One of the most important factors in having a quality Bible class is creating an environment that is safe for people to express themselves in. We tell our classes we want deep discussion. We want them to feel free to pour our their real feelings and deepest emotions. When they do, how often do the reactions of the teacher and the rest of the class make that person never want try that again? The fastest way to having an open environment to discuss the realities of our lives together is to create an environment where people feel safe.
This starts with the teacher. The teacher must be willing to model a gentle but firm leadership style for the class. We are gentle with people but firm with the truth. Teachers must also be willing to model both sides – the one who tells the class personal information and the one who reacts in a non-critical way when others share such information. No one feels safe to discuss difficult or personal things if the teacher is not personally willing to share. No one feels safe to discuss if the teacher or others are the type to respond critically to what they have said. If Bible class participants see that the teacher is willing to share and discuss and that they are not met with harsh criticism then they might be more willing to share more themselves. That means teachers need to take some risks!
One reason lecture is so popular is because we can play it safe. We can stay on the surface of the text and not have to have those “uncomfortable” kind of discussions. That is not how the Bible was meant to be used. It is meant to pierce our hearts and challenge our lives and all that done within the community of faith. That will never happen unless people know their environment is a safe one and safe environments start with the teacher.
Covenant agreements are another way to ensure a safe environment for people in a class. With these agreements, people understand that what is shared in class is not to be shared with others outside the class. If people know that what they say will be shared with others then they will not be willing to share something personal. But if they know that they will be met by a loving and supporting group of people who all realize that we are all in this together and who will not go out and share those stories with others, then people will begin to open up.
I have shared before the definition for intimacy that Jerry and Lynn Jones share – “Freedom from anxiety in the presence of vulnerability.” If our Bible class or small group studies are places people feel a tremendous amount of anxiety about sharing in, we will never develop a sense of deep spiritual intimacy in them.
Create a safe place for people to grow that starts by the teacher modelling both sides of the interaction and assuring people that what they say does not leave the group and watch conversations happen that you would not have ever dreamed could be said at church. This takes a tremendous amount of patience on the part of the teacher. Teachers tend to want to keep everything under total lockdown and controll. These types of discussions will be uncomfortable at first. Be ready to hear some crazy things. Be ready to hold your tongue and keep from your gut instinct to criticize or stop what is being said. As Ed Gray of HUGSR always said, “Let your judgments be gentle.” Why? Because once you really get to know someone and find out where they are coming from you will see that if you were in their shoes you wouldn’t be doing nearly as well. Let it work itself out even though it will be uncomfortable. Remember, it is uncomfortable because it is different, not because church is not the place to discuss our real lives. We all need safe places to discuss who we really are and reject that surfacy stuff we default into due to a lack of safe environments.