I’m self-admittedly spoiled.
Well, I don’t know if you can be spoiled by constant exposure to the Bible. It’s not like it ever backfires and gives you cavities or a bad attitude.
But colloquially speaking, I’m filled to the brim with a regular diet of hearing biblical truth. I’ve been a part of the G.O.D. community since 2005 and as such, have consistently enjoyed the preaching and teaching that happens from the non-pulpit.
So, when Gregg Garner announced that Bible Study at Center Street was transitioning to small groups during our Wednesday night gatherings, I was a *little* sad inside.
He encouraged the audience that instead of all tuning in to listen to one speaker, we’d be able to learn one another --encouraging us to talk instead of only listen, and specifically to people outside of our natural networks. Without small group settings, we could fail to learn one another (and love one another) the way in which we’re called to.
As I left my first session of the group called “The Destabilizing Presence of the Prophetic and Exploring Church Models through Scripture,” I couldn’t agree with Gregg more. I had seen members of the group in worship settings before, and had even introduced myself and had some short conversations. I may have even friended them on facebook. But in this small group setting, I learned who was a bookworm, who was witty, who would give even a newcomer a hard time, what their interests were, or struggles, or history with the church. It gave me a whole new window into people’s lives.
At the end of the session, I could feel the bond that we had formed, having taken a journey together. Tonight we gathered back together after 5 weeks of exploring different topics. Add to the above “Study, Work, Volunteer and Sabbath: The Great Balancing Act,” “The Spiritual Challenge” (people love ice buckets, why not spirituality?), and “Living then Learning God’s Word.”
The testimonies filled the room with laughter and tears. After five weeks discussing these topics together, we emerged with more unity as a result of a shared experiences and a shared understanding of the Word that can be applied to our lives.
Bri England testified that she had been praying to the Lord for understanding regarding what it means to be a church. She was supposed to be somewhere else on Wednesday evenings but couldn’t shake the Lord imprinting on her heart that she needed to come to Bible Study at Center Street instead. When she heard the topics, she knew which one she needed to attend, and was so glad she did. She gained a Scriptural understanding of church out of Ephesians 4. She not only learned new things, the group became the very people she went to when deciding how to implement the truths they discussed together. Concluding she remarked, “When we hear the word, we’re empowered to do it. When we do, God shows up.”
Carl Cook, 19, went to the Spiritual Challenge group. He was surprised that they weren’t handed answers, or told that spirituality is like some sort of oil diffuser in a dimly lit room. He reflected on his own struggle to talk about spirituality: “If it’s so difficult to speak about it, might that be a clue that we struggle to live it? I was helped to admit that, and then pushed to find ways to live more spiritually.”
Moses Ssekabira, of Uganda, reflected on “The GreatBalancing Act,” talking about his life and how he just had to keep pushing, keep working, to survive. “But the Lord doesn’t want us to survive. He wants us to truly live. And that takes a consciousness of him in everything we do. He is the one that keeps us balanced.”
Kaylee Johnson also attended that group, admittedly, because she felt like she was great at balance and loved schedules. But then a kink came to her newfound and appreciated order and stability. “I had a choice on whether to bear a burden myself, with a lot of chaos, or share it with others, and watch it be ordered. “Balance” is only possible until real life hits. But the Lord gives his people as a gift, and they are there even when life hits you hard.”
Rob Munoz also went to the group about balance. At the end of the 5 weeks, he wanted his group to stay together, because of the bond he formed with them. In reflecting on balance, he was able to encourage his group: “Balance is found when we don’t quit. For some of us, we’ve been trying to live God’s Word for a long time. But life gets hard and wants to shut you up. Life makes you want to think you shouldn’t speak, and definitely not speak for God. But God tells us to speak. We have to testify to his work!”
John Brown reflected on his life experience, and a lot of hurt that he’s endured, even in church settings. He observed that church is offering people knowledge and community, and that that equation should work to prepare people for the blows that life deals them. But in his experience, it didn’t. He wasn’t prepared. “The Bible is not supposed to be a self-help book, but the opposite. It’s supposed to make us help others. And that’s what I’m finally learning.” He compelled listeners to consider that others are in need just like we are. When we’re so concerned with our own hurt, we can’t see the person who needs a big, strong hug to collapse into.
Our final testimony of the night was from Tricia Heston, a mother of two sons who have been involved with the G.O.D. community for several years. After watching for a few years, she decided to attend Bible studies. She testified of her experience at both BS@CS and Neighborhood Bible Study. "God doesn’t only touch us directly when we reach out to him, he also touches all those who are witness to it." She noted the power of testimony: you gain a front row seat to watch God move. You involve yourself in prayer for those in the drama, and you watch. But when you do, you can’t remain unchanged.
From left: Moses Ssekebira, John Brown and Tricia Heston
Everyone felt it. There were several visitors present who were attending their first small group session. It didn’t matter. The vulnerability, honesty and faith coming through the microphone was filling us up.
To end, I’ll include Rob Munoz’s written words about the power of not letting life shut you up: “The power of God’s word can be seen when you have someone brave enough to live it. Then what’s even more brave is to talk about the attempt with another person.” The bravest yet: talking about it with a whole room of people.
I still love sermons. But this last session of Bible Study at Center Street was a reminder that we’ve all got one to speak. When we do, we demonstrate God’s power “made perfect in weakness,” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
“So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. ” 2 Cor. 12:9b-10