One of the most common dilemmas new Bible study groups face is what material to study....
Bible or Christian book or DVD series?
If the Bible is chosen, then should it be a book of the Bible or a topical study?
Should we use existing study guides or encourage the leaders to write their own?
Which book is relevant to the group members? One might be relevant for some, but may disinterest others.
I'm not convinced there are any real rights and wrongs here. These are just some of the my personal thoughts and preferences.
One thing I do think is that the Bible should be studied. Why are some groups called Bible study groups when they don't study the Bible? When we joined our current group, Duncan and I were a bit dismayed that all they did was watch DVDs of sermons. We'd watch the sermon, but there would be no discussion afterwards over what we'd been learning. Everyone would talk about farming and shooting and then go home. I found it quite discouraging, and Duncan and I have been trying to gently suggest that we do Bible study of some kind. It helps to have questions which enable people to engage with the text rather than just passively watching. Now we're looking at The Truth Project which comes with some very thought-provoking questions, leading to more meaningful discussion and fellowship.
Christian books can be very helpful in understanding the Bible...but they're not the Bible. Books offer the author's point of view, but God's Word is powerful and cuts straight to the heart. Yes, we come to the Word with our own biases, but God is mighty to change us despite our cherished views. It may be helpful to study a book that is on the same topic as what you're studying in the Bible, but I think this should be done concurrently and not instead of the Scriptures.
Personally I think it doesn't matter whether you study the Bible systematically or topically - what matters is whether the study is done well. The temptation of topical studies is to exclude some verses of the Bible to make it say what you want it to say. Take some time browsing a Christian bookstore or the internet to select a well thought out study with questions that really make you grapple with the passage. When I was at uni, I was encouraged by the Christian Union to have a go at writing my own studies. This was a great experience and is a valuable skill to have, but I don't think this should be enforced within a group. People are already under the pump with their weekly schedules and don't need more guilt piled on top of them.
Relevance is more of an issue if the group is only studying books. God's Word, however, is relevant to all, no matter what you're studying. If you're selecting a book to read within the group, try to pick something more general. I find it discouraging in women's groups when some group members want to study books on marriage or motherhood at the expense of the single women in the group.
If you're leading a Bible study or thinking about it, then I highly recommend you read Leading Better Bible Studies by Karen Morris and Rod Morris.
The authors are adamant in their view that groups should be studying the Bible and they focus a lot on different learning styles for adults. It goes beyond the mechanics of running a group and explores the purpose for Bible study groups - so that people may love and trust Jesus more.
That is why I posted yesterday's verse. Although the context is food sacrificed to idols, the principle is the same for our groups. We don't want to study the Bible for head knowledge so we can lord it over those who know less. It's not just about knowing the Bible, it's about living it. And as we learn more from God's Word, we should be growing in our love for God and each other.