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In the Middle of the Story

There is beauty in sharing your story, by faith, before it is resolved.  It tells others, “this has not been resolved, but I trust God.”    I learned this in a study by Lori Povich called “40 Verses to Ignite Your Faith”, so I wanted to recommend small group studies about it.  

Start off this plan with “In the Meantime” led by Andy Stanley.  As one Amazon reviewer said, “This study puts trials we all face into the right perspective, reminding us to focus on the character of God and what He is doing through our circumstances, not on the circumstances themselves or on our own perspective”.

In the middle of the story we need to to know who God is and why it is good to wait on Him. We need to have the kind of strong faith that is built in the middle. We need hope. which comes from a long view of our lives (an eternal one in fact).

For a stronger relationship with God in unsettled times, check out, “The Power of Knowing God” by Tony Evans.  It is a powerful look at real intimacy, relationship and knowledge of God.  You’ll see that the middle of your story is part of His bigger one, when you keep your eyes on Him.

Studies to build your faith include “Everything is Possible with God” by Rick Warren and “Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith” by Andy Stanley.  These are both on this website and would be excellent to study back to back.

Pete Wilson’s “Let Hope In,” would great to close out a series on living in the middle.  As it says in the description for this study:  “Embrace the freedom of being okay with not being okay.” That attitude is a hallmark of life in the middle of the story.

Doing these studies as part of a series, under the topic of living in the middle of your story, will take about half year.   As the pandemic enters its second year with more unknowns, even as there is increasing hope, many of us feel unresolved.  Knowing God, having faith in Him and hoping in Him can be a beautiful part of your walk with God,  before your story is resolved.

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Don’t Miss This! FREE Galatians Bible Study

Right now, you can do the “Galatians: Accepted and Free” bible study led by Jada Edwards for free. Normally you would need a paid subscription to Study Gateway. Don’t pass up this great opportunity!

We reviewed this study in our blog entitled “Following Jesus in the New Testament”. Sometimes, you can do a bible study, finish it, and shortly thereafter forget much of what you learned. That will not be the case with “Galatians: Accepted and Free”.

We recommended this study to friends and what we always hear back is “This is great!” or “Thank you for telling me about this!” and “We are enjoying this study so much!”


The study begins May 10th. It’s not too early to register and get all the freebies that come with this study. These are items you will engage with during the study and refer back to when it ends.

Register at: https://www.faithgateway.com/galatians-accepted-and-free-obs-registration/?utm_source=facebookauthorpost&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=galobs&utm_term=fgobs&utm_content=fb_jadaedwards

As it says in the promotional materials: Jada Edwards shows why it’s so important to know in the deepest recesses of your soul that you are wholly and fully accepted in Christ, by Christ and, through Christ. From your birth, God has called and chosen you — yes, you!

This study will give you hope and plant you on firm ground that can never be taken away – the love of God.

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Following Jesus in the New Testament

Janice and I have been meeting in a weekly SKYPE-enabled bible study for almost two years. Our first meeting was in July, 2019. By the end of 2021 we hope to be near the halfway point of the 27 books of the New Testament. As we approach the two year anniversary of our virtual bible study, we wanted to review the studies we have done.

We decided in the beginning to work through the books of the New Testament so we could look back and know we had covered some ground in getting to know Jesus. When we approach the end of a study, we do ask God to guide us to the next one and pray over the one to do next. We sought studies that had us in the Word of God at least three to five days a week. This required that they have study guides that had us engaging with verses and asking ourselves personal faith maturing questions, as well as offering us ideas for application in daily living. The Apostle Paul wrote many of the books of the New Testament. We learned, after doing a couple of them in a row, to put space between each bible study that involved a book written by him, because he repeats many of his points and we wanted to come at them fresh each time we read them.

We studied (in New Testament book order, not the order we went through them, with links to video introductions):
· The Book of Mark with Francis Chan
· Determined: The Book of Luke with Heather Dixon
· The Book of 1 Corinthians with Jennie Allen
· Galatians: Accepted and Free with Jada Edwards
· The Book of Ephesians with J.D. Greear
· The Book of Philippians with Jo Saxton
· The Book of Colossians with Louie Giglio
· The Book of James with Francis Chan
· The Books of 1, 2 & 3 John with Tony Evans
· Jude with Jackie Perry Hill
· The Book of Titus with Chip Ingram (current study)

Our top five favorites from the studies we’ve done so far (and why) are:

#1) Jude by Jackie Hill Perry

We learned the most from this study. We remain amazed at how much content she gleaned from this smallest of the Gospel books. She does not hold back in her sermons, but puts sharing His truth over our comfort. Painful though this felt sometimes, it was also gratifying to know it meant our personal growth. More than that, she taught us to break down our bible reading to look for similar patterns in other books of the bible. Great discussions came out of this study. A study excels for us when it sends us searching for answers between weeks and this study did that for us weekly.


#2) Galatians: Accepted and Free by Jada Edwards

This study was a close second for us. The study guide was simple, but the questions made us look closely at our walk with God. And every week, Jada emphasized how much we are loved by God and how much that should direct our steps and our attitude. The videos are very engaging because they are filmed to make it feel as though we were sitting at home with her talking about Jesus. Jada emotes a sense of walking alongside her study companions with empathy and love, which comes across in the study guide, too.

#3) The Book of 1 Corinthians by Jennie Allen

This was our first study. Jennie Allen is a very engaging teacher, committed to helping her listeners see how much better life is in the face of difficulty, if we live for God. We loved that the filming of the videos had Jennie walking in the footsteps of Paul in southern Greece. She did a great job of applying biblical principles to everyday life. The study guide was a great mix of historical context and biblical wisdom. This is the first we did of the studies written especially for RightNowMedia.org and we highly recommend the format as a great way to do bible study.

#4) The Books of 123 John by Tony Evans

We loved this study so much, we can not wait for Pastor Evans to finish writing and recording the studies for the book of John. He does an amazing job of helping his listeners remember his teaching through analogies and word pictures. The study guide is similar to all RightNowMedia.org guides with homework that can be spread out over five days, ending with ways to apply what you learn. This study does not shy from asking convicting questions to help us grow in our walk with God, which is another reason it is memorable and impactful. This study is taught with the conviction of a wise, caring, but determined elder that offers a lot of grace, but doesn’t accept excuses when he knows that God offers us better than we can offer ourselves. Please note that the videos and study guide are available only through Right Now Media.

#5) The Book of James by Francis Chan

Be prepared to see your attitude and behavior change as you do this study. That is the way it was for us. Francis Chan is a passionate teacher of God’s word as it was spoken and written, not as we wish to hear it. This study is about true Christian living – not seeking only to be happy, but to be holy. The study guide questions walk the reader through plenty of context, but also ask meaningful questions like, “If you made this the “goal of your life,” to grow in holiness even if it meant suffering, how would that change your life?” We finished this study feeling like we had been with a true spiritual mentor teaching us truth about faith. Please note that the videos and study guide are available only through Right Now Media.

The two studies we felt we learned the least from were “Determined” ( based on the Gospel of Luke) by Heather Dixon and The Book of Philippians by Jo Saxton. These were obviously well-researched bible studies. So why didn’t they work for us? We did not feel as though we connected with either of the teachers. There did not seem to us to be a cohesion to the lessons or an overarching theme we could identify. We also agreed that the videos seemed to be more fluff than helpful teaching.

We can’t know how a study will go until we get into it. And when they are less than engaging we go to God and ask Him to help us learn anyway, when it is a struggle to do so from the teaching style or content. Even though each study did not bring us joy and may not have been stellar in presentation, teaching ability or content, we are excited to be walking on the path that Jesus walked.

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Christian Leadership Studies

Small group ministry is about making disciples.  Any member of a group may decide to birth a group of their own one day.  The Word of God spreads further and further through those disciples.

One of the characteristics of a disciple is their willingness to lead others to Christ.   In that spirit, I want to highlight some of the Small Group Advisor bible studies with messages for leaders.  Doing these would be great for a brand-new small group to get off to a strong start.   For a seasoned group, any one of these would be great refreshers.  

A great starting point is, “All In” by Mark Batterson. Strong small groups start with a strong relationship with Jesus.    As Mark states in the study, if Jesus is not Lord of all, then Jesus is not Lord at all.   Christian leadership begins with giving Jesus lordship over everything. This study will walk the group through exactly how to do that.

“Too Busy Not to Pray” by BIll Hybels, is an excellent study, because making disciples is filled with troubles if we don’t invite God into the process. This study is an excellent look at the power we gain when we make time for prayer.  

“Community” by Andy Stanley, a rich look at what small groups and life in community can be through Christ.  This study is all about how small groups bring intentionality to relationships that honor God while He uses them to make us more like Him. 

“The Case for a Creator,” “The Case for Christ”, or “The Case for Faith”, teaches how to strengthen our evangelism.  These Lee Strobel studies are foundational to being able to speak with confidence about Christianity, another key characteristic of Christian leadership. 

There are many good resources on the Host Resource page of Small Group Advisor that are suitable for leaders and leaders in training.  The time you put into reviewing these, either as a leader or as a small group, will yield endless benefits for your discipleship journey.

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Doing God’s Will in a World Gone Wild

Have you heard small group members talk about discord they’ve experienced?  “If I have to hear one more negative comment about (insert name of political candidate they admire) I am going to explode!”  Or, “I have the worst neighbors!  They always (insert an unpleasant behavior).”  And there is always, “I’m going to give up all my social media; people’s posts have become so toxic!”

The madness of the year 2020 did not die in the year 2021, but Christians are called to look at eternity, not current circumstances.  Are you looking for studies to help you with all the divisiveness in our world – with a view to eternity in mind?   What about studies that teach how to show the love of Christ to family, friends or neighbors who are divisive in their politics or inflammatory in their behavior or comments?   Or studies to teach you how to do God’s will in this wild world in which we are living?   Look no further than these great studies, all found on Small Group Advisor.

Speaking the truth in love

“Keep it Shut” by Karen Ehman is a study about how our mouths can contribute to either discord or love.  Speaking the truth in love and dealing with our anger verbally are just two of the important areas covered in this six session study.

Connecting with others through love

“You Make me Crazy” by Rick Warren is all about loving those we find unloveable.  As it says about the study:  “We all have relationships that drive us crazy. Whether it’s a boyfriend or girlfriend, spouse, sibling, parent, co-worker, or crazy relative you see once a year at Thanksgiving, a crazy-maker can really make life difficult.  This six session video study from Rick Warren will help bring sanity to your relationships so you can do more than just coexist. Learn how to connect with the crazy-makers in your life through these six sessions.”

Living and showing love

“Start Becoming a Good Samaritan” by Michael Seaton is a six lesson course on changing the world through the kind of love shown by the Good Samaritan – love that acts. How can we not be excited about this study from the description alone, as a study “that will help your group look at issues like poverty, social injustice, the pandemic, the environment (all the hot buttons for divisiveness in our communities) and teach you how to make an impact today.”

Two Not On This Site  

Not listed on this website, but definitely on point for these divisive times are the two Bob Goff studies, “Love Does” and “Everybody, Always”.  Both of these studies teach about why we love and how we begin putting love into action.

 Let’s make 2021 a year with small groups all over the globe studying ways to shine the light of Jesus’ love into the darkness of discord and division.

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The Spiritual Growth Triad: Giving, Praying, Fasting

We are about halfway through the 2021 Lenten season, so while it may be too late to start a small group study about Lent this year, there are three elements of Lent that are worth studying any time, all year. They are:

* giving, the way we manifest the love of God to others;

* prayer, the way we connect with God;

* fasting, what we give up to draw closer to God. 

As you consider which topic and series to study, start by reading Matthew 6:2-3 which provides Jesus’ direction on giving, Matthew 6:5-13 regarding praying, and Matthew 6:16-18 on fasting, then reviewing the following suggested studies.

The premiere study on giving is Randy Alcorn’s four-session video “The Treasure Principle”.  Covering the treasure, the spirituality, the sacrifice, and the joy of giving, each session ends with a practical “live it out” guide for experiencing what you learn. Throughout the study, participants are encouraged to interact with God over the issues surrounding giving.  This is not a video study. Participants would be asked to do the readings between sessions and review the discussion questions together at the meetings. The study guide and optional companion book can be found here:

If you search the topic of “prayer” on the Small Group Advisor website, you will find many to choose from.  I want to highlight “Prayer – Does it Make Any Difference” by Phillip Yancey.  You will not find the soft-spoken Yancey to be the most exhilarating teacher, but the material is essential if you want to understand the most important aspect of our relationship with God – our communication with Him through prayer.  Yancey answers the most common questions about prayer and blesses participants with concrete answers and applicable reasons for and ways to pray.

The term fasting means to “abstain from” which covers a lot more ground than food and drink.  It is also about getting yourself uncluttered so there’s room for the best that God has for you.  It may mean giving up strongholds, in which case  “Goliath Must Fall”  by Louie Giglio would be a great study.  It could mean turning away from your discontentedness to seek the contentment only God can bring, so you’ll want to study “Satisfied” by Jeff Manion.  Maybe a study on abstaining from the need to control is in order.  Karen Ehman’s “Let. It. Go.” is a perfect fit.  Her six week studio teaches participants to put God in the driver’s seat and the benefits of surrender.

Any of these studies will serve to deepen your spiritual growth, so consider doing them in a row, over several months, to truly bring the spirit of Lent to your small group experience.

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DIVERSE BIBLE STUDY TEACHERS

With so much attention on diversity and inclusion right now, this seems like a good time to highlight  video studies from diverse Bible study leaders who are excellent at bringing the Bible to life for those who want to grow in their faith.  And isn’t diversity in our studies a good idea overall?   If we only ever listen to one spiritual teacher, especially one who is aligned perfectly with our own opinions and experiences, how can we hope to truly grow in our faith?  Mix it up!  Choose teachers of the gender opposite yours, teachers whose skin color differs from your own, teachers raised in other cultures, and so on.

Starting with my personal favorite, Jackie Perry Hill, her study on the book of Jude is probably the best I have ever done.   Her sermons are engaging and thought provoking and she brought the overlooked book of Jude to life for me.  A highlight of her study is the way she teaches her audience to go deep in any book of the bible.    She mined the book of Jude for all it was worth and has me waiting anxiously for her next study.  Her book of Jude study is available here:

You can not go wrong with Tony Evans if you want to remember what you learn in your studies months after you are finished with them.   He is a master of the analogy and word pictures that grab your mind and take hold, when he drives home a point.  My favorite from his John 1,2,3 study is the idea of our mind as a receiver and how it will not receive if it is not tuned in!   Simple, but effective!  You can find many Tony Evans studies at Amazon.com including Kingdom Marriage.

“Galatians, Accepted and Free” by Jada Edwards, is a study not to be missed.  Picture yourself in the living room of a funny, smart, transparent  friend who is teaching you about God’s deep love for and acceptance of you, and how to receive His good intentions for you.  That is exactly what it is like to participate in Jada’s study, available here:  

All three of these teachers are passionate that all should know the love of Jesus.  It is apparent how connected they stay to God, and how much work they put in to their studies to help unlock the Bible for all seekers.  These studies are very accessible and ask questions to help you go deep in your faith while encouraging growth in your journey.  

If you are looking for diverse teachers in the Top 100 studies on Small Group Advisor, look no further than Bianca Juarez Olthoff and her “Playing with Fire” study, or either of the Frances Chan studies, “Forgotten God” and “Crazy Love”.  

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SMALL GROUP COVID STYLE

I have been a group organizer all my life. Moving to Minnesota 20 years ago, I needed to meet people quickly, so I formed a “Little Girls Play Group” at which my daughter could also meet friends. Soon after, I hosted a Moms in Touch group in my home. I am a founding member of a 15 year old women’s book club and two years ago, I started hosting a Spiritual Book club with three women that has grown to six. I twice took on the daunting (for me) task of being a small group leader for young women in high school and then in middle school. With a lot of prayer and encouragement from friends, I began a Women’s Bible Study in my home one summer that turned out to be a much needed tonic for the women who attended. It is rare that I am not leading or joining a bible study group.

And then came COVID. With this horrible virus raging, there would be no in-person meetings. It was my weekly SKYPE bible study with my dear friend, Janice, creator of this site, that gave me an idea for a new kind of Small Group.

I started this group like all the others, by asking God what I should do, who I should invite and how it would work. What He organized was a group of five women who all know each other at least by sight, if not more closely. We are: one in Texas, one visiting Texas for the winter, one who lives two hours north of me and one who lives nearby, but not a group that could meet in person even if COVID were conquered. Once a week we log into Zoom or Facebook Messenger’s new video app and spend an hour studying God’s word and exchanging prayer requests.

It takes a little adjusting to do bible study virtually. We do miss the casual fellowship over coffee and tasty nibbles before discussion begins. Also, women have a tendency to all talk at once and we have learned to slow down and listen before we make ourselves heard. We have also learned to be patient and have a lot of grace for each other when we experience the inevitable technical issues of a virtual meeting. You may not believe it until you experience it for yourself, but the praying we do for each other can feel as close and comforting as the hugs which are inadvisable for now.

Our first study was Don McLaughlin’s “Love First”. You can get the DVD of videos at ACU Press Books, and you can download the small group questions in this PDF.

We all agreed this was a great study for COVID times, because as we have less opportunities to know people by meeting with them in person, the more likely it is we will judge them. The “Love First” study took us through 1 Corinthians 13 in the most meaningful way I have ever studied it, and we truly learned how to love God and love others through this study.

If starting a virtual bible study seems daunting to you, remember these truths: “Nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37 NIV) and “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

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NEVER A BETTER TIME TO START A SMALL GROUP

If the Small Group Advisor was going to have a theme verse, it would be Hebrews 10:25*: “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another”.

You aren’t going to find a lot of verses or stories in the Bible in which God encourages us to go it alone. He tells us to rely on Him: Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. (John 15:4) He reminds us we need each other: The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18) and “A cord of three strands is not easily broken“. (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Has there ever been a more important time for us to encourage each other as we face COVID, political divisions and unsettled economic times? Following are a few items to consider about starting a small group.


Who to Invite: This may require you to step out in faith (I’m no good at leading, I don’t know anyone, what if people say “no” may be running through your mind.) Get creative with this. Are there a group of people you’ve been wanting to get to know better? From your neighbors to your exercise class, your continuing education classmates to your bunko group, the pool is probably endless. Start with a period of prayer of several weeks, asking God to identify people He wants you to invite. Invite prayer partners into this process with you.

How to Organize A Small Group: Acts 2:42 says it all: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Plan on choosing a study from the Small Group Advisor. Arrange to meet regularly. Include a meal as simple as soup and bread or an easy dessert that group members take turns providing. Pray at the opening and closing of every meeting. The opening prayer invites God into your time together and the closing prayer can be popcorn prayers sent up as you go around the group. NOTE: This is the ideal, post COVID scenario. In the meantime, a ZOOM or Facebook Messenger Video group chat can be just as meaningful and the only piece missing will be the meal.


How to Choose a Study: You aren’t going to find a better source than this Small Group Advisor website. Poll your members about topics of interest or books of the bible and filter by your group makeup: women, men, couples, etc. There are even a few listed under the “New Small Group” filter to get you started.

How to Encourage Commitment: Arrange a fellowship meeting the first time you gather, before you begin a study. Get to know each other through an icebreaker topic such as “why did you want to join a small group?” “What do you hope to get out of this small group?” “Are there any concerns you have about being in a small group?” Make sure everyone understands the importance of regular attendance and doing the between-meeting Bible study work. Nothing will frustrate group members more than differing levels of commitment. Everyone should have a sense of ownership of the health of the group.


So much good comes out of participation in a small group: a sense of being known, the assurance that people are praying for you and the privilege of praying for them, personal spiritual growth, support during hard times and people to celebrate with during good times, the knowledge that you are obedient to the call of God to come together in community, and finally, a closer walk with God who will be with you every step of the way. ” For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them“. (Matthew 18:20)


*All verses cited are from the NIV edition of the Bible.