Summary of the course

Session 1- Introduction to Growing as a Disciple

In this first session we are going to think about how we want to work together to ensure that the group works well throughout the course. We acknowledge that we are at different stages on our journey of faith and we bring all we are, as well as who God is making us to be, as we start this course. We start by looking at our different experiences of reading the Bible for ourselves – both the good and the difficult.

There are a number of suggestions in this session as to how you might try reading the Bible in different ways, and pointers to materials that might be helpful. Then, as we will be looking at many biblical passages during this course, we start by focusing on the value of Scripture, and what aspects we need to keep in mind as we seek to understand it. However, to begin to get to know each other, introduce yourself to your neighbour, giving your name, where you are from and just two other facts about yourself. Listen carefully as you will be asked to introduce your neighbour to the rest of the group.

Session 2 – Prayer: The Language of faith

In this session we are looking at prayer. Most people feel that their prayer life is inadequate. Different people pray in different ways, and prayer and personality are very closely linked. Some people thrive on silence and stillness, others need activity, whilst others appreciate the stimulus of words, music or art. At certain stages in our lives we may find some ways of praying more helpful than others.

In this session we think about prayer as a relationship, and consider different ways of praying in order to keep our relationship with God fresh. It is easy for prayer to be squeezed out when time is short but it is central to Christian maturity and without it there can be no progress in our discipleship.

Session 3 – The Old Testament story of faith: Abraham to Joshua

In this session we begin to explore the first part of the Old Testament by looking at it through the eyes of a 1st century Jew, Stephen, in his final speech before he was martyred. This period begins with the individuals and families who were central to God’s purposes in establishing a people through whom he could reveal himself, and bring about his plan of salvation for humankind. In these accounts we recognise not only their faith and failures, but also God’s faithfulness to them as expressed in his covenant; initially with Abraham, and then with his whole people, at Mount Sinai, in the giving of the Ten Commandments and other laws. In his covenant love, God watched over his people, rescued them from slavery and brought them to the land he promised them. At the end we reflect on our own story and how God has shown us that same steadfast love.

Session 4 – The Old Testament story of faith: Joshua to the exile

In this session we continue to get a broad overview of the period of history in the Old Testament which covers the transition from being a ‘theocracy’ to a ‘monarchy’, as God’s people demand a king. The monarchy brought considerable change, not least in the pattern of worship as this became focused on the Temple built by Solomon.

Key figures in this period are Samuel, the ‘king-maker’ and ‘king-breaker’, and King David, to whom God promises that his throne will be established for ever. So we continue to see God working out his purposes in salvation history, despite the nation subsequently splitting in two, and the worship of the people becoming increasingly corrupted as they turn to the gods of the surrounding nations. Finally, we zoom in to the disastrous reign of Ahab and Jezebel, and one episode during this time in the life of Elijah, the prophet, as he demonstrated the power and sovereignty of Yahweh, the one true God.

Session 5 – The Old Testament story of faith: Exile to John the Baptist

This session covers the third part of Israel’s story and focuses on the circumstances of the exile of both the northern and southern kingdoms as they were conquered by the surrounding nations, and the eventual return of a remnant to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem. This period was a very painful time in the history of God’s people as they experienced war, cruel oppression and despair; with the Temple in ruins, living in a foreign land, had God deserted them? The prophets played an important part with their message of challenge and hope. In the 400 plus years between the Old and the New Testaments we see how different factors shaped Jewish faith and expectations, setting the scene for John the Baptist and Jesus. The session ends by considering, prayerfully, those who experience the suffering of exile, of one sort or another, in our own time, those known to us or featuring in the world news.

Session 6 – The New Testament story of faith: Jesus

In this session we focus on the gospels, and particularly on Jesus. We could spend many sessions on this, but we are going to look at Jesus in the context of God’s continuing purposes for his people, and plan of salvation. How do we understand Jesus as the ‘fulfilment’ of the Old Testament? We look at why Jesus so often challenged the cultural and religious assumptions of his day; his preaching about a new kingdom, with its radical demands for all who would follow him, both then and now. We end with remembering that we are people of the New Covenant; God’s covenant love for us is demonstrated by Jesus’ death on the cross.

Sessions 7 – The New Testament story of faith: The gospel explodes

In this session we look at what is considered to be the birth of the early church as recorded in The Acts of the Apostles, although Jesus’ disciples, both the twelve and the wider group, could be considered as the first community of believers. Acts, the second book Luke wrote, is often thought of as a history. However, Luke also writes to persuade (see Luke 1.1-4 and Acts 1.1) so it is not a simple narrative history. Although Jesus only makes an appearance in the first nine verses of Acts, the whole book is really about his continued action and teaching through the apostles. Luke picks up the thread of the story after Jesus’ resurrection and follows Jesus’ apostles as they first go about spreading the ‘good news’ up to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.

This is a period of conflict; conflict between the early Church and the Jewish and Roman authorities, and conflict within Christianity itself. In Acts we see the first followers grappling with difficult questions; what laws should they obey; is the gospel only for the Jews or is it for the Gentiles as well; how should the followers of Jesus be organised? While we focus mainly on Acts in this session, we also refer to some of the letters of the New Testament as they illustrate the dilemmas above.

Session 8 – The church: The community of faith

We begin this session by discussing our perception of the church, and that of others, and how this may have changed over the years. But how is the church in the New Testament described, and what does this have to teach us today? For our Bible study we look at four passages that highlight some important aspects of being God’s community of people, the church. But are there other images that we could use to communicate who we are as God’s people today. Finally we reflect on our own place and role within our different churches and what God is calling us to do.

Session 9 – Mission: The response of faith

In this session we reflect on different aspects of mission, linking these with God’s purposes for his people all through the Bible. We are reminded that the whole basis for mission is the grace of God; we are called to share in God’s mission to the world, both as individuals and as church communities. So how can we be in touch with God’s call on our lives so that we live life, not with a sense of guilt about mission, but out of a sense of vocation to love and be loved, listen, belong and participate in God’s purposes for his world?

As we think about mission and the contexts within which live and work, we begin by sharing with the group the outcome of the ‘At home …’ task of last week: to ask people what their perceptions of church are. Were the comments you received what you expected, or are you surprised by them?

Session 10 – The next step: Living as fruitful disciples

Today’s session is a time for sharing and celebrating your life together as a group, what you feel you have gained from this course, as well as acknowledging the sadness you may feel that the group is ending. It is also an opportunity to think about what it means to be a fruitful disciple. How and where is God calling you to be fruitful for him? What do you need to do to sustain your discipleship in the busyness of life? What steps do you feel you need to take to do this and what help would you like?