Small Group Leadership: How to encourage faithfulness in the homework preparation
My high school was in my review mirror almost forty years ago. In that 40 years, I have seen far more people struggle with a willingness to do homework than people who want to do homework. Homework is often seen as childish or something that had to be done during school and it should not be required of adults.
However, another term for homework is biblical practice and that comes from Philippians 4:9, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:9)
The unwillingness to do homework, or biblical practice, comes from people who do not understand their purpose after trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Once a person becomes a child of God (John 1:12), they enter a phase of life that requires sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being set apart to God in thoughts, words and actions. Paul writes, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.” (1 Thes. 4:3) If God’s will is your sanctification, then you as a Christ-follower need to understand what is involved.
Sanctification is not a mystical process. It is the process of becoming set apart for the Lord Jesus Christ in His work on earth. Sanctification is accomplished by the Word, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17).
Sanctification is empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit initially sets the believer apart to God at salvation called regeneration. (Tit. 3:5) The Holy Spirit baptizes, or identifies, the believer into the body of Christ out of the world (1 Cor. 12:13). It is the Holy Spirit who guides the believer into truth, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (John 16:13).
Sanctification is accomplished by faith. Faith initiates God’s work in your life. There are spiritual disciplines1 that you can practice in order to grow in your relationship with the Lord.
Homework is a major component in the sanctification process. It is the process of putting into biblical practice what you learn from Scripture (Phil. 4:9). It is a means of being a doer of the word as James writes, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (Jam. 1:22) And how do you become a doer of the Word? James continues,
· 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;
· 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
· 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (Jam. 1:23-25)
How does a believer become a doer of God’s work? He becomes a doer by continuing in it, or practicing what he learn, or what we call homework. Any other attitude is complacency, laziness, or even pride.
So how can you encourage homework preparation? Here are several suggestions. First, make sure you have answered the questions. In other words, do the homework yourself. If you as the leader come unprepared, why should anyone else prepare? Doing the homework will give you insights on how you might lead the discussion and help you think of follow-up questions. Doing the homework is not so that you can provide the answers, but when there is a long pause, you may be able to prompt the discussion by providing one of the answers that you have recorded.
Secondly, tell people you are going to be discussing the questions and prep work is important. Make sure your group knows doing the homework is one of the expectations for a fruitful discussion. Doing the homework is part of being other-centered, because they are learning to contribute to the discussion rather than just soaking in the discussion. “Life is not about me,” it is about Jesus Christ and loving others. Homework prep is part of loving others.
Thirdly, let people know you are not merely talking off the cuff. Ensure people know by your page of notes completed, that you have done your work. You don’t make an issue of that completed homework, but you do have it done and it will be obvious by your facilitation that you have done your homework.
Fourthly, affirm people that the more they prepare, the better the results they will acquire from the discussion. Homework is a little like meditation. Scripture reading is an important spiritual discipline. Yet, meditation on passages of Scripture is also an important spiritual discipline that allows the Holy Spirit to guide a believer deeper into the Word. Meditation is thinking over and over on the passage, like a cow chewing its cud, so that you gain more spiritual value from God’s Word. That homework prep will provide a more fruitful discussion for the sake of the group, not just the individual. In fact, ask the people for what they have written down, not just what they think. That will enforce that they need to prepare by writing down the answers before arriving to home group.
Fifthly, affirm people in the homework done. Highlight with a testimony of one who prepared ahead of time to describe what they are learning. That testimony of God’s work as a result of doing the homework may be the prompting that will motivate another believer to ramp up their spiritual walk with the Lord and take the time to do the homework.
Homework is not schoolwork. Homework is not childish busy-work. Homework is not a curse. Homework is a part of God’s plan which shows a believer’s faithfulness and desire to please God. Homework shows his personal desire to press on to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Your investment into doing the homework will provide a great spiritual return and ministry to other people.
1I discussed 15 Spiritual Disciplines under the following three links. There are five disciplines discussed under each link and the last five are the most difficult disciplines to learn for Christians: