Breakfast Bible Bunch Digs In
By Brad Lewis
It's 7:30 on a Thursday morning. The usual suspects are getting their coffee and a pastry and settling in around a table in a conference room at First Reformed Church of Schenectady, New York.
It's time for senior pastor Bill Levering's Breakfast Bible Bunch, the most unusual—and effective—Bible study I've ever participated in. There's no homework, no tests, no complicated exegesis—just an hour of give and take with a lot of teaching and learning from Bill, one another, and the text. There's no attendance policy: the group includes some retirees and several others go to work when the session ends, so almost everyone misses some of the classes. But those in the class testify that they don't like to miss it.
Bill passes out a handout with a set of questions, the day's text, and some varied additional material, and he poses to the group the first question on the sheet: "What is the most unusual experience you ever had?" The personal stories and the dialogue begin. Everyone talks, and everyone listens. The questions do not ask about ancient Israel, Rome, or Athens, or noted theological issues—though the connection with these often becomes clear—but mostly from twenty-first-century daily life.
What really motivates you? Why is it easier to be enthusiastic in a group? How have you communicated in a strange country? How do you feel about passionate people?
The vigorous discussions continue through today's last question: Would you like more spirit in your life?
It's an apt transition to today's Bible passage: Acts 2:1-21, the day of Pentecost. We go around the table with each person reading a verse until the passage has been completed. There's a further brief discussion and a closing prayer. Besides the questions and text, each week's handout includes a variety of materials—quotations, cartoons, historical information, sometimes clarification of Hebrew or Greek biblical terms—that will stimulate thought on the spot or in the coming week.
That's not the end of the discussions. Most of the time Bill will be preaching on the text on Sunday, and we all want to see how he's used the text. If I miss a class and see one of the other members of the Bible Bunch during the week, we commonly talk about what happened last Thursday.
Why does it work? The answers from several members of the group do not surprise me:
"It expands spiritual growth—is part of my spiritual walk. It helps me understand ideas."
"I meditate on the passage and discussions later."
"I like the freedom we allow each other to express our opinions and hear everyone else's. It's an inspiring way of looking at the Bible—very open and free. There's a high trust level."
"I've taken lots of Bible study courses and occasionally taught them, but I never have one of these discussions that does not give me some new insight into the Bible."
Bill has been using some version of this approach for 30 years; he cites the influence of the Navigator Bible Series as a starting point. He notes that it needs some adaptation to the particular group, but he sees several principles at work:
"We all start with our stereotypes and prejudices about the Bible," he says. "Immersing ourselves in our human situations, in dialogue with others, helps us to get past some of those preconceived notions and helps us look at the Bible with fresh eyes. We're inviting the Holy Spirit in to work on us."
And while he's the organizer and teacher, Bill is also a participant, experiencing a lot of what the rest of us experience: "I am surprised every week," he says.
Brad Lewis is an elder at First Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York, and president of the Regional Synod of Albany.