You’ve been there at church on a Wednesday night or small group or post-sermon discussion where somebody has the sheet of questions, there’s the go-around of Doritos and ginger ale, and then comes the horrible show-stopping inquisition —
“What are your thoughts on that?”
Oh, this guy got trained good — he’s not asking “yes” or “no” questions. He wants thoughts.
Then the cavernous silence, like God looking for Adam in the garden after the Fall. You look for fig leaves under the seat. All you got is ranch chips and a styrofoam cup of creamy wonder from the He-Brews Coffee Bar.
No one moves, twiddles a thumb, or even breathes: because a sign of life would indicate you want to speak, and getting called on is worse than the moment you use the table of contents in the Bible.
And then like watching a car accident in slow-motion, the leader’s neck moves his head towards you and he asks, “Why don’t we start with you?”
Chairs creaking. Looking for a trap door, fire alarm, paper bag, smoke bomb, taser.
The only way it could get more awkward is if you karate chopped the guy next to you and jumped out a window yelling, “They’ll never get me!”
I feel you on this one. It’s pretty uncomfortable to just talk deep at the drop of a hat, and an insensitive leader with a low EQ — bless his heart — will just trample on your natural defenses. No one can go from zero to vulnerable that easily. If a Bible study means to get at the core of our human struggle, then we should probably expect a lot of silence.
So hey: awkwardness is okay, and there’s a way to handle it that’s more like a scalpel than a broad sword.
Whether you’re the leader or shy enough to use your turtleneck as a hoodie, here are four ways to push forward.
1) It’s okay to talk about nothing (because there’s no such thing as nothing).
Not every Bible study needs to be a spectacular, face-rocking, roof-opening epiphany from God. Let’s relax. Let’s stop asking questions like, “What did you hear from God today?” — because not everyone always hears from God like He’s a magical pixie on your shoulder. That sort of guilt-squeezing leads to spiritual exhaustion.
At times we feel threatened in Bible study when it gets off-topic because we think it must be absolutely spiritual. But really some of my favorite times have been when we venture into mindless inside jokes, what we did yesterday, the one-time-that-crazy-thing-happened, that slightly inappropriate thing that has us laughing (usually bathroom behavior), or the latest tearjerker episode of X Factor.
All of that is life-on-life. It’s sculpting a friendship out of really getting to know each other, quirks and all. If we can’t just breathe easy in a Bible study after a tough week, then it’s nothing that Jesus had in mind for us.
I don’t mean replacing rich theology with fits of giggles — but to have both side by side, to co-exist in a fierce rush of pulsating fellowship that cultivates memories and glorifies a Good Father who loves His kids and wants us to enjoy each other while enjoying Him.
Laugh loud, let down your guard, kick your feet up.
2) Keep the introverts and extroverts in mind.
Trying to get an introvert to talk when they don’t want
to is like trying to get information from Jack Bauer —
the harder you try, the less you will succeed.
It’s also very unpleasant when anyone has to force
conversation and the vibe gets cold quickly.
Introverts tend to process things, hear others first, get a consensus, and mentally rotate concepts in 3D before expressing an opinion. They are better at one-on-one instead of icky group settings.
The church tends to get pretty biased against introverts, as if they’re always moody and emo and rebellious: but introverts have an entirely different grid that needs space and contemplation, and no one should ever shame them into changing that.
We have to let go of thinking “shyness is bad.” Some of the greatest ideas I’ve ever heard are from introverts who later approached me after chewing on a concept and suddenly blurted it out in a stream. That’s a wonderful moment that can’t happen if it’s rushed, and what you consider shyness might actually be waiting for the perfect time.
Let’s also be very thankful to extroverts, their obnoxious laughter and hatred of silence and constant need for attention. Seriously: extroverts keep the place lively, and even if they are overbearing in large doses, you will miss them when they’re gone.
If you’re an extrovert, please don’t monopolize the conversation. We love your personality, but not if it’s interrupting every five seconds. If you’re trying to handle extroverts, the main thing here is to show extroverts how to listen and how to proceed. Lead by example. It could be as simple as, “I want to hear the rest of her thoughts on this one — don’t you?” No extrovert in their right mind will refuse, and most often, they will be the best encouragers in the room.
3) Have a big helping of self-awareness.
When it gets eerily silent, it’s okay to laugh about it. Acknowledge the awkwardness and let everyone know you’re thinking what they’re thinking.
If the temperature of the room is set to Mordor, the
coffee tastes like the filter, the chairs are hard,
one of the questions is totally bizarre, there’s a
typo on the slide that says “Jebus” — just say it.
There’s nothing worse than a leader with an agenda who must charge forward with his preprogrammed master plan. There’s nothing better than the leader who feels feelings like a normal human being, who can take the pulse of the room, who doesn’t take himself so seriously.
4) Go first and go strong.
Jump in the water and be completely real. We’re done with fooling people in church. This generation wants authenticity, not more plastic wrap. Honesty is not the best policy; it’s the only policy.
It’s not because you want to humor the leader or be the crusader of your group: but dive into the deep end because you care about the people. You love them. You want meaningful conversation that dismantles their spiritual hang-ups and moves forward from the brokenness. Get the gears rolling. I don’t mean pithy half-confessions like, “I forgot to do my quiet-time yesterday,” but dig deep into what’s really bothering you. “I feel far from God today. I went off on a guy in traffic earlier. I wanted to beat up my boss at work. I can’t beat this sin.”
I would be thrilled if someone stood up in Bible study, grabbed a mic, and simply said, “Life sucks and I hate all of you and I don’t know if I believe in God anymore.” Now that’s something Jesus can work with. That is church, and that’s where we can roll up our sleeves and fight the good fight together. Honesty plus grace will always equal freedom.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
— Acts 2:46-47