We’ve all been there – the cramped seat, the plastic food, the person sitting next to you whom you don’t know and don’t wish to know… I’m writing about Bible studies and comparing them to a plane flight, and the jokes seem to write themselves.
But there’s a point. Passengers can doze and watch a movie, but the crew know that there’s a purposeful, planned journey in progress. And a good Bible study has that shape too.
1. Gather the passengers
There’s an intensity, a focus, in the departure lounge. People check their tickets, their passports, their departure times. Their children. They know they are getting ready for a journey, and they need to have everything ready.
People don’t turn up to Bible studies with that focus – at least, not in my experience. But that would be a good thing to achieve, wouldn’t it? So perhaps our first task is to gather them so they are ready. For instance:
- Check you’ve enough chairs, bibles, coffee cups ahead of time. Trivial? But getting more chairs as people arrives keeps causing disruption and delays the start. Those kind of practical details matter.
- See if you can deal with potential distractions before you begin. Someone’s obviously distressed. Someone else is at their first Bible study for years, because as a single mum she finds it hard to arrange child care. Acknowledge them – perhaps even pray about them, but find a way so they don’t dominate.
- See if you can focus the small-talk on the issue of the evening. That’s a difficult skill, but worth working at
But getting people ready for the journey is our responsibility.
2. Pre-flight check.
So, is everybody ready, Bibles to hand, issues of the day put aside? Then pray again. Because human, unaided wisdom cannot understand and apply God’s Word, with Christ-honouring power.
3. Take off
The plane needs to get from being parked by the departure lounge to being up in the air; your Bible study needs to move from coffee to engaging deeply with the passage. How do you intend to manage that transition?
This is just a personal view, but I think starting with a question like, ‘What does verse 6 say about Jesus?’ gets us off the ground – but it feels abrupt and bumpy. I think we need some transition questions, which will start where the passage is going to take us, but in terms of here and now, rather than there and then. Get us to identify the questions, issues and needs the text will address, and make us hungry and thirsty for God’s Word.
The flight itself has planned and unplanned elements. We know where we’re going from and to, and may even have an idea of the route from the map on the screen. But strong headwinds and turbulence cause pilots to make adjustments and change plans. Some they can anticipate before they take of, others happen during the flight. That’s why they’re trained
Good Bible Studies have planned and unplanned elements. If we’ve prepared it properly we have a good idea of where it’s going to go, what the route will be, and how it will impact the group. But unexpected elements occur – a tough question, a genuine difficulty of understanding, a teaching-moment that’s too precious to pass by. And so we adjust the flight plan in real time,
5. Prepare for landing
And suddenly we have arrivals information and embarkation cards. The movies stop and the trays go up.
A good Bible study engages with life as well as the text. We may be deep in Romans, but we have to bring those lessons to land in the offices, the homes, the relationships that people will face the next day. Just as it isn’t the purpose of a plane flight that people spend their holidays on a plane, so it isn’t the purpose of a Bible study that we send our life in a Bible study.
So we get off and leave the plane behind, never wanting to see the inside of another one again for a while…
…but the analogy breaks down right here, because we will spend the rest of our lives looking at and practicing the way we live in the light of God’s gospel. One of the hallmarks of a proper engagement with the Bible is that it burns inside us, and we are prepared to draw on God’s resources at exactly the point when we need them.
So pray those lessons home, and let people go home, sure they have met the living God.
Details of The Message of the Church here.