How to Hold a Bible Study
Coming together in faith to hear the Word of God is a great opportunity to connect with each other and with the Spirit. It is done to enjoy each other's company in comforting and insightful ways. But how should a bible study be carried out in such a way that participants understand, benefit and pray with the passage?
Here is a suggested method for a bible study or prayer session using the scriptures:
1. Prepare the setting
Symbols, objects and visuals are great ways to set the tone and atmosphere. Others have used candles, the Holy scripture, flowers, a green plant, rocks and pebbles, water fountain and other items to help remind people of the scenes and stories in our faith. The cross, statues of saints and characters in the bible and the rosary beads may also be used, if your religion allows, to generate a sense of faith, simplicity and peace. Having a sacred space conditions the mind to focus on the moment away from the distractions of modern life.
It is also important to set-up a calming, relaxed and comfortable environment: chairs and seating arrangement should support safety and interaction. Would you also need tea and coffee facility? Would you need a sign to turn off mobile phones? Is there enough ventilation in the room? Are comfort rooms and exit access available when needed? These are some of the practical setting considerations, along with the symbolic items needed for preparation.
2. Meet and greet
Acknowledge everyone's presence and recognize their effort to attend the gathering. Introduce new people in the group and be interested in the events and updates in people's lives without going too personal. Appreciate the friendship that is being formed and be genuine in the interest to connect with each other. Strong bonds form if recognition is fostered by the group. They identify themselves with the group and they feel a sense of belongingness which are beneficial in the success and enjoyment of the whole group. Some considerations include: would you use name tags? Would you use a group register such as email, contact numbers and a group Facebook account? Would you start the session with an interactive introduction games?
3. Relaxation, meditation and praying for guidance
This mini-section involves active participation from everyone that starts with the closing of the eyes. Relax and feel your body softening and feeling that tension and tightness are melting and fading away.Breathe in and out, as you count from 10 to 1, feeling the natural nourishment from God through the oxygen in the air. Breathe in and feel the goodness and power of the spirit, filling your being with blessing and love. Breathe out all the negativities: the fear, the suffering, the rejections, the exhaustion, the hurt, the anxieties from the pressures of modern life.
Feel the relaxation occurring in your body, starting with your head and your facial muscles. Imagine every sinew and tissue of your cheeks, lips, forehead, scalp, neck and shoulders loosening and relaxing. Then feel the muscles of your back and your tummy and imagine tightness and tensions in your mid-section are melting away and you feel deep relaxation in and around your stomach and back. Now, feel your knees, feet, calves, heels and thighs are relaxing, Muscles are slowly relaxing, giving your feet relief from the tiredness from carrying your body each day. Allow time for people to enjoy the state of relaxation. Then allow them to feel the presence and love of God through the laughter from our friends, the wisdom of our parents, enthusiasm of our young and beauty of nature. Play a soft and gentle music to aide participant's concentration in this.
At this point, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit that everyone's hearts and minds will be open for the Word of God. An opening song may be used here.
4. Reading of the passage
One reads the bible text out loud. With due respect to the sacredness of the text, the reader officially announces the book, chapter and verses from which it is taken, and finish it with an affirmation: "This is the word of the Lord."
It is essential that the reader projects his or her voice, pauses appropriately, pronounces the words accordingly and accentuates significant words effectively for the benefit of all hearers. It is also beneficial that all will have access to the same version of the text so that understanding and interpretation could be achieved better. This might be difficult if all will have different versions of the bible, but this could be compensated by using the online bible from bible gateway.
You can also play a video version of the passage. Plenty have been posted online which you can use.
While the passage is read, participants write down notes such as words or expressions that might have significance or interest for further questioning or discussion.
5. Context of the text
Before coming up with an effective interpretation of the passage, it is important to discuss the background of the text. Who wrote the text and what was the general preoccupation or purpose of the author? When was it written and what do we know about the era - the culture, politics and society of the origin of the text? If it is from the New Testament, what do we know about first-century Palestine? Thie background information will help us understand the kinds of expressions used as well as the plot or setting mentioned in the passage, which eventually affect the meaning of the text. If desired bible concordance and references such as the Jerome Bible Commentary could be used.
6. Decoding the text
To have a good understanding of the meaning, it is important to be aware of the textual features of the passage. The group discusses the following:
- Identifying the characters, setting and plot.
- Are there any language features used: symbolisms, metaphor, simile, imagery, repetition, contrast? Where is it found in the text?
- Whose voice or perspective dominate? Whose voice or perspective are silenced or marginalized?
- Are there any similar version of the story from other books in the bible? How do they differ and why?
- Are there aspects in the story that hint us on the historical, religious and cultural life of the people of the time?
- What can you comment on the structure? How significant it is to the meaning of the text?
7. What is then the meaning of the text?
What is then the meaning of the text? Drawing from the information gathered from the background and textual feature of the text, how does this passage communicate to us today?
- What message does it try to impart on us?
- How does it strike you personally?
- Are there any teachings of the church that can be linked with the passage?
- How can this passage be applied to the social, political and cultural aspects of our life today?
- How can we respond to the message of the text?
- What social issues today that may be challenged by this passage?
Now, we turn to God and offer to Him your hearts and minds. A soft music may be used in the background. The individual participant can take a turn in saying a prayer that relates to their understanding and rumination of the meaning of the passage. They can pray for anyone and offer an intention.
A great project to have will be to collate the group's prayer and consolidate them onto a page of prayer and publish on the group's facebook page or simply have it printed and displayed conspicuously.
Please be reminded that praying can take in many forms: it can be expressed by creating an artwork such as pottery or painting. Praying can also take place as a silence activity where participant simply writes a statement onto a pebble or a useful material such as a bookmark or a candle which can be used and take home at the end of the session. Other forms of prayer can be creating a rosary beads and sharing thoughts and reflections simultaneously.
10. Break into song
It is a blissful experience if one person or a couple could lead the singing and playing of an instrument, and everyone expresses faith and reflections through the lyrics of the song. The act of singing makes the inner experience of wisdom and insights active through the evocation of the tune of the song. Their feeling is voiced out physically and heard by everyone.
11. Food or communion
The sharing of food allows interpersonal connection to happen in between the participants. Jokes are shared. Laughter is heard. More laughter happen and even more laughter can occur. Laughter is contagious, let it overpower the mood of the group. This is really great if the group appreciates common food and drink choices as well.
Alternatively if a communion minister is present, and if the session has been intended for a specific auspicious occasion, receiving of the communion may take place.