We have been using a technique called ‘dwelling in the word’ as part of Synod meetings…
Unlike some Bible study, which applies texts to key subjects, or the controversies that divide, ‘Dwelling in the word’ allows groups of Christians to form a shared sense of the challenge facing them.
Pat Ellison and Patrick Keiffert write ‘When trust is built in a community, that community can withstand risks and entrances and exits and big change.’ [Ellison, P. and Keiffert, P. Dwelling in the word: a pocket handbook, Church innovations 2011]
It should be made clear that ‘Dwelling in the word’ is deliberately not about sharing information, or seeking scholarly answers or even the right answers to the issues raised in the text, but is about listening each other into free speech and discerning what God is up to amongst us.
Start with prayer inviting the Spirit to guide our attending to the Word of God.
Turn to the selected passage. Have bibles or copies available at every meeting so that the story can be read by different people. Set aside, without apology, at least 20 minutes for this activity.
When everyone is ready, begin your meeting with one person reading the passage out loud to the group.
Then let some silence unfold as people let the words have their impact.
Next, encourage people to find someone they know less well [Keiffert describes this person as a ‘reasonably friendly stranger]. Listen that person into free speech as he or she tells you what they heard in the passage. Listen that person into answering one of two questions: 1.) what captured your imagination in the passage? And 2.) what would you like to find out more about? Listen well, because your job will be to report to the rest of the group what your partner said, not what you yourself said. Some take notes to help them remember.
Turn people loose with their partners for 6-10 minutes. Notice how they are paying attention to one another. When you draw them back together as a group, ask them to tell what they learned from their partners.
Then wrestle together as a group with what God might be up to in the passage for your group on that day. It can be helpful for the facilitator to make a brief note of what she or he hears from the group and to capture that in a short prayer at the end.
Finally, let people know that as your conversation on other matters continues, anyone at any time may call for the Gospel and the group will return to the passage.
This discipline is far from magical or formulaic; it won’t solve all the problems or answer all the questions, difficulties and issues your group, council or committee has to address. However, over time, this discipline forms a community of the Holy Spirit, where the Spirit is welcome and expected a presence as anyone else there.
Keiffert writes, ‘The Spirit uses whatever space we give to create an environment of spiritual discernment. Just when you feel that there is nothing more that can be said about Luke 10, someone will say something completely new about Luke 10.’ Like all disciplines, this shapes us and our behaviour. It is not magical or formulaic, it is holy and ‘creates the community of good will that opens time and space for spiritual discernment for the sake of God’s mission.’