Want to Make a Deeper and Long-lasting Impact on Your Small Group? Take a field trip.
Jesus took his students on field trips. So can you.
Jesus asked great questions. He told amazing stories. And he used one other educational method people don’t talk about much.
He took his students on field trips.
Many of the teachable moments we see in the Gospels were experienced on the way to something else. The truth wasn’t just learned; it was experienced. The instruction did not occur in a controlled classroom setting, but in a range of everyday environments. On a hillside with thousands of hungry people, Jesus challenges his disciples, “Give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16). In a lakeside gathering, a frantic father summons Jesus to heal his sick daughter (Mark 5:21-23). People-watching in the temple, the disciples see a poor woman drop her life savings—two copper coins—into the collection, and learn something new about generosity (Luke 21:1-4). Jesus didn’t want his followers to learn merely with their minds; he wanted their learning to be an embodied experience.
Jesus walked and taught; he asked questions along the way; he used every day experiences, objects and situations to shape their imagination about the kingdom of God; and he allowed seemingly inconvenient interruptions to be the vehicle for their learning and growth. Noticing birds and flowers and coins, catching fish and surviving storms, Jesus knew that people learn not merely by listening, but by doing. This peripatetic approach to learning and discipleship has implications for how we lead—even where we lead.
“On the Way” Teaching Ideas
Here are five ways you can apply the peripatetic approach of Jesus and create experiential learning.
1. Change locations
You probably loved field trips back in grade school. Changing location can still help us to learn joyfully and experience concepts in new ways that make lasting impressions. Spend time brainstorming places where you could host your small group or Bible study outside of your regular location or participate together in a new shared experience. Consider meeting in a restaurant, a coffee shop, or a park. If you normally meet in a church, try meeting in someone’s living room. If you normally meet in someone’s home, try meeting at a park on a crisp fall evening where you can collect colorful leaves or other creative expressions of God’s involvement with the world. You don’t have to make a permanent change—just mix it up a bit to keep things fresh.
2. Plan together . . .
Consider inviting group members into the planning process and brainstorm together. Could you visit a local art museum and see if members can connect the images to a biblical story or principle? Would a hike through the woods teach you what it means to walk with God? Getting the group involved in planning not only broadens the pool of ideas; it fosters creative biblical thinking. The very act of considering the visual and experiential possibilities can shed new light on Scripture.
- Ask the brainstorming group questions like these:
- How could we experience Scripture together and make it come alive, not just read and talk about it?
- If our current meeting place were not available, where could we meet instead?
- How can we concretize biblical concepts? Get them into our individual and collective bloodstreams?
- What are ways we could act upon what the text is talking about while we learn it?
- How can we make this an unforgettable experience?
- What are the available resources, experiences, or locations in our area we could utilize? When would be the best time to go? What plans need to be made ahead of time to make this happen?
- Who else could help us brainstorm ideas and experiences?
3. . . . Or Don’t
Unplanned or surprise trips can be fun and formative, too. When the group arrives at your normal venue you can smile and calmly say, “Please grab your things and follow me.” Then head out on a hike or a drive or a visit to some location that might bring fresh ideas to your Bible study. Learning theory scholars have found that we learn best when we are surprised. Once we are jolted out of our expectations, we tend to be more fully attentive to new experiences.
4. Take “trips,” even without ever leaving your location
Several years ago, when my wife and I were hosting our small group, we lit candles in all the rooms of the house and turned out all the lights before the group arrived. Then we greeted them at the door with a brief instruction sheet, explaining that we would be praying throughout the rooms of the house for the first 20 minutes. They had prayer prompts in different locations of the house: the bathroom (cleaning/confession); bedrooms (rest); living room (praying for their community); the kitchen (that the Lord would feed them and sustain them); and the basement and garage (where they asked God to address the “junk” in their lives). People still talk about that experience.
5. Or bring experiences to you
You can also have experiences come to you. Borrow a high-powered telescope and look at the stars and planets while someone reads Psalm 19. Watch a documentary and compare its ideas with Scripture (idea: watch the Netflix documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi together and then discuss the similarities and differences to Christian discipleship, while you eat sushi together). Invite others to join you, perhaps a community leader who might give you ideas on how to share Christ’s love in your town. Consider inviting children to sit in the middle of the group and play or draw for 5-10 minutes while the adults observe quietly. Then have someone read Matthew 18:3-4 and John 1:12 and ask, “How does what they are doing relate to what Jesus says about becoming like little children? How might we see ourselves as children of God in the coming week?”
Leading a small group can be an incredible joy, but leading week after week can leave us in a rut. Meeting in the same location can have its benefits, but taking occasional off-site adventures together can lead to deeper learning and engagement and keep us from getting stuck in the same old ways.
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