I realize, new freshmen, that you have been getting quite a spate of good advice from the Fishtank these past few weeks, and that it may be getting quite odious to you right now. After all, you want to go out, make your own mistakes, fail terribly, and garner experience so that when it is your time to be an upperclassman you can wisely give unsolicited advice to the freshmen in turn. However, I have just one more important piece of wisdom to impart—then classes will start up again, and I’ll have more things on my mind than just what I wish I’d known back in those hazy, long-ago days when I was young.
What I want particularly to tell you, to complement Jordan’s recent post about the necessity of finding a church, is that it really is necessary to find a peer Bible study, as well. This is distinct from going to worship services, on one hand, and studying the Bible on your own, on the other. Meeting together in a small group (ideally somewhere between five and twelve people) to really look in detail at the Bible and to pray fervently together is an important component of the Christian life. It gives you the opportunity to think deeply about why you believe what you believe; to share hard questions about the faith with people who may have faced the same questions before; to talk about the exciting new things that God is teaching you. A good Bible study is a place where you actively grow into the faith that you have received.
Now, I’m not going to say that being in a Bible study is always easy—I have had some awful Bible study experiences over the years (many of them my fault because I was the leader). There are all sorts of things that can go wrong, from acrimonious theological disagreement to lack of engagement to those awful times when no one shows up except the leader, and if you’re in a Bible study for any length of time you will probably reach a point where you wonder if it’s even worth going anymore. And here is my most important advice for you: persevere. Don’t give up the first time you feel like doing so. In my experience, God loves surprising us with unexpected treasures just when we really want to give up but decide to press on just a bit farther. There are times, of course, when it is necessary to leave a Bible study: when the disagreements are so violent as to become unhealthy, or God seems to be missing from what boils down to a social clique. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the ordinary difficulties that come when a group of redeemed-but-not-yet-perfected human beings, with all different backgrounds and all different aspirations, come together to learn together from our one perfect God. Because we are human, we are going to run into difficulties; but because we are part of the one body of Christ, God will use our experiences to teach us things about who he is and how we should live our lives that we wouldn’t learn any other way.