I would never accuse Kevin of being a people person, but his insight nearly knocked my socks off.
We sat in a coffee shop, just days before our college graduation. Kevin had studied mechanical engineering and not philosophy, but that didn’t prevent him from deep reflection in the advent of one of life’s major milestones. Though he had locked himself in a computer lab for the last four years and had only just come up for air, he was able to answer my question with a deliberate clarity I didn’t expect.
“What is the most helpful thing you’ve learned in college?”
“People are so interesting. Each one is different.”
With our schoolwork behind us, we could spend a lazy afternoon unpacking this profound truth together. Kevin shared his regrets: not making more time for friends. I shared mine: not being quicker to see how the differences among people were very good. We committed ourselves to praising God for making so many people so different.
Leading Bible Study
More than 15 years later, this conversation still haunts me when I find myself getting annoyed by people who aren’t like me. Especially people who slow me down. Especially when I’m doing something important like leading a Bible study.
Would you believe there are people who would voluntarily attend a Bible study—knowing full well that it is a discussion group—and never say a word? And others will come who never shut up? And some won’t understand that you call it a Bible study because you intend to study the Bible?
People are different. Their motives are different. Their challenges, experiences, and dreams are different. The Lord’s work in each one is different, and the pace of each person’s spiritual growth is different. But your mission as a leader remains the same:
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2, ESV)
“Complete patience” means I’m not bothered when people are different. “Complete teaching” means my goal for each person remains the same. I strive to preach Christ and him crucified, and I make every effort to see that nobody misses the grace of God.
Seeing the Opportunities
The Unbeliever may help your group to ask questions it never would have considered on its own.
The Aggressive Atheist may tie his own noose—and in so doing, strengthen the faith of young Christians—if he’s not willing to allow the text to speak before he tries to contradict it.
The Speechless Introvert may be the most thoughtful and considerate attendee.
The Tenure-Seeking Lecturer may actually bring some helpful knowledge of theology or historical background to the table.
The Off-Topic Questioner may care more about application than you do.
The Critical Nitpicker may help you to become more clear and effective in your leadership.
The Spontaneous Emoter may be your best recruiter.
The Invulnerable Thinker may be able to develop the best strategy for growing the group.
Truth is singular; people are plural. Good leaders learn to connect the two. Without compromise, and with complete patience.