As campus ministry moves fully online during the pandemic, we have noticed again the limitations of inductive Bible study. Yet there is more than one way to fruitfully read the Bible. I’ve been talking with a pastor friend in Adelaide whose community is about to start using discovery questions for the first time. Reproduced here with permission is something he’s written to introduce it to their leaders.
Short discussion paper: Scripture engagement
The plan for our groups this term is to follow the current teaching series, which is an 11-week series through the book of James. Ideally, our groups will engage with the Bible passage that was preached in our online service the Sunday before.
With our groups now meeting on Zoom, we face some additional challenges. For a start, people may already be screen-fatigued by the time they join our groups. Others can default to a more passive participation, relying more heavily on the host/leader than usual to move discussion forward. And there is a greater risk of distraction (due to multi-tasking etc.). Of course, the ability to meet together at all using software like Zoom is still a huge blessing!
But thinking these challenges through, I’m wondering if it might be a good time to try a different approach to the way we gather around God’s word in our groups. I suspect the current conditions lend themselves to shorter sessions, with the focus more on Scripture engagement, rather than full-blown Bible study. There are many ways to feed on God’s word. The inductive Bible study method we are all familiar with (think typical Bible study guide) is wonderful, but it may not be the best approach for our groups at this moment.
The goal of Scripture engagement is personal (or group) discovery and genuine encounter with God in his word. Clearly there is overlap here with Bible study. However, unlike Bible study, scripture engagement does not necessarily follow a systematic process of working through a passage (e.g. verse-by-verse) in order to observe, interpret and apply its truth. The priority of Scripture engagement is to enable dynamic and transformational interaction with God in his word. One writer describes it like this:
Scripture engagement is interaction with the biblical text in a way that provides sufficient opportunity for the text to speak for itself by the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling readers and listeners to hear the voice of God and discover for themselves the unique claim Jesus Christ is making upon them.
Scripture engagement is not one approach or method, but rather encompasses various practices for individuals or small groups (see the 14 different approaches listed on Biblegateway). For our purposes, I propose we use the following five questions each week to frame and guide our engagement with the book of James.
- What’s something you notice?
- What questions do you have?
- Is there anything that bothers you?
- What do you learn about loving God?
- What do you learn about loving others?
These discovery questions (previously mentioned here) are designed to help us listen with our minds and hearts in a process of collective discovery and learning. You may notice that there are two essential movements in the questions: from noticing to responding. The two response questions are also framed in terms of Jesus’ love-ethic (Mark 12:30-31).
It is important to realise that Scripture engagement is not merely a ‘simplified’ form of Bible study, but is a distinct and complimentary approach that needs to be embraced on its own terms.
For this to work well, the discovery questions should be followed fairly strictly. They will obviously trigger various lines of conversation and inquiry, which can be explored, provided the group still moves through these key questions in order. The five questions are not complicated, but they have the potential to foster deep levels of reflection and sharing, while also driving towards the question of personal transformation (i.e. how does/should this change me?).
A key part of our role here as leaders will be to help the group understand and commit to the process of Scripture engagement, encouraging each member to contribute meaningfully in their own way. Over time, it is the hope that our groups will increasingly appreciate and take ownership of the process as it becomes more familiar, natural and rewarding.
One last note on the benefits of Scripture engagement. Unlike a typical Bible study, Scripture engagement does not assume high levels of prior Bible knowledge, critical thinking skills, or even literacy in order for people to participate meaningfully. Scripture engagement will engage those faculties, if we possess them, but does not depend on them, and indeed for those of us who are accustomed to a more cerebral approach to engaging with the Bible, we may need to expand our repertoire to make the most of the process.
It is my prayer that as we explore this approach to Scripture engagement in our groups this term, despite some additional challenges that video conferencing may present, our weekly Zoom session will be a place where we can hear powerfully from God’s word and together be changed by his truth and grace to us in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Image credit: Raul Petri at Unsplash
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.