Studying the bible together

 House Church tip: Study  the bible together

One of the things our house
church does well is study the bible together.  Over the last
several months we’ve tried all sorts minor adjustments to bring the
best combination of text, observation, discussion and application. We
apply what Mennonites/Anabaptists call a community hermeneutic and I
think it is a very useful and powerful way to honor the scriptures that
is well suited for our culture.  Philosphically we believe that we
understand the scriptures better together this way.  We believe
that the Holy Spirit works through individuals as members of a greater
body much more effectively than in solitary individuals.  One way
to ensure that any given study offers a little something for everyone
is to include everyone in the process of the study.  By starting
with the text together we honor and uphold the text as the main
authority rather than any one person’s interpretation. 

Engaging in the process is usually very simple.  What I like to do
when I lead the dicussions is find a minimum 2 different bible texts on
a subject.  I copy the text in to a word processor and double
space the text and print them out.  So far I think the best
combination is to have about two or three texts.  Think up a
couple of questions that will force us to think through an
application.  One simple question to ask is “how does this compare
with your experience.”

During the study time have people spend time with a pen and the
text.  Have one half or one third of the group look at each
text.  They can write notes, circle, underline, write questions,
draw lines connecting things.  This is an important stage. 
Some people learn best from solitary study and some from discussion and
debate.  By providing both kinds of environments you ensure a
wider range of people will come away having learned something. 
When people are done they share their observations and that is usually
enough by itself to spawn a great discussion.  It it can be
amazing how much life a group of eyes can bring to a text. 

It is also important to for people to have the freedom to be
different.  You may encounter some really strange theology
sometimes but through this process the people learn how to discern and
interpret. It is important that people feel comfortable and they are
not in “church mode.”  We eat together almost every meeting. 
Eating together has a very positive impact as it puts people at ease
and people seem more able to be themselves. 

After encountering this for the last several months it has become a
little more difficult to sit through a traditional sermon.  It
really does seem odd that we get one person to study the bible,
interpet,  apply and share these observations with a large group
of people who can neither question or respond in any way.  After
expericing an alternative this seems like a very poor way to
communicate biblical truth and challenge. 

I won’t deny that Jesus Came Preaching he also came to join the party, tell stories,
share, discuss, debate, model and demonstrate His love and power in
visible tangible ways.  There is a time and a place for people to
command the attention of an entire group and proclaim.  However by
making the sermon the center piece of every gathering we elevate one or
a few people above the rest impeding the natural function of the Spirit
working through the body.  More and more I’m becoming convinced
that Paul was right when he wrote in 1Cor 12 that the Spirit works
through the entire body and all are needed and valued. 

  1. #1 by becky on May 27, 2005 - 11:43 am

    Hooray for house churches! ‘Specially ours. 🙂

  2. #2 by Kevin on May 27, 2005 - 12:08 pm

    Or maybe we prefer to listen to those who we choose as our leaders. People who possess wisdom, knowledge, passion and humility. Traditional sermons don’t stifle conversation and individual thinking, they are simply a starting point. Very few people I know simply listen to a Sunday morning message and then just let it go. It usually stays in our minds, being processed and thought about and often discussed with others. A persons life can be impacted and changed for the better just as effectively through a sermon or a house church setting.

  3. #3 by Leighton Tebay on May 27, 2005 - 1:35 pm


    I’d say there are lots of people other than the pastor that possess “wisdom, knowledge, passion and humility” but they don’t get a turn to speak. Most of the pastors I know are regular people with the same weaknesses, insecurities and fears as anyone else.

    You said “traditional sermons don’t stifle conversation and individual thinking.” I know they do. When the sermon is done in almost every church I’ve been to 95% of the people are thinking about lunch. There is one person, usually a man, talking for 30 minutes or more and no one else is allowed to say anything. I’ve tried to inspire meaningful conversation right after church ends. It almost never happens.

    Studies have been done since the 60’s that have proven that most people can’t remember what a sermon was about 1 week after they heard it. There are large percentage of people who forget much of the sermon content mere hours after they heard it. Those stats dramatically change if people actualy converse about the subject matter but there is no time and no place for this in a regular church.

    You wrote “A persons life can be impacted and changed for the better just as effectively through a sermon or a house church setting.”

    I’m not going to deny that some people are impacted by sermons but it is very rare. I’ve experienced both and I’d say there is no comparison. I believe in the ministry of body. I think it is much more biblical and that there really is no biblical basis for making monologue the center of church gatherings. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for a sermon, but we rely on it too much.

  4. #4 by scotty on May 27, 2005 - 11:41 pm

    LT, I’ve had simliar experiences with people NOT discussing the sermon. Hockey or movies seemed more interesting to the general public. It reminds me of Providence college when the only time people talked about what happened in chapel was the one time a missionary said, “bull shit”. Suddenly everyone wanted to talk about the message! What a joke.

    Having said that, I also agree that sermons do have the potential of being meaningful. But hanging out over smirnoffs and discussing life is often far more enlightening, as is the community hermeneutic.

  5. #5 by Marc on May 28, 2005 - 12:51 pm

    Last night we experienced the very thing you’re talking about. It wasn’t church, and it wasn’t even meant to be a bible study of any kind, but we sat down to supper with some friends and didn’t get out of our chairs again until 10:30 at night or so, because somehow we had started discussing faith, doubt, theology, mystery, etc. A very encouraging time of growth. It was very ordinary, but it was very “spiritual” at the same time. I can’t quite express it properly in words…

  6. #6 by Kevin on May 30, 2005 - 12:56 pm

    Alot of other people do possess the same skills as pastors (often not to the same extent) and pastors have their problems just like the rest of us. Just remember that we as members of a church choose a pastor because they often are more knowledgeable than the rest of us, or patient, or whatever. Pastors aren’t better, just more skilled at their job than most other people would be.

    “I know they do. When the sermon is done in almost every church I’ve been to 95% of the people are thinking about lunch.”

    No, you think they do. That opinion is just from your experiences and is too broad a judgment (and we think about lunch because we’re hungry, not because we don’t want to discuss the sermon….maybe church would be more effective if we had it after lunch). I know alot of people gather for lunch after church to discuss and work through what they have just heard.

    Many people do have trouble remembering the sermon from three weeks ago (I’m one of them) but that’s because I remember ideas and thoughts, not specific messages. Those are the things that change my habits, thoughts and actions for the better. It’s just as easy to forget what you talked about in a small group setting, it’s simply a choice that a person makes.

  7. #7 by Leighton Tebay on May 30, 2005 - 2:14 pm


    There are some very good pastors out there. Some do have more ministry skills because they have been taught them through an expensive education, or they have learned them through time. If we allow more “lay people” to participate they too will learn these skills and we will multiply the effectiveness of the church.

    Your opinion on how many people speak about discuss sermons after the fact is based on your observation as well. I’ve seen the studies that used objective criteria to say the very opposite.

    Studies that measured more than just retention but actual life change. The modern sermon as is doesn’t work.

    The same studies have proven that retention and life change is dramatically increased when people discuss a topic. It is even better when people teach on a topic.

    Ronald Sider makes a broader point with his article Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Your average American evangelical is no different than anyone else in America. I’ve seen the exam scores for the bible content exam at the college I work at. The average score is about 35% whereas some people, with very average academic records, the same age that had only been Christians for 2 or 3 years pass the test. Most young people can go through 13 years of Sunday School, Church, and Youth Group and come out biblically illiterate. George Barna has done broad based studies of evangelical adults and came to the same conclusions.

    I also believe that the modern sermon as it is done today isn’t biblical. We can find some forms of preaching in the bible but never do we see it framed the way we do it. There is far more biblical evidence in favour of a multi-voiced dynamic gathering with a multitude of people ministering to each other (1Cor 12-14, Eph 4).

  8. #8 by Kevin on May 31, 2005 - 12:12 pm

    I’m certainly not saying that one is better than the other and I know that my opinions come from observations as well. It is sad that studies show there is little difference between how Christians and non-Christians live (keeping in mind that alot of people who are part of these studies may say they are a Christian out of duty, not because it’s what defines their life). I don’t think you can point to the fact that sermons are a big part of our church life as the big reason behind the lack of morals and ethics.

    There is biblical support for both methods – you can find just as many verses that talk about Paul and others speaking and teaching to churches as opposed to using a group. They were leaders and teachers, not discussion coordinators.

    I have great respect for house churches and so do alot of other people who go to traditional chuches like mine. I guess what bothers me most is that that respect is very often lacking in those I know who attend house churches. Because it’s a movement that is gaining in popularity there are many new people who join one and then think they are now ‘doing church’ better than everyone else. There are certainly advantages, but there are also many that come with a bigger church. Mutual respect and a willingness to work together is what’s needed most.

  9. #9 by Leighton Tebay on May 31, 2005 - 1:52 pm


    I’m not trying to strike an acrimonious tone but I won’t say that all ways of doing church are equal in our context. One might be better suited than another in a different context, but there are good and bad ways of doing church.

    I think you are missing my point.

    You wrote

    “There is biblical support for both methods – you can find just as many verses that talk about Paul and others speaking and teaching to churches as opposed to using a group. They were leaders and teachers, not discussion coordinators.”

    My issue is not whether one person leads or teaches a large group. I’m not elevating discussion over a message. I’m saying a message with no conversation limits the effectiveness of the message. A biblically ideal church facilitates and fosters ministry from everyone. One person dominating all the communication and all the ministry limits other people from participating.

    I think the studies do speak to the effectiveness of sermons. If preaching is the main thing a church does, it is the one thing pretty much every church does, then it should have an impact on people. Sermons are probably have some impact, but not more impact than other sources of influence in the world.

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