Home bible studies (small groups) have quickly become one of the primary ways in which Christians find a great combination of fellowship and study of the Christian life during the week. They are a vital solution to most churches’ desire to create balance in their church life. The developers of The Theology Program have intentionally adapted the material in all seven courses to be used in such an environment. Whatever the make-up of your small group, TTP will add a much needed element of intellectual challenge through stimulating discussions that are both practical and penetrating.
Using TTP for small groups is easy...
How to start using TTP for your Small Group
Step One: Acquiring the needed material & equipment
Purchase a course leader’s guide, course set of DVDs, and the number of Student Theology Notebooks for the course of study. As our progression of courses suggests, it is highly recommended that you start with Introduction to Theology and then move on from there.
You will need a way of projecting or viewing the DVD teaching sessions. In a home setting you may be able to view the class through your DVD player hooked up to your TV. If the group is a little larger or it is difficult to provide good viewing for all the students, then you may consider using a projector system with a larger projection screen. This may be more practical in a church setting where this type of equipment may be more readily available and preferred for best viewing capability.
Step Two: Appointing a leader
Appoint a gifted leader who can be in charge of the administration of the program. This may be you! This leader is responsible for setting up the times and dates of meeting for the small group. As well, this leader will facilitate the discussion time, keeping the discussion on track. While he or she does not necessarily have to be one who is gifted in teaching, they must be ever mindful of the topics of discussion and ready to firmly guide the discussion in a fruitful manner. It is suggested that this leader have someone else who will co-lead with him or her. This will take some of the pressure off the individual leader and help to delegate some of the responsibilities on a week to week basis.
Step Three: Setting group requirements
There should not be more than 12 people invited to join the TTP small group. All people need to commit to all ten lessons of the course. If someone misses a meeting for some reason, they should commit watching the missed lesson on DVD or online at bible.org. This is vitally important since each lesson builds off the previous lessons and people can get lost very easily if they have missed any session(s).
The total time of the individual sessions should last no less than 2 hours each. The individual DVD lessons lasts about an hour and 15 minutes then there is 45 minutes to an hour of discussion time. This does not include time for dinner or fellowship before or after the TTP small group session. Some may want to have a short time for fellowship and dinner before the DVD begins. This would extend the entire small group time to a minimum of 3 hours. If time is an issue, you may want to watch the DVD session while eating dinner. Group obligations and requirements will differ. It is not suggested, however, that you extend the meeting to half a session each night. This would then extend the TTP small group to 20 weeks, which would be cumbersome. But, flexibility is often the key and the TTP small group can be successful even when these types of adjustments are necessary.
Step Four: Preparing to lead
Although not required, it is highly suggested that the leader(s) view all ten sessions of the course beforehand so that he or she understands the philosophy of the program and knows what to expect in the coming weeks. This will greatly help when facilitating discussion. At a bare minimum, the leader(s) should view the individual class session before the small group meets.
In the TTP Leader’s Notebook, there is a PowerPoint presentation of the entire course. The leader(s) can view each individual class presentation on PowerPoint in edit mode (the default mode of PowerPoint when it opens) while viewing the classes on DVD. In edit mode, there will be the leader’s notes in the notes section just below each slide. This is not necessarily needed for the small group leader(s) since there is a printed version of the PowerPoint slides included in the TTP Leader’s Notebook. Have your notebook open before you as you preview the course before your small group meets. Take note of the presentation notes and illustrations provided. You can use the extra space on the printouts to make additional notes that come to mind as you view the course. These notes can be used to help make the study more relevant to your context.
Step Five: Leading the discussion
After your small group has completed you are to discuss the “Group Discussion Questions” provided at the end of each lesson in the Student Theology Notebook. There are a couple of important things to keep in mind about these discussion questions. First, these were not created for people to do by themselves, but in community. In other words, the questions are not an assignment for people to complete sometime during the week and bring back completed, but questions that are only to be done in discussion in the community that has been brought together. This emphasizes the TTP value of doing theology in community, not in individualist isolation. Second, you should not expect to get through all the questions each session. These questions were created to stimulate theological discussion. Often times they are simply there to create discussion about one or two themes hitting them from many different angles. Therefore, the leader(s) should not be so concerned about getting through every question, but that the “spirit of the questions” are creating the desired interaction. This is why it is important that the leader(s) read through the individual questions before the small group meeting and highlight those which they think will be the most relevant to their people. You may only get through two or three of the questions—this is fine, so long as fruitful discussion pertaining to the subjects of the lesson are being discussed.
General Principles for TTP small group leaders:
Keep discussion on track!
Many times people will want to talk about every theological issue that they hold dearly or have had questions about during lesson that are not directly related to the topic. For example, someone may want to discuss the issue of predestination during the session on the Reformed tradition of the church in Introduction to Theology. This, however, as interesting and generally relevant as it is, would not be the place to discuss this issue. It will be covered in Soteriology. As well, someone may want to discuss the issue of the canon of Scripture (what books belong in the Bible) during the session on the Roman Catholic view of the Church in Ecclesiology and Eschatology. Again, as relevant as this is, it has already been covered in Bibliology and Hermeneutics. These off topic theological side-bars can eat of the 45 minutes of discussion in no time at all. And since each lesson is dependent upon the previous lesson, this could quickly become a problem.
Don’t pressure yourself to think you have to have all the answers. As is clear from the DVD teaching session, Michael and Rhome and the entire history of the Church has not been able to answer many theological questions with assurance, and neither can or should you. In other words, you are not necessarily there to answer the questions, but to engage in the discussion.
Make use of the bible.org TTP discussion forum
We have set up discussion forums on the bible.org website for people to post their thoughts and questions in a community of believers, giving and receiving feedback. This is a great “supplemental” discussion avenue for your group to continue the discussion during the week with others doing the same study around the world. Encourage your group to frequent the forums. It will go a long way in enhancing the theological learning experience.
It is also a great place for leaders to come and ask questions and give advice on leading the TTP small groups.
Give us your feedback as to how things are going.
The TTP staff is ever endeavoring to make this program more beneficial for those using it in a small group environment. Please contact us and let us know how things are going. If you have suggestions, we would love to hear them. If the program is successful, we want to share in praising the Lord with you.
Please know that we are in prayer for you, and please be in prayer for us as we seek to teach people how to think theologically.
May God be with you in your pursuit of Him and may your group reflect the glory of His Son who loves you and gave Himself up for you.