and the interesting personalities which made it…let’s say, interesting.  The formal leadership of the group was an elder layman who had basically grown up in the church and seemed to live and breath the Bible.  He used a ‘method’ that had people studying large passages throughout the entire Bible over the course of a couple years.  It was a study that would give anyone an overview at just about every book in the Bible.  From the moment I was asked to take a lead all I could really think about was the most senior person in the group, a woman named Joan.  Joan was a (long) retired teacher whom I am sure taught in a one room school house with pupils writing letters and numbers on pieces of slate and erasing their mistakes with ripped pieces of cloth.  Joan loved to talk and she loved to talk with her eyes closed.  Yes the habit of closing her eyes and talking at you:  at times you might have thought that some oracle was speaking, but for the most part I found it exceedingly annoying as it blocked any further attempt at any conversation.  Bible study usually meant a race between the leader who had prepared an outline, and Joan who, once started, could go the distance and take over the entire session.

These battles often meant that the group which met remained small and that the turn over in membership was high.  In fact it was probably my own look of having one foot out the door that the leader proposed that I should lead.

The long awaited evening came and as usual we met in the boardroom which gave the impression that about ten people more should be coming at any moment.  The table was a wood laminate and was badly chipped around some of the edges.  The carpet was an overwhelmingly bright avocado green with a hint of over-ripeness to it with brown flecks that were either bits of dirt that had accumulated, or a poorly made design feature.  The stackable chairs were uncomfortable and the arms of the chairs sometimes became a little loose with the wear and tear suddenly pinching your fleshy bits of arms if you were not careful.  A wonderful start to the evening.

I’ve read somewhere in some managerial magazine that board meetings and boardrooms lend themselves to a psychology of power struggles depending on who sits where.  The chair often takes the head of the table and the anti-chair (antagonist) usually sits directly opposite.  Those who wish to be ignored are often to the right and to the left of the chair, in a way, they are present, but not really present enough to be called upon for questioning, or discussion.

I arrived a little ahead of schedule like an athlete visualizing the course of events that was about to happen.  I sat in my usual chair and did not claim the head of the table like the leader usually did.  Closing my eyes, and maybe being seen to waver from side to side  like some skier mentally preparing for the downhill event I was startled to find that Joan was sitting exactly opposite me in a chair that was not her usual seat.  The antagonist had arrived.  Small chit-chat ensued and I was so very tempted to silently get up and change seats while Joan lamented her days events with tightly shut eyes.  Obviously the crowing glory of her day was to be the Bible Study group.

To my surprise there were more people in attendance.  It was, I thought, like people coming to see a spectator sport.  I had the notes that the leader had given  me and they were laid out on the table in front of me like a script.  Once we began it became apparent that I wasn’t comfortable with the status quo of the leader trying to rattle off as much of his script before his competitor, a bit slow off the block, but far more enduring, got started on her own race to the finish.

No sooner had I started that the leader began interjecting like a perfectionist director of a Shakespearean production –  I wasn’t following the script! Instead I did the unthinkable and started with a simple request that we read together the passage of study and note what interested us, or what was challenging, or if something was just plain strange.  Truly white knuckled stuff this was.  “But this isn’t how it is suppose to be!”, the elder leader burst out.  A small pause of silence which always feels excruciatingly long ensued until someone began to say that something from verse 12 really spoke to them.

We had gone through about two people who were perhaps more surprised at their own willingness to speak, when the warning signs of someone coming up from the rear of our Bible study track were upon us.  Joan sighed inwardly, closed her Bible (King James of course), folded her arms across her chest in a movement that suggested that she was adjusting her sweater for when cold seeped into the room, and with drooping eyelids and a slightly tipped back head she began.

A few minutes later, after we had heard about what seemed an actual recount of the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness I spoke up.  I began to point out a small reference Joan had made in regards to the actual passage we intended to study and wondered aloud if others had any other thoughts on the subject.  I thanked Joan for her impressions and scanned the faces around the table for someone who looked eager to jump in with their own ideas.

It was like a tennis match had started and peoples eyes flicked across the length of the table from me to the Joan.  Joan had stopped talking and one eye lid flickered open and the look of the people around the table was as if I had just awakened the Kraken whilst the elder leader was quickly on the Flying Dutchmen off into the hidden darkness of the car park outside.

Repeating the words, “Oh no, oh no!” in ones head does actually give the appearance of serenity and deep prayer.  Yet the crack had opened and it seems a dams worth of water was now going to rush through as others burst forth with their own insights and questions about the scripture.

After the evening had wrapped up I felt exhausted and I felt that I had failed.  I looked around the boardroom at all in attendance and had an image of a shipwreck in mind.  Yet there was more talking, more excitement, more interaction with everyone, not just Joan and the leader.  I began to feel more like we were somehow saved in the wreckage and were in a lifeboat together.  Something had saved the night.  Yes, it was stormy.  Yes, we had people yelling that they could not swim (metaphorically speaking). But now here we all were in the same boat and it felt that we were now rowing, not in circles with one person in the bow pointing, and other in the stern demanding that we go her way.  No.  Instead it felt like we were on a journey of discovery and that whatever the weather we could all stick an oar in and contribute and therefore go somewhere.

This experience, although it happened over twenty years ago still has an impact on me to this day.  It is curious, and rewarding to also know that the passage we studied was Luke 8: 22-25 where Jesus calms the storm which ravages the boat filled with disciples.  No Bible Study meeting has ever been the same – both a frustration and a great relief.

Luke 8. 24The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, weʼre going to drown!”  He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25“Where is your faith?”he asked his disciples.

Home Groups

The meeting of Christians has not always happened on Sunday morning, and more and more people find spiritual nourishment throughout the week by meeting in small groups.  I was very happy to meet with the “North Freiburg Home Group” and participate in what they have been doing over many years together.  A small group of around 8 people have been meeting together in each others homes for several years.  They have alternated with either Bible Study, or book study to help focus there time together.  Strong bonds of friendship and fellowship are evident.

In my thinking, small groups have a lot to offer. One thing that I think is important to realize is that not everyone wants to be invited to a church worship service, but many people are spiritually hungry and seeking after God and will more likely like to explore their faith with others in a small group where there is an opportunity to believe, behave, belong and become a Christian.

Small groups, home groups, have the advantage of being flexible to the people who attend. An example of flexibility is the willingness to provide space for life’s circumstances.  Children might play together in another room whilst the parents study and pray.  If you work shift work, the group could accommodate you by meeting over lunch.  Such is the flexibility of those who participate.

Another reason home groups are great, is that you get to see real change in peoples lives as they grow and develop in their faith.  What is encouraging is that soon after this evening gathering, another couple in the church had an idea for yet another home group that they wish to help host and get started.  God is good.


The Bible and the World

As I prepare for entry into my new position I’ve learned that in the busy calendar scheduling that there has been a double booking between a Bible Study and a meeting to discuss the churches involvement with the refugees in Freiburg. We have chosen to meet about the refugees and to have the Bible study in two weeks. However, I wonder if both could be possible, just in a different format. Perhaps this is a chance read scripture into the current situation, a “both / and” opportunity. While the meeting happens maybe others might look at what is here as a form of Bible study.

The reading for the Sunday coming are:

Philippians 1. 3-11 and Luke 3. 1-6

I would like to look first at the gospel reading.  Keep in mind that we read this in Advent which is a season of expectation. We experience two paths of expectation, one being the birth of Jesus; the other being the return of Christ.  I suggest reading the passage a few times to yourself and finding something that sticks out either because it interests you, or it is something that really challenges your faith.  Also, as background it is important to look at what takes place before and after this short reading, as this helps set things in context.

You might want to look at particular names, such as those who are listed in the first couple verses. What do you know about them? Who are they, and what roles did they have in society?

How about John? If you picture in your mind the passage playing out like a movie, where would you be? What would you experience? When John speaks of “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” what does this mean for you? How do you and your family prepare for Christmas? Is this preparation a preparation for Jesus, or is it something else all together?

In verse 6, what do you think it means to “see salvation”? What does that look like, or how do you experience it?

Remember that Bible study is not purely academic, but that it is part of our growing in relationship with Jesus; therefore, verse 10 has an excellent question for all of us when the crowd asks, “then what should we do?”  Ask yourself this, but don’t stay there, why not ask this question with your family, or your church community? What should we do to prepare for the Lord? Reflect on your day, and pray that what you have read and studied might be to God’s use, and that in your study you would be moved closer in relationship to Jesus.

If you would like to go further and look at the reading from the Epistle the questions below might be a jumping off point for more discussion and thought.

Paul is thankful in this first part of the letter, where do you find it easy to foster a thankful spirit in your life? Where is it a challenge to be thankful? Paul also offers prayer to those for whom he writes.  How is this short prayer useful in your own life? Do you pray like this, or is do you pray in a different way? What is unique about this prayer from Paul? What does he mention, and what does he omit? Equally, what do you mention, and what do you omit in your own prayers?

Now after having some time to look at both of these passages from the Bible, how do you think the readings might shape your interactions with others? Where is the church called to ministry in Freiburg especially in the light of the refugee meeting? How will we prepare and pray during these situations?