The second error is the Charybdis of endless discussions about "what the text means to me." In this group, the leader poses very general questions. This can be a good thing, as such questions encourage participation. Oftentimes though, the discussion gets untethered from the text, drifting in all sorts of odd directions. There is plenty of discussion in this group. Plenty. But the study devolves into a discussion about how everyone is doing, rather than a cooperative effort to live under the rule of God conveyed in Scripture. People like talking about themselves. It's easier than talking about an archaic and seemingly arcane book.
So what's the key? How do we steer clear of these errors? How do we show appropriate concern for ancient text and modern context?
Here's what I've learned:
- I try to study the passage extensively. But, I don't want to ask questions that preclude people from entering the discussion. I want to ask questions that arise from my reading of the text. Then, I try to look for answers in the text. These questions are less polarizing/intimidating than those prompted by reading scholars, since other people in the group are likely to raise similar questions.
- I try to give the discussion structure by outlining the passage beforehand. This serves to focus the interaction, since you can work through the text a bit more systematically.
- I try (and generally fail) to set limited goals. I want the group to understand the big point of the passage. I want them to get the basic flow of thought. Unless you plan on meeting for 4 hours, I doubt there's time to do much more than this. Groups simply don't have the time to discuss every peculiarity in the text.
- I try to ask the "why" question a lot. "Why does this follow this? Why would he say this here? Why would the original hearers of the book have needed to hear this? Why does she respond like that?"
- I try (and generally fail) to spend lots of time on application. Applying Scripture is an art, and it takes time to do it well. A bridge needs to be created between text and context, and this isn't always easy.