In James 1:22-25, we are commanded to be both hearers and doers of God’s Word. Small Groups and pulpit curriculum are designed to help us live this out. Put simply, Sunday morning is when we hear God’s Word, and our small group times together are where we seek to discuss and hold each other accountable to do God’s Word. We talk about what we heard and then seek to apply it to our lives. What needs to change in my life as a result of what was preached? How can I apply the message to my life? How was the Holy Spirit speaking to me and what do I need to do about it? Pulpit curriculum in small group helps us to become doers of what we hear on Sunday.
Consequently, some may see pulpit curriculum as a sermon study and not a Bible study. However, the focus of pulpit curriculum studies should be much more on the text that was preached than on the sermon itself. Sometimes it can be hard to differentiate between the two, but that is why the study questions refer back to specific verses, forcing you to study God’s Word in order to answer them.
Having said all of that, here are three expectations that you should have of your group discussion times when discussing pulpit curriculum questions:
1. SG Members come prepared having answered the questions ahead of time.
Sometimes people think that so long as they listen to the sermon, they’ve sufficiently prepared for small group discussion. However, the expectation should be that small group members come to the group having answered the questions ahead of time. They will not only come better prepared for the discussion, but it will also force them to look at God’s Word in order to validate what was preached. This reinforces the idea that it’s not enough to listen to the sermon, we have to study the text.
2. SG Members focus on discussing the text, not critiquing the sermon.
The discussion should focus primarily on God’s Word and how we can apply it to our lives. The discussion is not a time to critique the sermon or to discuss whether or not we liked it. We need to focus on Scripture. Thus, our Bibles should be open in front of us during the discussion. We should be able to ground everything that we say in God’s Word. Our discussion times are not about our subjective opinions, but about the unchanging truth of God’s Word. So long as the sermon was rich with Bible content, which every sermon preached at our church is, then we have a lot to discuss from God’s Word and a lot to apply to our lives.
3. SG Members may discuss disagreements on exegesis but shouldn’t discuss tone or style.
Exegesis refers to determining the main message and meaning of a passage. From time to time, people may disagree with a pastor’s exegesis. For example, a paedobaptist may disagree with a preacher’s exegesis of Romans 6:1-4. Discussing such disagreements of interpretation is acceptable and can be valuable, so long as it is done in love and in humility.[i]
Here’s a good rule of thumb for how disagreements ought to be communicated during small group discussion: How would you express your disagreement if the preacher was sitting in the room with you? In other words, if someone wouldn’t feel comfortable saying what they said in the way they said it if the preacher was in the room, then they shouldn’t have said it in the first place. Disagreements should be expressed in love and in humility and said in such a way that they would say it if the preacher was part of the discussion.
If someone in your group has an issue with the style or tone of a sermon or the way in which it was preached (so something other than the main message of the sermon), then they should talk to their small group leader about their concern privately. And then the small group leader can help them decide whether or not it’s worth bringing up their concern with the preacher. Disagreements on style or tone are subjective in nature. If it’s just a matter of opinion (a sin has not been committed) then it’s likely not even helpful to bring up with the preacher. The Matthew 18 principle applies to sins that are committed, not to differences of opinion or preference. Regardless, the point is that small group is not a time for those sorts of concerns to be brought up. That can lead to divisiveness. And remember, the discussion is meant to be a discussion of God’s Word, not a sermon critique. So if someone starts to critique the style of a sermon, leaders need to nip that in the bud and remind them that small group is not the place to discuss those concerns. We must discuss the text and how it applies to our lives.
[i] Disagreements over exegesis should be on secondary and tertiary doctrines. They shouldn’t be on gospel-level doctrines related to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ which Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 is of “first importance.” If someone in your group openly disagrees with a gospel-level doctrine, then you must first address this (and correct if necessary) in the group. Additionally, seek to get together with them outside of the group to discuss this one-one-one to hopefully win them over. It would be worth consulting with your flock leader and maybe even bringing them to the one-one-one meeting.