Transformation is fueled by conversation in the context of community. Creating conversational community is the ongoing challenge of the group leader. When it is done well, you will hear four “voices” during the conversation. All four are required for conversation to produce transformation.
1. The Leader. Every leader has something to say. The research findings reported in Transformational Discipleship were summarized in what the authors called “The Transformational Sweet Spot.” That sweet spot was the intersection of Truth delivered by a growing, godly leader and received by a learner who was in a posture of vulnerability—spiritually and emotionally open to hearing truth. The voice of the leader is critical. It just can’t be the only one. Or maybe even the most dominant one.
2. The Learners. Each member of a group has a voice. If we will listen. Many people don’t hear what others have to say because their concept of listening is “waiting for my turn to talk.” Listening—really listening—is a discipline. It is often evidenced by questions. “How did that make you feel?” “What happened next?” “How does that connect with what [name] shared a few minutes ago?” “Has anyone else had a similar experience?” You are really listening when you find yourself in a posture to be persuaded. The evidence of that is rarely-heard expressions like these: “Hmmm. I’ve never thought of it that way.” “Wow. You may be right about that!”
3. The Bible. In a Bible study group, the Bible itself has a voice. That’s why it is called “The Word of God.” In fact, our main goal should be to strive to understand what it is “saying” to us. Not what we want it to say. Not what we wish it said. But what it actually said to its first readers in their contexts as well as what it says to us right now in ours. That’s not the same thing as everybody sharing their opinion about what it says. When we strive to hear the voice of the Bible together, our goal is to help each other grapple with what it really says—and then to call each other to obedience.
4. The Holy Spirit. Leaders help learners. Learners help each other. And fortunately, we also have another Helper. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us to help us understand what God is saying through the various voices in our group. His voice is described in Scripture as “still” and “small.” If we will only listen for His voice, He will guide us into truth. In fact, in order to hear His voice, we may sometimes need to quieten the other three. Try this every once in a while: Ask a discussion question, then ask everyone to ponder it silently for 45 seconds (or 60 or 90) before anyone speaks. Except the One with the still small voice. It will be worth the wait!
David Francis is Director of Sunday School at LifeWay. He is the author of eleven small books available for free at lifeway.com/davidfrancis or at the iTunes store. His interactive Bible study, Spiritual Gifts, is in its ninth printing and is not free! (But it is available to order at lifeway.com.) He and his wife Vickie teach four- and five-year olds in Sunday School and are members of a small group of empty nesters. Their three sons and their families live in three different time zones—Boston, Los Angeles, and Bryan-College Station.