Forty five minutes into the Bible Study, people finally start talking, not rapid fire, but quick enough to give you the sense they are tracking with each other, and even better than that, thinking, listening and responding.
“They’re figuring it out,” my colleague Lisa Laird whispers to me. And we both breathe a sigh of relief.
Have you ever led a Bible study? Do you know the angst that squeezes your heart as you wonder if anyone will talk out loud? I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to toss a question into the abyss, praying someone will catch it and send back a response.
One of the best things I learned as an Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship student leader in my university days was that it was OK to wait in silence until someone eventually answered my Bible Study questions. ‘They need time to think,” was the advice given to me by a wise staff worker. “A minute seems long to you, but to them, it’s probably not long enough.”
That sage advice has carried me through many Bible studies over the years. But I think the old angst would still have surfaced had I been in the shoes of my colleague Scott Gerbrandt this morning.
At Urbana, Bible studies are not exactly the cozy small group you might imagine. Rather, hundreds — sometimes thousands — of students gather in conference rooms for an hour and a half study led by one person.
Today, I slipped into the back of the room as Scott was leading a group of 200 through Luke 5:1-11, the story where Jesus tells Peter to cast his nets into deep water, even though he’d already fished the night through with nothing to show for it.
In the early moments of the study, I wondered if Scott was feeling a little like Peter, obediently casting out a line because that’s what Jesus (and the rest of us) expected him to do. The pauses were long, but eventually, a few brave souls began to raise their hands and nudge the discussion forward.
Scott is an exuberant kind of guy, and with each comment from the crowd he’d give back encouraging words. “Yes! Great, great observation!” Often he’d take things further, urging speakers to go deeper, think harder, share a little more than they’d intended when they first stood up.
And eventually, something kind of miraculous happened, the kind of thing every Bible study leader hopes and prays for. People started referencing comments made by others earlier in the study. I began to imagine their words as a ball of wool being tossed around the room, knitting us into a cohesive group.
To be honest, I don’t think any of us would claim that 200 people became a community this morning. It takes more than one Bible study for that to happen. Fortunately, there are three more morning studies in this Urbana conference.
Keep throwing out the lines, Scott, Lisa and the dozens of other Bible study leaders at Urbana. As the week goes on, I’m certain you’ll pull in a magnificent catch.