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Extroverted Bible Study – Illya Thomas

Bear with me. The title was in fact designed to grab your attention but not to coin a phrase I’m trying to monetize. You’ve no doubt heard of or participated in topical bible studies, thematic bible studies, perhaps Hebraic bible studies, etc. This could have been in mid-week studies held in your church’s auditorium or sanctuary, or the study your small group does wherever you’re meeting these days. For purposes of this article, I will refer to those as “group” bible studies. And that’s not what I’m suggesting.

You’ve been in worship services, meetings, and celebrations that are delightfully extroverted, that is, if you are an extrovert; but the picture painted of devotional study of the Bible is decidedly introverted. Introverts exclaim, “Exactly. SOMETHING should be preserved for my time alone with God, where there’s peace and quiet.” I’m not here to argue with you on that. Think of this as an invitation to “AND” where Bible Study is concerned.

What is "extroverting"?

Dictionary.com defines an extrovert as “an outgoing, gregarious person who thrives in dynamic environments and seeks to maximize social engagement”. If you’re like me the last thing you want is to be trapped in a room or on Zoom with extroverts constantly “extroverting” all over your time in the study of the bible. I think of the gregarious ones who love to hear themselves ideate and bloviate, constantly wanting me to acknowledge and applaud their genius. Ugggghhhh. The good news is I’m NOT talking about that either.

I got to this idea a couple of different ways. First, I am in fact extroverted. Transparently and unashamedly so. But I’m the reasonable kind. Suitably outgoing but seeking to manage social engagement to the right amount vs. maximizing it in all circumstances. I do gain energy from interacting with others and generally find things more engaging that include other people. Introverts say to themselves, “There’s me, myself and I, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s ENOUGH of a party right there.”, and who am I to say they’re wrong.

For me and myself, I find that in pursuing spiritual disciplines like prayer and study of God’s word, my extroversion combined with attention deficit disorder wreak havoc. It’s challenging to stay “in the zone” for the 4-hour sessions I hear people talk about as the key to fueling their spiritual life. And since I’m also not a morning person the 5 or 6 am shift doesn’t work for me either. I’ve fought and struggled and failed with this most of my life. Perhaps I haven’t tried hard enough or am in truth not spiritual enough to do prayer and scripture study “the right way”. I am, however, finding some things that help me, which could perhaps also help you.

Finding Rhythms

My week includes rhythms of scripture study within multiple different groups. There is the Thursday morning study with men from the Presbyterian Church in my neighborhood, where I am one of 2 non-Presbyterians. I help lead a Friday morning group with mostly hard-charging marketing types I worked with at Procter & Gamble, where I am the only engineer, African American, and seminary-trained church dude. And then there’s my Saturday morning time with an African-American group we call “Men of God”, where I’m the youngest and the neophyte. Each of these groups runs differently but the common elements are that the men believe the Bible is God’s word, and they’re designed to be “facilitators with multiple inputs” vs. “single teachers with lots of listeners”.

The other inciting event for sharing these musings was listening to the February 8th Bible Project podcast featuring Dr. Esau McCaulley, where he discussed his new book, “Reading While Black”. A good friend, who happens to be white, sent it to me and shared it with the members of the teaching team he leads at a large, mostly white evangelical church. I’d heard of the book but didn’t understand the context for the title. I understand the implications of “driving while black”, but it wasn’t clear how this applied to reading, and I already had 7 books on my “reading now or next” list. I listened to the podcast and immediately bought the book.

Dr. McCaulley challenged the “I don’t see color in the Bible” idea, which implies that inclusion of ethnic diversity isn’t a thing God cares about, by highlighting places the Bible’s reference to Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman, Esther speaking truth to power on behalf of Jews to save them from destruction, and Philip being led to the Ethiopian eunuch to walk him to salvation and baptism. He acknowledged that our social location (gender, ethnicity, socio-economic standing) does impact our interpretive process–what in the Bible jumps out to us or where we choose to dive deeper for greater understanding. Finally, he recommended engaging scripture from different contexts, to ensure that our view is expanded, because the lens we naturally look through isn’t wrong, but it also isn’t complete.

When I heard this I became slightly obstinate, because I think well of my individual cognitive ability. If, however, we sat in a circle with a statue in the middle of the room, each person would have a view of it but to gain a full understanding we would either have to get up and walk around it or ask others what they see from where they sit. I had to acknowledge that my midwestern US, middle-class upbringing in the Baptist church, isn’t that of a 1st or 2nd century Jew or Roman, so getting beyond my initial view of a given passage would likely serve my greater understanding. Obstinance down.

Be Intentional

I began to think about the power of intentionally engaging Scripture with people of varied backgrounds and perspectives, who each see the Bible as the inerrant word of God. I ask you to consider how you might enrich your experience of God’s word, or open yourself to new insights, via “extroverted Bible Study”? I challenge you to not just think about how this would work within your existing Men’s or Women’s group, or Sunday School class. Think about the 4 people you’d like to study a specific passage with to see if they highlight valuable things that didn’t jump out to you. Intentionally make it a gender and ethnically diverse group. If you’re feeling courageous, at some point ask them to share how their view on the passage may have been impacted by any aspect of who they are–where they grew up, if they grew up in church or came to faith later, if they came from a large family or were the odd one in their family, etc.
 

After you’ve tried it once or twice, consider how and on what frequency to include this in your regular rhythm for engaging God’s word. If you’re a pastor or teacher, think about leaders from other churches who’d be open to this. It will not only generate new insights but also strengthen relationships God can use to grow the kingdom and model the unity Christ prayed for in John 17. There are easily 10-15 things that make us different from one another, which can add depth and perspective, yet some incredibly powerful things we may find we have in common. A shared relationship with God the Father, forged through acceptance of Christ the Son as Lord and Savior, provides the context for constructive extroverting of Scripture that yields fruit.

And if you’re like me, it can get you into a deeper and more consistent engagement of Scripture than going solo at 5 am. If you’re wondering whether “extroverting Scripture” is a thing and whether it’s any different than certain things you’re already doing, re-read the previous paragraph, try that, and don’t overthink it. The title got you to read the article.

Illya Thomas

Illya Thomas

Prior to Vocational Ministry, Brandon worked as a Surgical First Assistant in Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. He holds certifications from the American Board of Surgical Assistants and the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. He specialized in General, Vascular, Cardiothoracic, and Robotic surgery.

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