The Hard Ask: Planning Bible study activities

I have been asked to lead a Bible and prayer group from our church. How do I plan the activities of the group for the year?

I have been reading 1 Peter so I’ll turn there to see if this letter can help us plan our small groups. As a bonus, and for no extra charge, I’ve added some practical tips of my own.

1. Planning is good

If you are leading a Bible study and prayer group, you are a shepherd and overseer of God’s flock, which he has placed under your care (1 Pet 5:2). It is right to plan how to lead the flock rather than just making it up as you go. The responsibility is too great to have a hit or miss approach.

Who should be involved in the planning? Overall, it works better for the group leaders to propose some plans for the group to discuss and refine. In a new group the leaders need to be fairly directive, whereas in a more established group, the members will be motivated by having more input.

2. Remember who you are and
 why you meet

Don’t start by planning the group’s
 activities, but by re-focussing its purpose. We are training disciples of the
 Lord Jesus Christ, who will be misfits in
the world, as was our Lord. This theme
 dominates 1 Peter. We are to be holy,
 because God is holy, living in faith and
 obedience to Jesus Christ, no longer
 conforming to evil desires. So we are 
aliens and strangers in the world and
 will suffer unjustly just as our Lord did.
 Our hope is not in this world but in the
revelation of Jesus–the end of all things is near. We are migrants waiting to go home and doing it tough in a foreign land; so meeting together is an enormous encouragement (1:1-2,4).

In fact, 1 Peter isn’t a bad place to start your Bible reading. You could read the whole letter at the first meeting and discuss the purpose and program of your group. Whatever passage you read, it is valuable to focus on why the group exists before looking at what you might do.

3. Learn the gospel

This has to be the core activity of the group, whether made up of new Christians or ‘old-timers’. The gospel creates and sustains misfits by revealing to us the sufferings and glories of Christ. We come to believe in Christ through this gospel and are born again by this living and enduring Word. And this same Word keeps us believing and hoping for our inheritance even when this life is full of trials (1:3-6).

Aim for a year studying and wrestling with the Scriptures, always looking to understand the death and resurrection of Jesus and its implications for us. It is also important that group members learn how to read the Bible for themselves outside the group. Your approach to Bible study will be a model for your group members.

4. Pray

Prayer flows naturally from the gospel of hope. The Lord hears the prayers of the righteous (3:12). We praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for his mercy (1:3). We pray because the end is near (4:7). Even our marriages are to be conducted such that our prayers are not hindered (4:7). Clearly, praying is to be a significant part of any Christian activity.

Don’t always leave prayer to the end of your meetings or it will be squeezed out. You might start each meeting with prayers for the group, the church and gospel ministries around the world, then pray at the end about what has been learned from the Bible.

5. Love

The gospel of truth purifies and enables us to love one another deeply from the heart, living in harmony, sympathy, compassion and humility (1:22; 2:17; 3:8). We need an enormous amount of encouragement from each other to battle on in faith in a hostile world. Make your group a haven of friendship, can- dour and forgiveness (4:8; 5:14). We misfits need to stick together and let nothing come between us.

Purely social times over meals, suppers and recreation are a top priority for Christian groups. They are essential to sharing deeply in each other’s lives. Perhaps spend a day or a week- end away together early in the year, particularly if it is a new group.

6. Engage with the world

Although we are misfits in the world and suffer for being Christians, we are told to stay involved with it. We are to confront and challenge the world by our good lives and by the reasons we give for our hope. (2:11-12; 3:15-17)

Every group ought to have some outward, evangelistic perspective. Plan at least one evangelistic event for the group where they are to invite unbelievers. Although often stressful, this activity confronts the group with the gospel realities of heaven and hell. Well-established groups especially need this outward focus.

No doubt there are plenty of other practical tips which could be given, but without the emphasis upon Scripture, love and prayer it is difficult to distinguish a small group of Christians from any other support group. Let’s stick with Christ, because he is the reason we meet.

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