Having been a Christian for ten years, studying the Bible has always been a part of my Christian walk. During my college years my InterVarsity chapter encouraged every student to be involved in a Bible study. Looking back on those years, the experiences that I had and the relationships that I developed because of my involvement in Bible studies were some of the most significant in my life. Many of these friends continue to this day and I even went so far as to marry one of my small group leaders (a story for another time:p). So when I graduated, finding a church that also valued Bible study was a high priority. It makes sense. Being in a small group provides instant community, encourages mutual accountability, and nurtures spiritual growth.
But what if Bible study was more than a Bible study? What if Bible study became a place where both Christians and non-Christians gathered together and encountered Jesus? What if Bible study became a place where we not only talked about our calling, but lived it out in community? These were the questions that animated our discussions at this summer’s Chapter FOCUS Week (CFW). CFW is an annual training conference for student leaders hosted by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. This year I had the joy and pleasure of serving in a track for small group leaders. The purpose of the track was to equip these young leaders to be more than Bible study leaders. It was to call them into a life of mission in which they saw their small group community as a place to live our their calling to reach the campus for Christ.
Too often Christians settle for Bible studies that simply serve as a holy huddle for Christians to meet and talk about their faith with one another. However, what we see in Scripture is that God brings His people into community for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. This is seen most clearly in the book of Acts, where God uses Christian community to advance His kingdom purposes in the world. One of the core texts for our track was Acts 2:40-47. In this text we see that the early church saw itself as a place for both spiritual growth and corporate mission.
It was this vision which we sought to pass on to the young leaders at CFW. As the week progressed, we talked about how to lead meaningful Bible studies in which people encountered God through His Word and experienced His calling upon their lives. But we also encouraged these leaders to think outside the box and challenged them to consider how what they were learning in Bible study could motivate their small group community to reach out to their dorms, classrooms, and campuses. At one point one of the students remarked, “I thought I was just signing up to lead a Bible study. But God is asking us to do so much more. He really wants us to love the campus the way that He does.”
Likewise, my own chapter members had their eyes opened to God’s calling for UIC. “I think this year needs to be the year of the freshman, ” Rob said. Other chapter members echoed this sentiment: “We really need to take a serious interest in [the new people coming to campus] and let them know that we care about them and that God cares about them.” I couldn’t agree more. Bible study is about more than simply sitting in a room reading a book together. It is about encountering God through His Word in a way that reveals His heart for the world and challenges us to be a part of His redeeming work in it. It is my prayer that both the UIC InterVarsity chapters and small groups everywhere will hear this calling. I pray that through them God might work to bring salvation to our neighborhoods, our colleges, and to the very ends of the earth.