by COL Barry E. Willey, USA (Ret.)
What it is
Getting into the Word on a regular basis in our fast-paced world of cell phones, digital and direct TV, satellite radio, palm pilots, and multiple demands on our already stretched lives, is tough as nails. Investing time with other men or women in a spiritual mentoring or discipling role is even tougher.
Almost all of us have discovered the Internet as a versatile, nearly essential method of communication with friends, family and colleagues. Can it also be a useful means of facilitating Bible study and encouraging interaction between believers? I believe it can.
Along with three others I have been privileged to study and share God’s Word–online. The three men are my son in Ohio, a brother in Christ now living in Greece, and a new brother in the Lord who fairly recently accepted Christ. While an Internet Bible study will never replace a concerted study of the Scriptures, and the time to focus solely on Him and His love, it can supplement the standard Bible study format for busy people.
It uses the power of electrons to “send” insights, and questions discovered in our study around the world-instantaneously!
What it is not
An online Bible study is not modern man’s answer to the tried-and-true method of opening the Scriptures in the presence of others and delving into a specific book to discover its application to you personally.
Spending time with God, letting Him speak to you through His Word and then sharing the acquired wisdom, insights and joys with someone else, face-to-face, is the model. Christ showed us how to do it when He quoted Scripture passages as He talked and walked with His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Likewise, we need to open the Word and share with those around us, in our homes, offices, schools and businesses. An online Bible study cannot replace that kind of personal, one-on-one relationship that Jesus demonstrated so vividly.
Getting started–the Challenges
The four of us now involved in an online Bible study are confronting the same kinds of challenges that anyone faces who wants to start a Bible study–finding time to prepare, finding time to meet, and not being so distracted by the cares of this world that the benefits of Bible study are lost.
Step 1: A Solid Commitment
Step one is to get a strong commitment from your participants and establish some flexible ground rules. Are they willing to spend a modest amount of time each week studying for this endeavor? In our case, I proposed we spend no more than 30 minutes each day of the weekend studying the selected topic or passages. I then suggested we take about 10 minutes each day during the new week to meditate on, question and consider applications for our personal lives.
Finally, each of us takes a few minutes toward the end of the week and shares those insights gained with the participants of the online study. I encouraged them to use the myriad of online resources to supplement their study.
Step 2: Choose a Topic or Book
Step two is for the leader (or another participant) to choose an appropriate topic or book of the Bible to study. Seems simple enough, yet choosing a topic that is too broad or a book that is deep with symbolism and complexities may not be the best choice for an online study. For our study, I chose the Psalms, a book with bite-sized morsels to chew on and share, with promises galore and with a solid “applicability quotient.”
Step 3: Establish Goals
Third, begin the study with a specific goal in mind. I established the goal of three Psalms per weekly session, knowing that we probably would have to adjust that, as time passed and we gained experience. Sure enough, after only a few sessions, I discovered that even with the convenience of sitting at a computer and being able to quickly capture the essence of a few passages of Scripture, three Psalms was too much to bite off. We tapered it off to about one Psalm a session. It is obvious that some Psalms are too long and some too short for this treatment, so we have been flexible.
Step 4: Start the Study
Fourth, begin the study with the leader encouraging participants to take only that portion of the Scripture, for the session at hand, that speaks to them in a special way, or a question or concern that bothers them, and share that in their “reply to all.” This will ensure that no one gets bogged down and that all participants keep things moving.
The intent of this type of study is to provide each one in the study with a few moments of encouragement and inspiration from God’s Word each week. Our duties as well as the general pace of life today may necessitate adjustments in terms of time and life priorities management. Getting into the Word through an online Bible study provides an opportunity to encourage fellow believers in their walk with Christ, especially if they are new in the faith and want to learn, despite busy schedules.
Starting an online Bible study might be just what you need to stay connected with other believers. His Word will answer all of our heart’s desires and needs. The wonders of today’s technologies can help us find those answers.