That being the case, another of your jobs as a small-group leader is to maintain some level of awareness regarding the condition of your small-group members as they prepare to discuss a passage of Scripture. If most of your group seems exhausted, for example, and you had planned on delving into a deep doctrinal exploration of Romans 5, you may need to change things up a bit. Or if you were going to lead a discussion on a Scripture passage that deals with grief (Psalm 22, for example) and you learn that one of your group members has just experienced a death in his or her extended family, you would have a responsibility to include that person's experience in the group's discussion of the text.
The bottom line is this: It is important for you as a leader to highlight the textual context of a Scripture passage in order to help your group explore that passage more fully. In the same way, it is important for you as a leader to point out anything from the lives of your people that may serve as an obstacle or an enhancement to the group's discussion.
My small group recently worked through the book of Revelation, and we started off by exploring the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Here are the nuggets of textual and personal context I provided for the group when we studied the letter to the church in Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17):
- Reminder: all seven letters to the churches follow the same structure. They start with an image of Jesus; they talk about what the church has done well; they talk about what the church has done wrong; they encourage the church to stand strong in the middle of hard times; and they describe a reward for those who do stand strong.
- Pergamum was located on the coast of the country we call Turkey today.
- Pergamum was one of the rare cities in the Roman Empire that was allowed to administer capital punishment, which was called "the right to the sword." This is important for understanding verses 12 and 16.
- I understand that several of you are anxious to start digging into the juicy parts of Revelation that deal with the end of the world and all that. But that starts in chapter four, so we'll need to stay away from those discussions until we get a little farther into the text.
See the idea? Not too long. Not too much information. Just a few helpful facts and observations to prepare the group for an interesting discussion.
—Excerpted from Field Guide for Small Group Leaders: Setting the Tone, Accommodating Learning Styles and More by Sam O'Neal. Copyright 2012 by Sam O'Neal. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.