Early in the year 2020 BC1, our pastor was preaching on the importance of community, of being in a small group, etc. He talked about the things a lifegroup (the official 121 nomenclature for small groups) did together, starting with being in the Word together. And then, as he is wont to do, he went off-script. “Maybe you’re uncomfortable studying the Bible, maybe you’d like to learn to study the Bible. We could start a How to Study Your Bible life group!” And then he went on with the rest of his sermon.
Knowing how these things went, I checked in at the office after the service. Sure enough, one of our newer staff members who works with lifegroups was looking a little dazed. “What’s up?” I asked. “I just had eight or ten people come up to me saying they wanted to be in the How to Study Your Bible lifegroup, and I have no idea what they’re talking about!” (The staff tend to go to our second service; my wife and I were in the first.) “Right; here’s what happened…” When I’d finished updating him, I added that if he couldn’t find a leader, I’d be glad to help out, that it sounded like fun.
Which is how, exactly one year ago today, I found myself starting a Zoom lifegroup in the middle of the first lockdown. Conventional wisdom would tell you that there’s no way to build community over a screen, that it’s hard enough to keep community over a screen for those who are already in community. Conventional wisdom might even be right. All I can tell you is that, a year later, we’re going to celebrate our first anniversary as a group tonight, taking the Lord’s Supper together as all of our lifegroups are doing on this Maundy Thursday, and I’m going to sit and listen as they lead us through it.
My wife and I have been leading small groups for twenty-five years, and we’ve had groups as large as eighty2 and as small as three. What we’ve never had, however, is a group as committed to learning and practicing what they’re learning as this group. They put the STUpendous in STUdent.
They’re all relatively recent believers; I believe the longest is five years. They didn’t grow up in church. They didn’t learn all of the things those who did take for granted. When we started last April Fools Day, they couldn’t say ten books of the Bible between them. (Literally, and literally in the old-timey literal sense of literally, not the new-timey “I don’t actually know what the word ‘literally’ means” literally.)
That was our first exercise; we went over the books of the Bible a few at a time, they memorized them, learned a short one-sentence summary of them. They helped each other, they helped a newcomer who came in several weeks after we started, and six (seven?) weeks later they had them all memorized. It forced me to finally really memorize those stinking minor prophets!3
Our whole church went through eight commands of Jesus last fall, and they learned them, and then shared them with others. The whole church memorized Scripture for six weeks; there were three plans, one about two verses a week, one about five, and one to memorize all of 1 Peter. I was taking the group through Matthew at the time, so I went off-script (hey, I learned it from the pastor) and gave them 50+ verses in Matthew. (Only 18 passages; I’m not a big fan of memorizing isolated verses.) They memorized them all, almost all word perfectly for whatever translation they used. (Now, do they still know them? I spot check them every once in a while, and remind them that it’s a lot easier to forget than to remember.)
They learned who the patriarchs are. They learned how to pronounce Pilate. (Like the guy that drives the airplane, not the exercise.) They learned who Moses was, and why it’s so important to watch The Ten Commandments this weekend. They learned that “be strong and courageous” gets said a lot in certain places in the OT; I told them they were going to hear more of it, and our pastor happened to mention it that Sunday in his sermon. “Man, you weren’t kidding!” one of them texted me. (I meant in the next chapter, but hey, I’ll take it!) I had the privilege of baptizing one of them in the backyard pool of one of the group last summer at the only time we’ve been together physically the entire year.
And they’ve listened, and they’ve learned, and they’ve shared with others (not as much as they could, perhaps, but more than most everybody reading this, and the guy writing it). They’ve gotten comfortable looking up Scripture, they’ve learned several “handles” they can use as they study a passage, and they’ve shown an irrepressible desire to learn more. (Which could be trouble, because I got to the end of what I know about six months ago and have been faking it ever since.)
Did I mention they’re all ladies? That’s right, I’m leading a ladies lifegroup. It reminds me of talking with some of our global workers, many of whom are single women, and almost none of whom are single men. (I’ve been told it’s four or five to one in the field.) Why is it that (too many) men don’t want to learn or serve? Hmmmmm.
So, be encouraged—go learn something. Go re-learn something. Working with them has challenged me to start re-memorizing some of the passages I’ve memorized and lost over the years. You have enough time—we all have enough time to do what we want to do.
Go share what you’ve learned with someone else. “Go and make disciples” was a command, not a suggestion. Because here’s something the last year has taught me: there are a lot of people out there who want to learn that we’ll probably never hear from unless someone goes off-script and makes a place for them to learn. Go off-script. Make a place. The harvest is plentiful, the workers are few. Make it a few plus one.
And watch The Ten Commandments Sunday. Because Moses and Easter, silly!