Most small group Bible study leaders share a few goals. We want our friends to love and obey God more and more. To that end, we want our group members to be engaged during the studies. We want our groups to pop; we want fireworks.
The Pull Toward Novelty
Our desire for effective, exciting Bible studies is a good thing. And as we point our friends toward the most important truths in the world, we should long for transformation.
But there’s a dangerous temptation that can surface when we focus on excitement. We’ll want to say something new each meeting, and we’ll end up reaching. We’ll stretch for connections between passages. We’ll present interpretations that are half-baked. In our quest to animate our group, we’ll fall into the trap of never-ending novelty, and we’ll end up softening the impact of God’s holy word.
Fortunately, this is a trap we can avoid.
How to Resist the Temptation of Newness
A hunt for newness in the Bible is often a symptom of boredom with its basic truths. Some Christians read and teach these truths so often (and with so little imagination) that the Bible seems to lack power.
But nothing could be farther from the truth!
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12–13)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10–11)
The foundation of all strategies to resist the pull toward novelty must be a trust in God and his word. But strategies can still be helpful. Here are three that come to mind.
Engage in faithful Bible study. The surest way to proclaim and believe the Bible is to study the Bible carefully. Don’t let others interpret the Bible for you.
Careful Bible study is a joy, an art, and a discipline. If you’ve never studied the Bible on your own, or if you’d like a refresher, look no further. The time-tested method we promote is called Observe, Interpret, Apply (OIA), and anyone can do it. Dig into the Bible prayerfully, asking God to help you communicate his word to your small group.
Use Bible resources. While you should study the Bible on your own first, don’t neglect other God-given resources. Both study Bibles and commentaries should be handled with care, but at the right stage of the process they can be invaluable.
We 21st century Christians are not on an island; great clouds of saints have read, studied, and lived out the Bible for centuries before us. The best commentaries and study Bibles will identify the most common errors and the most likely interpretations when discussing difficult passages. Check your own conclusions with some solid commentaries to see how your thoughts line up with the body of Christ over time.
Consult your church. Your local Christian community is a precious support and an important resource. We need people close to us to encourage us when we’re right and to tell us when we’re wrong.
If your interpretation of a passage doesn’t match up with what you find in commentaries, take it to your church. Seek out a pastor, an elder, or a wise friend who can weigh the evidence with you. This requires a humility produced only by the Spirit.
Fresh Statements of Old Truths
Instead of seeking out what’s new and shiny, take comfort in the powerful, unchanging words of God. His word is reliable, eternal, and earth-shattering.
What you and I need is usually not a brand-new teaching. Brand-new truths are probably not truths. What we need are reminders about the greatness of the old truths. We need someone to say an old truth in a fresh way. Or sometimes, just to say it. – John Piper, from preface to The Dawning of Indestructible Joy
Our small group members will be more transformed and engaged by the true word of God than by anything we import ourselves. Let’s commit to reminding our friends of old truths in new ways.