Thursday, December 18, 2008

Read and Learn -- Adult Study Groups

Good small group materials can be hard to find. First, you need a good topic. Then, you need good questions; and when you find those then you really need a good leader's guide. Good luck. Oh, and it would really help if small group materials used in Presbyterian churches were teaching something slightly more consistent with Presbyterian doctrine than, say, Southern Baptist doctrine.

I have recently run across some small group materials put together by Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City. I did not open these to see if they are more conservative than I am -- I knew that; but I did want to see if I could live with them. I welcome materials that clearly come from a perspective I don't share. They can challenge me to defend what I believe and why I believe it. Of course, there are limits. Nonetheless, I expected to see pretty decent Presbyterian theology; and I thought they would be worth a look.

There are a number of sets of materials. Most of them cover either a single Bible book, or in a few cases a collection of related books. There are topical series as well, including one on developing a prayer life. I started off looking at the materials covering Genesis.

First of all, the materials come with a Participant's Guide and a Leader's Guide. The Leader's Guide includes the Participant's Guide at the back. Oh, and the Participant's Guide (you know, the short one) is 105 pages and covers 23 weeks. The Participant's Guide begins each section with a one paragraph introduction followed by 5 - 8 questions. The questions are serious enough that they do require that you do the reading and give it some serious thought. For the most part, they are not angled towards a right answer. I don't think they really lend themselves to small group discussions, however. One example is:

2:24-25. What do we learn about marriage from this famous verse? What do we learn about the purpose and boundaries for sexuality? What does it mean that they were 'naked and unashamed'?

The small group that I participate in would view that question as looking for AN answer. Once someone came up with an answer we liked, that would be that.

The Leader's Guide provides a substantial amount of material, which again is more conservative than I am; but would not be out of place in many PCUSA churches -- but it will bother a number of Ring members. For instance, the Leader's Guide is unequivocal that sex only belongs inside of heterosexual marriage. That shouldn't come as a surprise. These are PCA materials. Gender roles emphasize equality but still come done pretty clearly on the complementary side of the fence. One thing I found interesting about the Leader's Guide is the number of quotes from other works. In Genesis, the Leader's Guide frequently quotes both C.S. Lewis and Derek Kidner. Both the Leader's Guide and the Participant's Guide are clearly written for an educated audience.

I also found the licensing terms interesting. You download a pdf file, which, as a practical matter, you can print as many times as you like. However, if you pay $10, you are only paying for the right to make one copy of the materials. If you pay $20, you are paying for the right to make 25 copies of the materials.

These materials will help guide a small group through a study of Genesis, Acts, Romans, Galatians, and other topics. I would be more inclined to use them in solo study than in group study. I don't see that they provide a lot of value in the sense of stimulating a group dynamic. Also, if your church is very far left of center; these will be in the lead balloon category.



Quotidian Grace said...

Good review, JS. There are a lot of PCUSA churches that could and would use this material. It's always difficult to get people in a small group not to expect a "right" answer in discussion. I think that's really something the group leader has to emphasize or the group has to work on together.

Viola Larson said...

Thanks Justice Seeker,
My husband and I often order sermon series from Redeemer, and then they get passed around to everyone.

I have found the sermons to be very honoring of womenmore than some PCUSA sermons and I like that, although I don't agree with their ordination views.

I didn't know about the study guides. That sounds like something a group I know about might enjoy.

Derek Kidner in the Tyndale series (Genesis) is very good and I often use him in my writing. And for everyone's information he does accept evolution although I do not.