Many churches today are moving toward sermon-based small groups and for good reason. Studying the same passage in your small groups that was preached on Sunday allows the Word that was preached (2 Tim. 4:2) to dwell richly in the members of the church, and it allows people to slow down and really process the message that was preached and to challenge one another to take it to heart by working out its implications in community. However, there is a great danger when moving to sermon-based model that we should be aware of—the danger of studying the sermon rather than the Scripture. The sermon itself isn’t God-breathed, but the text the sermon focuses on is. If your sermon-based studies feel like you are studying the sermon rather than God’s Word, then you are doing it wrong and are actually failing to tap into the benefits of sermon-based study.
So here are three ways to ensure you are studying the Bible and not the sermon.
- Study the text carefully as you prepare to lead your group session. Having sat through your pastor’s sermon is not adequate preparation for you to lead your small group. Read the text(s) your pastor preached on several times. Read the surrounding verses to get a sense of their context. Read commentaries to get a sense of how these verses have been interpreted in the past. And once you have studied, meditate on the text—thoroughly consider how it applies to your situation before you consider how it applies to your group members.
- Look to the text more often than you recall the sermon. As you ask discussion questions, point your group members to the text again and again. While it’s great to discuss quotes and sermon points, it is important to remember that God’s Word is perfect and has the power to renew your group members (Ps. 19:7), so make sure you are encouraging your group to look to the text first and the sermon second.
- Dig deeper than the sermon. Sermon-based small group studies are great opportunities to camp out on verses that your pastor, by necessity, was unable to spend a lot of time on in his sermon. Resist the temptation to rush through the text in order to make it through every verse the pastor preached on. The small group is a great setting to slow down and carefully unpack the implications of God’s Word on the lives of your group members.
A good pastor doesn’t want His people to trust in the power of his sermon but rather in the power of the gospel. Just as pastors are charged with task of faithfully and clearly preaching God’s Word, so too must small group leaders make sure that the focus of our small groups is on the Bible and how it applies to our daily lives.
Drew Dixon is Discipleship Strategist for Lifeway Christian Resources and the Editor-in-Chief of GameChurch.com. He also writes for WORLD Magazine, Paste Magazine, Christ and Pop Culture, and Think Christian. Follow him on Twitter: @drewdixon82.