“Thought should be given to a more extensive use of the Word of God among us.”
With that declaration, Philip Jacob Spener launched into a list of proposals he believed would reform the church. The book, Pia Desideria (“Pious Desires”), was published in 1675 and inaugurated a movement in Germany called Pietism. A “more extensive use of the Word of God” was the first of six proposals from Spener for revitalizing the church, and the one he considered the chief means for church renewal.
For Spener, a more extensive use of the Word of God meant three things …
- families reading the Bible everyday in the home;
- pastors reading and preaching through entire books of the Bible one after another; and
- groups within the church meeting informally for the purpose of studying and discussing God’s Word.
Consider that last one—groups meeting for the purpose of doing Bible study. That was an unusual and revolutionary idea in the 1600s. To us, small group Bible study sounds anything but revolutionary. After all, is there anything more old school than … Sunday School?
We like new. What church leader hasn’t heard of a new strategy that worked somewhere else and wanted to imitate it? New isn’t necessarily a bad thing; new can be good; new may sometimes serve to move the church forward. What we most need, however, for moving the church forward is to stop and look backward.
This is what God said through Jeremiah: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16, ESV)
The ancient path is “where the good way is.” The ancient path represents God’s way. God’s way is always the right way; God’s way always works; and God has always worked through His Word. A more extensive use of the Word of God has always been God’s means of reforming His people.
When small groups, regardless of what you call them in your church—Sunday School, LIFE groups, whatever—gather to study the Word of God, big things happen …
Small groups make disciples
Jesus prayed on behalf of His disciples in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (HCSB). The sanctification of believers, for which Jesus prayed, takes place by the Word of God.
I’m not suggesting that Bible study brings instant results—the process of sanctification takes time—but God uses Bible teaching to accomplish His purpose in us. Without significant and consistent participation in the study of God’s Word, growth in discipleship will not happen (1 Pet. 2:2).
Small groups build community.
Julie Gorman reminds us why we need Christian community: “Intentionally putting yourself in a place where you are together with other believers in a committed relationship is a discipline that allows you to live out the reality of [God’s] ways and remain open to the transforming work of the Spirit. Being with others will bring out areas needing transformation in us and give us opportunity to live the truth that God reveals to us.” (Community That Is Christian)
Community happens in circles, not in rows. Life changing community happens when we circle around the Word of God.
Small groups impact culture.
When small groups are viewed not just as another program of the church but with a missionary mentality, big things can happen. Groups circled around the Word of God live out that truth and reach out to people far from God.
Small group Bible study transforms individuals who, in community, impact their world.
Spener got this right—an extensive use of the Word of God is what the church needs. We don’t have to keep coming up with something new, we need to make use of what God has promised to bless—His Word. Let’s circle around God’s Word and let it do its work.