Note: This article is excerpted from The Bible Study Handbook.
I once threw a "What I Like About You" surprise party for my husband, Jon. I contacted his friends, colleagues, and church community, asking them to send me short phrases that describe what they like about Jon. I printed out these words and phrases on colored paper and used them as the decorations for his party. It was so much fun to see what other people wrote about him. Most of them were the kinds of things you would expect: "thoughtful," "wise," "generous," "steady," "loves his family" and so on. But there were also some odd ones: "throws a great hammer"; "deadly accuracy with a Frisbee"; and my favorite, "heart of gold, feet of lead."
The last group came from my husband's Ultimate Frisbee team. A random assortment of graduate students, professors, and others have been playing together for almost 20 years, and Jon has been a central member of the team for the last eighteen. Week in and week out, whether in the heat of a humid Iowa July or the icy cold of January, they spend part of their Saturday afternoon together running, throwing, and catching a plastic disc.
As with any sports team or musical group, the love of the game brought them together, and the experience of playing together has created friendships. They have inside jokes, nicknames, and shared history. Jon is teased about his speed (thus the "feet of lead" comment) but admired for his skill in throwing. Many of the folks who play on Saturday have played together so much that they can anticipate each other's moves, completing elaborate plays with very little communication.
Without this group, Jon wouldn't be able to enjoy the game he loves. Playing Frisbee by yourself just doesn't work.
God wired us for community. It has often been noted that in well functioning teams the sum is greater than the parts. The apostle Paul would definitely agree, as seen in his use of the image of a body to describe the church. A Christian leader I respect puts it this way: "We're better together." Life lived or tasks accomplished in community are both more enjoyable and more effective.
Though I am a strong advocate for regular personal Bible reading and study, I am convinced that every believer needs to regularly study the Bible with others. Let's discuss one of the reasons communal Bible study is essential to the health of the body of Christ.
Amplification is any technique that makes sound louder and clearer. In a large room or a setting with a lot of white noise, a microphone enables the primary speaker to be heard and understood by a greater number of people. In Luke 5 Jesus amplifies his voice by getting into Simon's boat and speaking from the lake rather than the shore. Communal Bible study similarly amplifies our experience of the Scripture. Like a P.A. system, the process of studying together enables every element of inductive Bible study to come across louder and clearer.
All six primary elements of inductive Bible study—cultural context, historical context, attentiveness, curiosity, understanding, and response—are strengthened and deepened when studying the Bible in community. It is amazing how much more can be seen when six or eight pairs of eyes, rather than just one, look closely at the text. Small-group Bible studies are able to ask more penetrating questions, pool insights, challenge assumptions, and create an environment that is dynamic and lively.