For the past three years, I have been a family group Bible study leader with the Baptist Collegiate Ministries at the College of William and Mary.
Leading this family group has been one of the greatest blessings I have received at college.
Looking back on my first year leading, I can only describe my experience as a beautiful realization that my goals are futile and meaningless in comparison to those of Christ Jesus.
That year, an odd number of individuals volunteered to lead Bible studies, so I volunteered to lead by myself. Instead of co-leading, I had complete control over where I wanted my family group to go – or so it would seem.
Over the summer leading up to that coming school year, I planned each of my Bible studies down to the minute.
I decided to call my group “The Inklings” after the community of writers that included the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who met at the Eagle and Child Pub in England during the 1930s and ’40s.
In the first six weeks of the semester, I planned for “The Inklings” to study different scriptural passages as they could relate to famous paintings.
This list included studies of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” in connection with God promising Abraham his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.
Another included Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Time” in connection with Ecclesiastes 3.
As I planned these studies, I created a rigid outline with specific questions and a delineated amount of time to discuss each question. I even determined that eight people would be the ideal size for discussion and thus prayed for that number.
My prayer wasn’t answered. “The Inklings” had a steady attendance of four or five people. Despite attempts to invite others, we never reached more than seven.
In planning my Bible study, I basically told God not to worry about anything – just show up at 5:30.
The following year, slightly disappointed at my performance as a family group leader, I decided to lead again. This time, however, I was partnered with an Inkling.
Including another leader meant I didn’t have as much control. My partner and I took a more laid-back approach to planning our time of study.
Rather than planning our questions and discussions down to the minute, we let the group and, perhaps more important, the spirit have some freedom.
The small group swelled to a regular attendance of 10 or 12 people. One week we decided it would be best to split into two groups.
It became clear to me as the year went on what was different between my first two years leading.
In my first year, I had failed to recognize that my plans were not God’s. I had failed to see that my purpose might have been specifically to lead those three or four people each week in studying God’s Word.
I told God what my plans were, and I expected him to show up.
In my second year, I realized I needed to recognize God’s plan, and he expected me to show up.
As I enter my final semester, the Inklings have shrunk slightly. Previous members have gone on to lead their own Bible studies, and I couldn’t be prouder or happier. I realize now that numbers and good planning don’t make a good Bible study.
We often forget that God – not ourselves – determines our part in Christ’s redemptive narrative.
We fail to see beyond our superficial goals. We do not please God with our ideas and ability to plan. We please God with our ability to follow.
Andrew Gardner holds a PhD in American Religious History and is the author of “Reimagining Zion: A History of the Alliance of Baptists” (Nurturing Faith Publishing).