A Faithful Prophet – Amos 7 – Sermon Notes

When the Lord reveals his judgement against sin, will you cry to him for mercy or refuse to listen? This whole book is a warning.

Vision 1 – locusts (v1-3)

As the Lord speaks first, he says he’s preparing locusts. It’s not just a vision of an accident. The Lord intends it. When they come, there will be devastation. Amos cries out for forgiveness. He’s from the southern kingdom yet he is moved to compassion for people who don’t like him. The Lord listens and relents, not because they don’t deserve it but because he loves to listen to the prayers from his people. Keep on praying.

Vision 2 – fire (v4-6)

Once again, the Lord is calling for judgement, this time by fire. The land is devoured. Land after fire or locusts look similar. There’s nothing left. Again, Amos responds and cries out. Israel had taken their name from Jacob. Jacob, without God’s blessing and grace, would’ve been nothing. The Lord had shown him kindness. Again, the Lord relents. He is teaching Amos and us that he does listen when we pray.

Vision 3 – plumb line (v7-9)

This is a different vision to the previous two. The Lord is saying Israel is the wall. They were built as they were made to be. Although we’re not told explicitly, they are no longer the straight wall they once were. This time, Amos doesn’t plead on their behalf. They aren’t what they should be. When Jesus came, he is the only person who kept God’s law perfectly. We can look at the life of Jesus and see how far we are from that life. He is the plumb line and we all fall short.

Response 1 – Amaziah (v10-13)

Amaziah doesn’t want to listen to Amos. He’s a priest but doesn’t want to listen to God’s word. Are there things that our community doesn’t want to hear? Amaziah cares more about the king’s sanctuary than the Lord’s.

Response 2 – Amos (v14-15)

Back in 3:8 Amos states the sovereign Lord has spoken. He listens. As the Lord has been revealing his judgement, he listens and cries out to the Lord for mercy. We should speak up. The Lord has called all Christians to speak about him.

A judgement against the priest (v16-17)

Everyone is guilty. God’s judgement against sin is fair. On the cross, God showed his judgement in the clearest way that he could. The full anger of God poured out, the sky darkened. Will we cry out to him for mercy or refuse to listen and face judgement ourselves?

A False Hope – Amos 5:18-6:14 – Sermon Notes

The Israelites are looking forward to the Lord’s coming (5:18). They’re looking forward to the day when God’s people will have a wonderful future. It’s a good thing to long for. This will be a day of judgment against them (5:18-20). There is no escape. Appearances can be deceiving. For the Israelites in Amos’ time they thought they were doing pretty well. Amos is here to reveal the truth underneath. They instead have a false hope in themselves.

A false hope in themselves (5:21-6:7)

They might look fine but on the inside, they’re dead. Hypocrisy, wickedness. They’re hoping in themselves through their religious acts (5:21-27). Their acts are rituals, superstitions. They’re whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27). They’re trusting in military success (6:1-3) and their material wealth (6:4-7). They’ve got everything they could possibly ever need. Amos reminds us that a false hope leads to judgment.

A false hope leads to a true judgment against sin (6:8-14)

God’s judgment will be complete. Whole cities will be destroyed. There is an appropriate fear of the power and might of the sovereign Lord. It’s a picture of God’s complete judgment against sin. It’s just. It’s what the people deserve. These people have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness. God’s judgment is fair. God’s people will face judgment and exile for rejecting him. We can think we’re better than them, that we wouldn’t do the same.

We need a true hope in the Lord’s rescue

We need to realise we can’t do it by ourselves. We need to throw ourselves on Jesus’ mercy. It’s only through his death that God can be just and be merciful. A false hope in ourselves, whatever that may be, will bring judgment, but a true hope in Jesus will bring rescue. Whatever good things we do will never be enough because we all fail. This passage is a reminder to look to Jesus. In Jesus, each and every person is valued. Success is measured by seeking Jesus and clinging to him day by day.

Seeking God – Amos 5:1-17 – Sermon Notes

Amos seems to be stirring our hearts to ask if we’re actually at peace with God. We are in danger if we fool ourselves, but God says to Amos “Come with me if you want to live.” (Terminator reference). This passage was often quoted in the American civil rights movement in the 50s. Amos announces he’s on the side of the vulnerable.

The troubling announcement of God’s wrath in this chapter begins with a lament. A lament is a song for the brokenhearted, or a song for when you’re at your lowest. God views his people in the OT as a coming marriage. He’s grieving in v2. Israel was meant to be a nation of blessing but they’ll be brought to almost nothing. Why has Israel become a depleted nation? They weren’t seeking God himself (v5). These are significant places. The people would’ve been appalled. They forgot the Lord himself. So often we want the benefits of a relationship with God but not God himself. We want what God can give us, but not God. What happens when God’s people do this? Nothing good.

Our default setting is to worry about ourselves instead of others. When we seek what we can get from God, we put our own selfish wants first. God’s beloved people are brought to almost nothing. They hate justice or do nothing about injustice. Do we know what peace even is? Amos shows peace is a right relationship with God and a right relationship with our neighbour. We’re only at peace with God when we seek him as he has revealed himself to us.

God directly appeals to his people when he says “seek” (v4, v6, v14). God’s people had forgotten who he was. They’d forgotten that he was good. He reminds us exactly who he is (v8-9). God call us to live (v14-15). Seek the God who champions the weak. He invites us back into peace with him. The passage ends with wailing in the streets (v16-17). God calls us to seek him as he reveals himself. He points us outwards to the whole city.

Amos reveals to us the severity and intensity of God’s justice. God is the hero of the brokenhearted. He won’t allow the oppressed to remain oppressed. God isn’t done with us. When we turn to God, he turns us to our neighbours. He reveals himself to be ultimately the God who is with us.

In Jesus, we have every spiritual blessing. He’s the morning light that dawns in our darkness. Jesus is God with us and shows us mercy. In Jesus we are called out of our old way of living to be able to truly love our neighbour. We are freed from the oppression of our sin. Each of us is invited to seek God and live for him.

A Sovereign God – Amos 1-2 – Sermon Notes

The kingdom was split in two (northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah). They were pretty strong and prospering. Amos was a shepherd, a farmer. God called him as a prophet. He sends him a message. Amos was sent from the south to the north. The words aren’t too pleasant – the Lord roars from Zion (1:1-2). Jerusalem is the place of God’s temple and the Lord roars (Revelation).

The Lord roars in judgement against the sins of the nations (1:3-2:3)

The Lord is to be feared. He roars in judgement against the sins of the nations.

The pattern of the judgements:

  • The Lord speaks
    • The serious nature of sin
    • An example of their sin
    • The judgement of the Lord
  • The Lord speaks

You don’t have to be a Christian to know that some things are bad. That’s what these nations are doing (1:3). Nothing is left standing. These are horrific sins. They are all against other people. No one should read this and think God’s judgement is unfair. When he comes to judge sin, nothing will stand in his way. Just as these nations have destroyed others, they will be destroyed.

Imagine being an Israelite hearing this. Thank God that he is going to judge this evil. What God says will happen, happens. He does still see the evil around us and he will judge it. The Lord roars against the sins of the nations. It’s a warning. It’s easy to point at the sins of others. We are just as bad. We have hurt others and we know we’ve done wrong. As Christians we can’t sit back smugly.

The Lord roars in judgement especially against the sins of those who claim to be his people (2:4-16)

Judah is judged because they’ve rejected the law of the Lord. They’ve broken the laws that God himself gave to them. Israel doesn’t escape this judgement. The root of their sin is the same as Judah’s. They were supposed to be a light to the nations. God has acted again and again to rescue and bless Israel but they’ve thrown it back in his face. Israel has no defence. It seems not a single person will get away. They’re stuck. This is certain. Amos was speaking at around 760BC. By 722BC the nations had been conquered. This is a warning. We are no better than the Israelites. To be a Christian is to know that you deserve God’s judgement.

We can be comforted in Jesus. It should make us more dependent on him and his gracious rescue, but we need to be warned. Being one of God’s people isn’t just a label. It’s an internal change that’s shown by an outward way of life enabled by the Holy Spirit. If we deny the truth with our actions, are we really Christians? The Lord sees and will judge all of our sin. Our only refuge is found in Christ. Let’s cast ourselves on his mercy.

Building the Church – Acts 18:18-19:7 – Sermon Notes

The gospel the apostles taught is preserved in Luke’s account. The Holy Spirit they relied on is with every believer. We should have the same confidence. How is the church going to grow? There are three scenes in this passage. We can have full confidence because God is building the church on the foundation of his word.

When Christians feel weak, open God’s word to strengthen one another (18:18-23)

Paul had already spent a year and a half in Corinth. It’s likely he felt weak as God spoke to him in a vision. He’s strengthened by the word that God speaks to him. Why does he take an unusual route? He points the church to God when they feel weak. He uses God’s word to preach the message of the gospel. The church is built as the word spreads widely (19:20). When we feel weak, let’s open God’s word.

When Christians disagree, explain God’s word more accurately to one another (18:24-28)

Apollos appears faultless. He’s mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:11-12. He speaks eloquently and is very persuasive. The Corinthian church had started to quarrel. Paul isn’t criticising him. It’s God’s word, not engaging speakers that advance the gospel. One godly Christian couple with a Bible have all they need. Who likes to be corrected? Apollos cares more about the gospel than about his own reputation. As we open God’s word with each other, we are participating in a great activity, as we grow as Christians.

When people are confused, teach God’s word until they are clear (19:1-7)

Paul teaches them until they are clear (19:4). He’s so committed to teaching the Ephesians that he remains with them for two years. As Christians we need to rediscover how to disagree well. It seems that the twelve men aren’t Christians when Paul meets them. On hearing the gospel they receive the Holy Spirit. Why does Luke seem to emphasise the gifts of tongues and prophecy? He wants to reassure his readers that they are Christians. The context of which tongues and prophecy happen needs to be understood in terms of 1 Corinthians 12-13. People may believe different things about prophecy. As we talk to each other, have the Bible open. Let’s listen and meet with the Lord about these things.

It’s God’s word, not our experiences that build churches.

Go On Speaking – Acts 18:1-17 – Sermon Notes

It can be hard to keep speaking about Jesus. We can be too busy, or frightened. What if we say the wrong thing? What about hard questions? Life wasn’t so different in the early church. It’s strangely encouraging that even Paul needed God to intervene to encourage him to continue speaking.

Paul is in Corinth on his own and none of his companions are with him. It’s not that different from Athens. It’s a powerful Roman colony. They’re not interested in Paul. It’s a daunting place for Paul to be on his own.

Christianity is the fulfilment of all of God’s promises

Christianity is the continuation of the faith of all Jews everywhere. It’s the completion of the promises the Jewish people were looking forward to. Paul knows that Christianity is a hope for all Jewish people. He’s willing to do whatever is necessary in order to speak in any place about Jesus. God’s promised Messiah was going to be greater than a human king. This has been God’s plan since before the creation of the world. Doesn’t that give us confidence to speak? We have God’s hope for the world to share.

The Lord is the one gathering a people for himself

It’s not just down to Paul, or any person. If you’re a Christian, do you realise that’s a miracle? It should encourage us that it’s not completely up to us, but we need to keep speaking. Paul has proclaimed the gospel and despite opposition, people are becoming Christians. The ruler of the synagogue and his family became Christians. One new people under Jesus Christ. We need to have confidence in him.

The Lord commands us to speak, and promises to be with us

The Lord is faithful to his promises. He uses a Roman non-Christian to protect Paul from harm. Paul is able to stay there for a year and a half. How can we make disciples unless we speak? We should keep on speaking because the hope of Christianity has always been God’s plan.

How to Prepare and Lead an Engaging Bible Study

I’ve been leading Bible studies at midweek church groups for the last seven years. I’m by no means an expert but I thought I’d share some tips that I’ve learnt along the way.

Preparing a Bible Study

Preparing a Bible study well can make a huge difference when it comes to leading it. If you’re well prepared, it will be easier to lead, and your group will get more out of it.

Understanding the passage

Before you begin preparing and writing a Bible study, you need to read and understand the passage. After all, if you don’t understand the passage, neither will your group! You could make use of the sermon notes I’ve posted, or check out the Enduring Word commentary. It’s helpful to write a summary sentence that neatly summarises the main point of the passage. If there is one thing from the study that you want the group to take away, what would it be?

Writing questions

Once you’ve understood the passage and have a summary sentence, you can begin writing questions for your study. Typically, there are three types of questions you will want to include: observation, interpretation, and application. They all serve different purposes but will help your group understand the passage confidently. Let’s look at each category in turn.

Observation

Observation questions help your group understand what the passage says. They help ensure everyone is on the same page before more detailed discussions take place. Don’t ask questions like “What does Jesus say in verse 5?” Instead, you could ask questions such as, “Is there anything surprising or unusual about what Jesus says in verse 5?”

Interpretation

Interpretation questions will help your group understand what the passage means. Examples include “What’s significant about the details Luke includes in this story?”, “Why do you think Paul speaks in the way that he does?”, or “What do we learn about God’s character through this passage?”

Application

Finally, application questions help the group consider how the passage applies to them in their daily lives. What does it mean to live the passage out and how can that be achieved? Example of application questions include “What would our church look like if we lived this out?”, “How can we encourage each other to show love to those around us?”, or “What does it look like for you to live this out in your workplace this week?”

For both observation and interpretation questions, I’ve found the Enduring Word commentary to be really helpful. I often create questions based on the content, especially if there are interesting observations I hadn’t noticed when reading the passage myself.

When writing questions, I tend to work through the passage from beginning to end, unless there is an obvious reason not to, asking observation and interpretation questions on each section. At the end, I’ll ask application questions to get the group thinking about how the whole passage applies to our lives today.

How many questions?

You will need to adjust the number of questions according to the time you have with your group and the size of the passage. For example, if you only have half an hour for your study, don’t prepare lots of observation questions, as you won’t get to the heart of the passage. The studies I have written typically last an hour. Observation questions tend to need the least amount of time allocated to them, whereas discussions on interpretation and application last much longer.

I’ve found that having around 12 questions prepared is enough for an hour’s study, though this will depend on the nature of your group. For some questions, I will have related follow-up questions that can be asked if necessary. It’s always better to have too many questions than too few. You may wish to note which questions you definitely want to ask, and which ones you’ll ask if you have time.

Know your group

It’s important to write questions that are appropriate to your group. For example, if your group is largely made up of new Christians, don’t ask lots of deep, theological questions. If you have non-Christians in your group, or there is that possibility, keep that in mind, too. You don’t want to make them feel that they can’t contribute by asking hard questions. Instead, ask open questions that lead to a healthy discussion around the passage. At the end, bring it back to the gospel and ensure your main point is clear.

If your group is made up of people who have been Christians for a long time, feel free to ask more theological questions. However, don’t let them detract from the main thrust of the passage. In fact, spending more time on application questions might be more beneficial. Have a longer discussion on what it means to live out the passage and how it applies to each individual’s life.

Creativity

If people in your group are particularly creative, you could come up with a creative exercise instead of observation questions. Examples include:

  • The Hashtag Challenge – come up with a summary of the passage and a hashtag that fits into a tweet
  • Write a newspaper article based on the passage
  • Come up with ideas for a film based on the passage
  • Draw a storyboard that tells the story of the passage

Examples

I’ve posted many Bible study notes on this blog. Here are some examples of Bible studies that I particularly enjoyed leading:

Leading a Bible Study

Leading a Bible study is a skill that takes practise, but is well worth investing in. It can be daunting at first, if you’re not used to leading a group, but over time you will see the value of this important ministry.

Timings

Have a start and end time for your study that’s consistent each week. People like to know when something will finish and it’s loving to stick to that limit. Try to start on time and if people are late, hopefully they’ll learn that they need to arrive earlier. Likewise, try to finish on time. People, including the host, may have work or other things they need to get done. If people still want to chat, they can still do this informally afterwards, but others may need to leave.

In my church, we tend to arrive at the host’s house at 7:30pm, after which there’s around 20 minutes to chat and get drinks before starting the study at around 7:50. We make sure to finish by 9pm.

Don’t worry about asking all the questions you’ve prepared. Keep an eye on the time as you’re leading so that you can skip questions if necessary. Ask the most important ones that will enable your group to take away the main point.

Starting your study

As you start your study, it’s a good idea to recap the previous week, particularly if you’re working through a book, a letter, or section of the Bible. This allows anyone who missed the last study to get an idea of what was discussed. Instead of giving a recap yourself, start by asking the group if they can summarise what was talked about.

Before you dive into your study, either pray before you begin, or ask someone to pray for the group. Ask someone to read the passage, or more than one person if the passage is quite long. Hopefully, everyone will have a Bible but it’s good to have a few spares handy, or have printed copies of the passage to give to people.

After the passage has been read, you may want to give a minute or so for people to read it silently, particularly if it was long or rich. If you have printed copies, some people may find it helpful to annotate it (such as parts that seem important or parts they don’t understand).

Before you start asking the questions you’ve prepared, you could ask for any initial thoughts from people, or if there’s anything they found surprising. Any questions that arise will hopefully be addressed during your study as the discussion progresses.

Don’t preach!

As a leader of a Bible study, you are not there to preach a sermon, you are there to lead a discussion in which everyone can participate. As you’re asking questions and people answer, it can be tempting to wait until someone says what you’ve written in your notes. It’s best to not look for specific answers, otherwise people will be less likely to contribute if they can’t give the “right” answer. Feel free to contribute with your own thoughts or content from your notes, but don’t preach a mini-sermon after each question! If people give answers that seem unrelated, you could ask, “Where do you see that in the passage?”

What if no one or only one person talks?

Hopefully your group will have people who are likely to contribute if there are moments of silence. However if it seems that people aren’t engaging with the study, or only one person is answering, you could try asking people to discuss a few questions in pairs or threes. This ensures that everyone gets a chance to talk. After a few minutes, you can gather feedback from each small group.

What if someone asks a question I hadn’t considered?

Questions during a Bible study should always be encouraged. It’s possible that someone will ask either a difficult question, or one that you haven’t thought about. That’s perfectly okay! In fact, it shows that people are thinking about the passage and are hungry for answers. If you don’t know the answer to a particular question, it’s okay to open it up to the group and ask, “What do other people think?” As a group leader, you’re not expected to know everything there is to know about the Bible. We can all learn from each other and that’s partly what makes studying the Bible with others so valuable. If no one else knows the answer, make a note of it, do some research during the week, and bring it up at the next study.

Consider the size of your group

Depending on people’s commitments, the size of your group may vary each week. Hopefully most people will be regular attenders but this might not always be the case. For most weeks, you could probably lead the study with the whole group and have a fruitful discussion. If there are times when it feels the group is too big to lead as a whole, you could get people in smaller groups (as suggested above) and then get feedback. Feedback is essential in these situations so that you can ensure everyone is on the same page. If you don’t get feedback, some groups may have completely missed the point and you wouldn’t know.

I’ve found that if you have more than 10 people, it can be hard for everyone to contribute. On these occasions, I’ve adopted the above approach so that everyone has a chance to talk.

Asking people directly

If someone in your group isn’t contributing much, you could try asking them a question directly (such as, “What do you think, Bob?”) but only if you know they’re happy for you to do that. Some people, particularly if they’re new or less confident socially, might prefer to listen. After a few weeks, as they get used to the group, they’ll hopefully start contributing.

Beware of tangents

If there’s one thing in common between all the midweek groups I’ve had the pleasure of leading, it’s tangents! It’s easy for people to go off-topic quite quickly and end up talking about something entirely unrelated to the passage you’re studying. Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with this but there will be times when you have to bring the discussion back to the passage. If the discussion clearly isn’t going anywhere, don’t be afraid to jump in and cut it short, repeating the question you originally asked.

Praying

It’s important to allocate time for your group to pray, both through the passage that you’ve studied, and for any specific requests that people in the group may have. How you do this is up to you. You could have a section for prayer at the end, but just make sure you finish the study on time so that people can share anything they’d like prayer for. Again, if you have a large group, praying in smaller groups might be best if you’re short on time.

Alternatively, you could allocate time before the study to pray through personal requests, so that this isn’t rushed at the end. I’ve found that this approach works quite well if you have a group that likes to talk a lot!

Venue

From my experience, I’ve found that midweek Bible studies work best in a home. People are more comfortable and relaxed, and are therefore more likely to be open and honest during the study. The host can provide drinks (and snacks) and background music can be played as people arrive.

I’ve also led studies at a neutral venue with other groups in the same room. While there are benefits to this, I personally found it harder to lead a study. The background noise from other groups isn’t ideal and although it can’t be helped, it can hinder your group’s discussion. If another group happens to finish early, noise levels can increase as your group is praying.

Other Thoughts

Socials

From time to time, you may wish to organise social events within your small group. These provide the opportunity for people to get to know each other better, and can be evangelistic. Depending on the diversity of the group, it might be difficult finding something that suits everyone. However, something simple like either going out for a meal or hosting a meal at someone’s house can work well.

Other options could include:

  • Cinema (though you may wish to combine this with going for food/drinks so that people can chat)
  • Going for a walk
  • Going to a concert
  • Hosting a barbecue

Social events don’t have to take place on the same day that you’d normally meet for a Bible study, but is often the best option given most people have other commitments during the week. Alternatively, after church on Sunday could be suitable.

Prayer emails

You could send an email each week to the members of your group with prayer requests that have been shared. This helps anyone who was unable to attend to still be able to pray and to be kept informed. Alternatively, you could use a WhatsApp group so that people can freely share prayer requests at any time, or invite people to a social event, etc.

Good luck!

Finally, the key thing to remember is that the Bible is all about Jesus. Your role as a Bible study leader is to show people this and encourage them in their Christian lives. Every passage in the Old Testament points to Jesus, and every passage in the New Testament is either about Jesus or points back to him. It’s a real privilege to be involved in church ministry such as this.

I hope you’ve found this post useful. Please do share it with others if it would be helpful to them. Feel free to comment with any questions or additional thoughts or tips you may have.

Missional Life – 1 Peter 5:1-14 – Sermon Notes

We all hope for all kinds of things. Some are good, some aren’t so good. If we’re Christians, God calls us to a different hope. Our hopes are often about our own situations in our lives now. The book of 1 Peter has lots to say about the hope we are called to (1:3-4). Hope is central to this letter. It’s a future hope (v1, 4, 6, 10). The Christian life is one of a living hope, sharing in Jesus’ glory until he returns.

The Christian life can only be explained by this living hope

Live a good life now (2:12) even if it means being hated and accused of being wrong because Jesus is coming back. Our hope isn’t just for now but for the future promised by God. Why would a Christian slave keep working hard? Only if they’ve got a living hope for something more than this life. Why would you go out of your way to show kindness to someone who’s hated you? Only if you have a living hope. It’s a wonderful way of living but it’s still hard. When Jesus comes back he will remake the world as it should be. We don’t deserve to be part of that.

It’s only possible to lead a church in the way Peter describes if you have this living hope. He was one of Jesus’ closest followers. What’s the motivation to be a humble serving church leader? Verse 4. Isn’t it just easier to want an easy life? Peter says to be submissive to church leaders. Humble service is only possible if you have this living hope.

The Christian life is shaped by this living hope

Living a missional life is about remembering that the whole Christian life is lived for the glory of God. That’s what helps us share the good news of Christianity with others. It’s hard (v7). It’s okay to be anxious if we’re taking our anxieties to God because he cares for us. Be self-controlled and alert (v8). The devil wants the pain of suffering to stop people from being Christians. He wants you to keep the fact you’re a Christian secret. The best way to resist him is to meet Christians in local churches. We are to support and challenge each other. We need to be reminded that we’re not alone when we suffer.

Are your choices shaped more and more by your living hope for Jesus’ return in glory, even knowing that this might mean suffering for you? How do you use your time, money and home? Seeing a Christian living with this hope speaks volumes.

Being Missional – 1 Peter 2:13-3:22 – Sermon Notes

Christians can live distinctively because of the living hope that we have. We live distinctively in order to point others to Jesus. Living distinctively, especially in tough times, is what allows Christians to share the hope that we have.

Noah is an example of a distinctive life. It’s a story of God’s judgement on the world. Noah is far from a perfect person but was the best of a bad lot. He listened to God and built the ark. He was ignored by others. Only eight were saved. Through Jesus’ death, God declares throughout history the justice of his rescue. Jesus rules over all. In one sense, the ark saved Noah, but it was simply the evidence of his faith in God. Baptism is a symbol of us dying and being risen to new life. We don’t think of it as being distinctive. For Peter’s first hearers that might have meant death. Peter says it’s worth it to be distinctive. It’s a way of saying that we’re not good enough.

Imagine living in a country with a corrupt government. The world says to get out of that situation. Start a resistance. We think it makes sense to get even. Peter says to submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake (2:13). It’s not easy to submit to injustice. Why? It’s distinctive. It gives Christians the opportunity to tell others about Jesus. What does our culture say? Fight back. It’s controversial to submit yourselves to your masters (2:18). Peter says even when they’re beating you, stay, because it’s a way of being distinctive. What does our culture say? Get out.

Peter says to be distinctive from the world. He says to repay evil with blessing (3:9). This isn’t a call to stay in harm’s way. We should encourage people to move away from abusive partners. Don’t take vengeance into your own hands. We’re called to follow Jesus’ example (2:21). We know that Jesus suffered unjustly. He lived the only perfect life (2:22-23). We point people to Jesus as we inherit a blessing (3:9). Peter quotes Psalm 34 in 3:10-12. We are called to live distinctively in every area of our lives.

Are you ready to give a reason for the hope that you have (3:15)? When we live distinctive lives for Jesus, people will ask us why. That gives us the chance to give a reason for the hope that we have. We have this hope because Jesus has rescued us.

How My Church Engages with People Living with Learning Disabilities

At our recent church weekend away, I attended a helpful seminar entitled In His Own Image, in which we looked at how, as a church, we can engage with people who live with learning disabilities.

In our church, we have three people who live with learning disabilities. They have trouble with speech, reading, and understanding the world around them. In the seminar we looked at what we have done over the last year to help them, and how we can further that ministry.

We began by reading Genesis 1, which tells us that we are all made in the image of God. We took it in turns to read a verse each, something we could all do without needing to think. For people with learning disabilities, that might have been extremely difficult. We must never assume that everyone can read. To illustrate this point, we then watched this video:

I think we all found it quite moving. You can see the amount of effort they had to put in to read and understand something that we had found so simple. It was a stark reminder that the gospel really is for everyone. No one is excluded. We are all made in the image of God, and that must include people who have learning disabilities. So how can the church best serve them and encourage them to grow as Christians?

It’s great to welcome people with learning disabilities into church, but we must do more than that. Around 18 months ago, a couple of people at our church started to think about this. One of the ideas was to start a midweek small group aimed particularly for people with learning disabilities. After lots of planning, thinking and praying, this small group launched in September 2017.

The group isn’t labelled differently but is treated in the same way as the other groups. After all,  its purpose is the same. Small groups exist to help people grow in their relationships with God and in their understanding of the Bible, and to encourage them to share the gospel with others.

The group is also open for others to join. Each week, there’s time for the group members to chat and catch up with each other, before a story or passage from the Bible is taught. The teaching is very visual, and so for visual learners or for others who find reading difficult, the group may be more suited to them. Large print Bibles are used, or printed copies of the passage, complete with illustrations to aid understanding.

Singing in church, or expressing worship can be difficult for those with learning disabilities. In the group, songs are sung with sign language. Once the group is familiar with a song, we’ll sing it in church and everyone is encouraged to join in with the sign language. This I Believe works really well with this.

Everyone in the group is encouraged to pray and there is always allocated time for this at the end of each session. An object is passed round so that everyone knows when it’s their turn. If they don’t want to pray out loud, they can just pass the object on. When the group started, no one prayed. Now, a year later, everyone prays. It’s hugely encouraging to see how each member of the group is growing in their faith and in confidence. Hopefully we will soon see them praying in other settings too, such as in church on a Sunday.

Alongside encouraging them in their faith, it’s important to encourage them in their mission to share the gospel with their friends. Everyone in the group knows others who aren’t Christians, and it’s been great to see them bringing friends to evangelistic events.

In the seminar, we also spoke of how people with learning disabilities often understand more than what we give them credit for. The problem is that they can struggle to show their understanding to us. We need to be aware of this and ask ourselves, “What can they teach us?” We’re all made in the image of God and we can all learn from each other.

I realise that we only scratched the surface of this topic in the seminar. There’s so much more that needs to be discussed and talked about. There are all kinds of learning disabilities. How can we do more to reach those who find it extremely difficult or impossible to come to church? People with a level of autism who aren’t comfortable in new situations may never get the chance to step inside a church. There are others who could come to church, but would find it too loud or overwhelming. Churches need to think carefully about these issues. They should work hard to come up with solutions so that everyone has the chance to hear and respond to the gospel.

As a church, we still have work to do in supporting those with learning disabilities. However I do believe we’re on the right track, and the ministry to them so far has been very encouraging.