This meeting is not a lecture, sermon or exposition delivered by a teacher/overseer. The way in which this meeting is structured means that the meeting ‘operates at the levels and concerns of the participants’, so the role of the leader is to detach from their own agenda and allow the meeting to ‘find this level, because this is the level at which the participants are engaged. It is not a meeting whereby the leader merely presents their own opinion/research in the form of a lecture/sermon after which there is no opportunity for questions, discussion or challenge. Rather, this is a discussion/debate meeting in which all participants are actively included and who in many ways set the level of the depth of study as well as the direction of the study/themes under consideration, within the parameters of the main theme under discussion.
The role of the leader is to:
Allow participants to find their appropriate level or depth
To keep the discussion within the parameters of the main theme
To gently ‘push’ the level of debate into deeper territory by putting forward questions and gentle probing challenges
To ensure that the meeting is conducted properly with respect for participants
To ‘chair’ the meeting, bringing the meeting to a close at the appropriate time
The leader has to respect that the participants in the group may be wrestling with issues that are more ‘at the surface’ than the leaders own, deeper concerns and studies. The leader has to respect that the participants may not be particularly focussed on aspects of the theme under consideration that the leader thinks is important or is concerned about. This meeting is not about the leader’s agenda – rather it is about the concerns and issues of the participants, within the boundaries of the main theme under discussion.
This is not a ‘holiness’ meeting of personal sharing, confession, burden-sharing, praying for one another and so on. It is not a worship meeting of praise, prayer and singing. Neither is this a ‘hands on practical’ meeting involving preparation for some sort of fellowship project. So it is not about getting leaflets ready for distribution, or sorting out sandwiches for a meeting later in the week and so on.
The aim of this meeting is to get interested people to think for themselves about bible passages; to contribute by sharing their opinions; to be aware of the sometimes-challenging opinions of other people; and to thoughtfully engage with the bible and its teaching at a level that is relevant and appropriate to their level of spiritual growth. Probably the optimal size for this sort of group is between five to eight people in order to allow for the participation of each member. Less than five and the group is too small, more than about eight and it starts to become unwieldy.
Aspects of the Study Meeting
Aspects and facets of this meeting include:
It is an informal meeting
Chairs are arranged in circle or the meeting takes place in the informal surroundings of a member’s house
The passage/theme to be discussed is announced a week before so that participants can consider their thoughts/opinions if they wish to
The theme may involve progressing systematically through a book of the bible (such as Paul’s letter to the Romans) or the life of bible character (such as David) or on a particular theme (such as the Sovereignty of God [with a text each week]) e.t.c.. It may be agreed that participants use a particular guide, commentary or Christian book in order to provide a prompt for discussion and to give cohesion.
The meeting is opened with a brief prayer with the focus of the prayer being on the study theme for that day and for the Spirit’s help in giving balanced understanding.
The passage to be studied is then read out.
The leader then opens the discussion by asking the group as a whole for general opinions or by putting forward a specific question based on the text and asking the group for their opinions. If no opinion is forthcoming, the leader may ask a specific individual member of the group for their views in order to get the discussion under way. Other members may be asked for their responses/opinions in the light of what has been said.
The leader is an overseer/teacher but acts as a facilitator/chair of the meeting. The leader facilitates and encourages the involvement of each and every participant, holding back the over-eager contributor and drawing out the shy and reticent member. Engagement in the process of learning is facilitated by encouraging each person to:
Contribute by sharing their opinion/thoughts
Listen to the opinions of others
Try to present biblical support for their position
The leader/facilitator ensures that the discussions and debates:
Remain focused on the main theme and the bible
Do not stagnate into silence
Do not become overheated, argumentative or personal
Do not degenerate into aimless gossip or levity
The leader/facilitator ensures that:
No one, single member dominates the discussion
Quiet, shy members are drawn out
Order and balance is maintained
The leader/facilitator monitors and guides the pace of the meeting and brings the meeting to a close at the scheduled time. As a teacher/overseer, the leader/facilitator may present a ‘summing up’ of the themes that have arisen during the meeting. This summing up may be to the effect that no definite conclusion or point of view has prevailed or been settled upon. In many ways, it is the journey that counts here – the act of engaging in discussion and debate itself – rather than the need to provide conclusions, resolutions or promote the ‘party line’ or ‘orthodoxy’ (except in the case of core doctrines of course). Alternatively or in addition, the leader may briefly present their understanding of the theme/passage under discussion either as some sort of resolution to the debate or as a springboard for further thought in the days to come.
The meeting is then closed in prayer.
Informal refreshments – tea, coffee and biscuits – are then served during which discussion is then allowed, even encouraged, to drift onto other matters.
This is a meeting for Christians in a fellowship who are seeking to grow in their understanding. It is not an outreach/evangelistic meeting for unbelievers, so unbelievers would not really be part of these meetings. The bible suggests a definite hierarchy of growth when it comes to spirituality – it talks about unbelievers as outsiders and as being unable to receive the things of God. Indeed, Christians are told to use discrimination and not to give their pearls to unbelievers. The bible also talks about Christians who are like ‘babes’ who are unable to receive the ‘meat’ of the word. So there is a gradation or a series of levels of growth.
Although aspects of this kind of meeting could be included into the main worship gathering, this kind of meeting could also be an optional extra meeting over and above the worship meeting – rather like our conventional ‘mid-week bible study’ or ‘house groups’. If a meeting such as this was included as part of the main worship meeting, then after the whole fellowship has met together for praise, worship, singing, and a short message/sermon, then the main body of people could indeed split up into separate groups – one or two groups for children of different ages, another for the young people, and in addition, one or two meetings such as this for teaching/discussion. In this kind of situation, a group would also be set aside for newcomers and unbelievers – defined as those who have not been baptized – in order to present the basics of the gospel message to them.
I am of the strong opinion that the fellowship is a gathering of spiritually-minded people for the purpose of worship and other spiritual activities. The fellowship is geared around those who are spiritual – around baptized believers – and as such it is not centred on accommodating unbelievers. Spiritual activity and worship is not to be compromised in order to pander to the preferences of the ungodly and unbelievers, or in order to try and ‘attract’ them into meetings.