Bible studies can be a precious time when Christians come together around the word of God. In small groups, it is possible to share our own ideas about the scriptures so that we can each hear what God is saying to the other. It can be a very rich and satisfying experience.
It can also be frustrating and even boring. Someone is responsible for “leading” the meeting or is invited to do so. It becomes an opportunity to share your own opinions at length.
Another person has superior Bible knowledge and wants everyone to know it. She’ll send the group running text after text, believing that no one is much wiser when she’s done.
Or there could be two or three people who are all vying for dominance, citing different verses and authorities and determined not to give in. It can get quite angry and no one really learns anything.
With a good group leader, personalities like this can be controlled. But there is a way to conduct a Bible study that minimizes the risk of it going wrong and allows everyone to contribute at the same level, no matter what or little they know.
It is often known as the Swedish method, so named – according to Peter Blowes in The briefing – by Ada Lum, staff member of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, who saw it used by a group of Swedish students. After the prayer, a passage of scripture is read aloud, and then each person studies it individually. They are looking for three things:
– a light bulb, something that shines out of the way and catches their attention
– a question mark, something they don’t understand and would like to clarify
– an arrow, a personal application to the reader’s life.
They should be able to write at least one of these symbols for each passage.
First the bulbs are discussed by the group, then the question marks and then the arrows.
There are many advantages to this way of reading the Bible together. This not only helps prevent a person from dominating, but it forces us to pay close attention to what the Bible actually says. It also helps us formulate questions that others can help answer, and it gives us something to do in the end.
And while it is great for group work, it is a technique that we can also introduce into our private study, as we ask God to speak to us there.
Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods