There are a couple of things worth discussing at this juncture. The first is that it works. Our tendency in western cultures is to want to teach (or perhaps worse: preach at) people when in reality God wants to work in their hearts in a way that is free of our own junk. Allowing people to discover the Word of God on their own opens them to God in ways I honestly haven’t seen before. That doesn’t mean there is no need for evangelism — more often than not Bible studies start up from a good old fashioned telling of the Gospel (we like to fashion it as “God’s Story”) — but it’s never the endpoint of discipleship. It also doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some good old fashioned preachin’ and teachin’ — we’ve had to do some of that too — but generally that’s something left for those that already believe. What it does mean is trusting in the Holy Spirit to lead and guide and to from this exercise restraint in our natural tendencies. A woman we met with just today told us how much she appreciated being able to discover God’s Word — how life-giving that was to her. She described it as this well of God’s love that bubbles up within her, and how, because of this well, when she comes to passages that talk about not stealing and not prostituting, it’s not something hard to comply with because the Holy Spirit is already working within her. And that’s what we are praying for all of the people. And that is what we are beginning to see, particularly with those truly hungry to know Christ.
The second thing I thought worth highlighting is that sometimes are tendency is to over-spiritualize things. This is often decidedly not helpful. The last DBS post I did was about prayer time and I think our tendency to over-spiritualize really comes out in it. As I (hopefully) mentioned, it’s designed to be a low impact prayer time that gets even those people not yet comfortable with the idea of talking with God involved. They don’t even have to pray — it starts simply with talking about what we are thankful for and talking about the needs in our life. The actual act of praying can come later, as people are drawn closer to God through the studying His Word. And for those that have little to know exposure to “church” and the like, this is what happens. There are many people though that are or have been involved in heavily religious cultures and they know Christianese as well as most Americans. And you ask what they are thankful for and its a wordy, religious-y response that doesn’t mean a whole lot. And you ask about their greatest need and it’s similar — wordy, religious-y and devoid of much meaning. And what’s worse, because we are doing Bible studies so often we facilitators and evangelists find ourselves doing the same thing. Unfortunately it does little to build community — we can’t be the answer to anyone’s prayer if the prayer is somewhat impossible to understand in the first place. It also can be discouraging for times of praise — how do you praise that which you can only barely abstractly describe with words that, when it comes down to it, tend to be rather vacuous?
Thinking on that convicted me of my own “taking the easy way out”. I started thinking of this particularly issue about a month ago and because of it, have been trying to tangibly express my thanksgiving to God — be it for the weather, something specific He has done in my life or the lives of those I know, or some particular trait of His that is especially moving on a given day. And for the needs I have, I’ve been trying to take serious stock at where my heart is at any given time and being honest for those needs. And I can’t say specifically how it’s impacted any of the Bible studies but honestly I believe a realness, and honesty, draws people closer together. Being honest narrows the distance between us and them (if we are real with them, they become us, after all). It’s something I want the friends we are making to be able to do in their communities and something I’d recommend for everyone doing this and similar forms of outreach.