Tuesday, August 15, 2006

the Bible as living word in community

Last week I blogged about the Bible, in particular how we use the Bible in community (post is here). I suggested we needed a new skills and capacities to move us beyond the caricatures of “preaching as monologue” OR “discussion as sharing of ignorance.”

On Sunday I had another go at communal lectio divino. I note it here for those interested in ways to use the Bible in community. There are many. Here is but one.

1. I invited people to imagine themselves inside a Bible text.
2. I asked the men present to be the disciples in the story. I asked the women present to be the woman in the story.
3. I read the Bible text through twice. (In this case it was John 4).
4. As I went, I made brief comments on exegetical features of this text. (In this case, Samaria, Samaritans, being at a well at noon).
5. The first time I read the text, I invited the men-as-disciples to express how they were thinking and feeling. I paused 4 times; at the end of verse 12, 17, 19, 26, for them to vocalise.
6. The second time I read the text, I invited the women to express how they were thinking and feeling. I paused 5 times; at the end of verse 10, 14, 18, 23, 26, for them to vocalise.
7. We shared in two’s how this text challenged us.

For over 40 minutes, we engaged the text. There was real emotion. There was intellectual stimulation. There was insights I had never realised.

God was present. So present that we finished by doing something we’ve never done at Digestion in my time. We stood and I invited people to talk to God about this Bible passage. Lots of people prayed, passionately, sincerely.

God had spoken. The Bible was living word in community. I note this as one way (and there are many, many more) that we can experience the Bible as living in community.

One more thing. This approach still requires a good deal of preparation. There is the exegetical work, the reading and re-reading of the text in order to discern what voices can be heard and at what points the Biblical narrative allows movement. There are new skills in terms of offering a corporate safe space and choosing how to respond to people’s comments. There is anxiety in not knowing what the ending will be and so needing to trust the Spirit.

Posted by steve at 01:48 PM


  1. That sounds radical. I’m wondering about the size of congregation this would be best for. It sounds very much to me that this approach assumes a very tight nit group. It would be most uncomfortable for the average church goer… at least in these parts. I think most would agree though, that we’ve grown too comfortable.

    Comment by Keith — August 15, 2006 @ 11:11 pm

  2. interesting assumptions keith. it’s reading and engaging the bible. why would an average church goer not be comfortable with that?

    there is no pressure to say anything, so visitors and seekers can just listen. equally, they could have some profound insights.

    as to numbers – i’ve done it/seen it done with 40, 100 and 200 people. the average church in US is 70 in attendance, so why can’t this be pretty mainstream activity 🙂

    Comment by steve — August 16, 2006 @ 5:07 pm

  3. We’ve done this several times over the last few years with our group of 50-70. we’re in the “Bible Belt” of the southern United States where the “appropriate” delivery method is “the preacher talks & we listen.” It seems the ones who will respond with any degree of thought — not the “Sunday School Answer” are the younger ones. You’re right about that being scared about the ending too. We also have a professed neo-Nazi who attends — it’s scary when he starts to talk but so far he hasn’t said anything volitile. I guess God is still keepng the mouths of the lions closed for “Daniels”.

    Comment by mike richmond — August 17, 2006 @ 5:54 am

  4. That is a good question, “Why would the average churchgoer be uncomfortable with [engaging with the Bible]”. I wish I had an answer for that.

    I’m not saying it is a bad idea. On the contrary, I’m saying it is radical in that it turns the you-come-we-feed thing around. You are talking about engagement. Having others engage as you sit still not wanting to engage can be uncomfortable for some.

    I don’t think, for the most part, people want Christianity in their lives. Attending a church which expects is intrusive for an American.

    Comment by Keith — August 17, 2006 @ 12:18 pm

  5. Start small, just begin by asking a few simple questions in conventional sermons. Gradually people get used to it – it’s a small step as often the “children’s talk” (horrible concept, separating out one group for their own appartheit section) is done that way… then when they are used to that do a simpler version of Steve’s approach, just asking the whole congregation to identify with the crowd (in a stiry with a crowd 😉 and presto, they’ve learned to share in reading the Bible…

    The alternative is not to return to 17th century revivalism and Bible reading in every home, but to watching The Passion of the Christ as being the nearest most Christians come to reading the Bible!

    Comment by tim bulkeley — August 18, 2006 @ 8:12 am

  6. excellent point Tim. the children have been our leaders at opawa in so many ways. children accept things at face value. adults can tend to decide what they do and don’t do before they try it.

    Comment by steve — August 18, 2006 @ 8:17 am

  7. Steve: Thanks for sharing this experience. This is helpful to me. I’m trying to let the Word be engaged in a more relational and communal manner and these types of examples help me get ideas.

    Comment by roy — August 18, 2006 @ 10:28 am

  8. cheers roy. that is why i post them, as part of building up a resource of practical examples. glad it is of help.

    email me with your experiments and i’ll gladly consider adding them to the blog to resource others if you want.

    Comment by steve — August 18, 2006 @ 10:33 am

  9. interesting exercise re: john 4. Did something similar (but it got kind of wilder) with some art students at Biola during an arts retreat back in 1991. Details at the back end of my book `Like A House on Fire’….as for how text becomes scripture via performative refraction thru an obedient community there’s a great book by Sandra Schneider, but the title escapes me. Steve S.

    Comment by steve scott — August 18, 2006 @ 3:53 pm

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