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100 More Stand-Alone Bible Studies

100 More Stand-Alone Bible Studies

Pen Wilcock reflects on what inspired her to write accessible materials for small group studies.

I have such good memories of the home groups I’ve belonged to. When I think back on them, the friends I made come so vividly and easily to mind. Home groups work together with Sunday worship to gather and pastor the household of God, making the ministry of the word complete. On Sunday, the praises of the people and the preached word inspire and transform; then weeknight group discussions and shared stories, and the trust and honesty of friendship nurture faith and deepen understanding. This is how disciples are formed.

The knell of death to home groups must surely be crammed and over-structured study materials in the hands of insensitive leaders. People come prepared to open up, to know and be known. They’re served coffee and then there’s an icebreaker. This is often an activity – “Build a house of cards”, the instructions say (and in brackets, “7 mins”). Or it can be something to share – “Tell the group something about yourself that nobody else would know”, or going unexpectedly and radically deep: “In groups of two, share the most hurtful thing anybody ever said to you” (in 8 minutes!)

The group bursts into conversation. The allotted time having expired, the leader begins barking like a sea lion: “Er! Right! Right!” Frustrated because you were last to have a go at the house of cards and didn’t get to finish; embarrassed you couldn’t think of anything about yourself that everyone doesnt already know; raw and upset from the interrupted story you’d only just started telling your neighbour about the most hurtful thing ever said to you, you come back to the group already shut down before the main discussion has even begun. From there the session romps through weighty matters with insufficient time, one half-dealt-with question after another. When it goes like that, it’s all so ...unsatisfying.

Leading home groups well means respecting people's stories, questions, searching and insights. It’s about ensuring there’s time to hold space for someone undone by the disclosure of a heartbreak, honouring their depth of feeling – while ensuring the others still have their chance to contribute.

After decades of attending, observing and leading home groups, I decided to write my own Bible study materials, specifically created to encourage (and not shut down) sharing of personal outlook on life, and deepen exploration into the Bible and the Christian faith. 

So came about my book 100 Stand Alone Bible Studies, offering study material on Bible Pen Wilcock reflects on what inspired her to write accessible materials for small group studies. characters, the four gospels, walking in the light, the church year, the life of Jesus, and the law and the prophets. I structured each study with biblical extracts addressing the theme, a short commentary bringing out central ideas, then three open questions moving progressively deeper into exploring the faith material, designed to get people talking. Each study first offers lighter and non-threatening opportunities to share personally, then giving the chance to dig down into the matter under discussion. A short prayer concludes each study.

Pastors often tie in home group programmes with Sunday teaching, but gaps arise, and I aimed to group the studies into sections so home groups are not tied in to Sunday worship and could use this as their sole programme material. 

I piloted the materials, receiving encouraging reports back, and 100 Stand-Alone Bible Studies, complete with a careful how-to-use-this-book foreword, came out five years ago. 

In addition to providing the home group leaders’ support I’d intended, it emerged that the book offered another unexpected but pleasing bonus: it helped people new to leading home groups gain in confidence. Because the materials were not complicated or tightly timed, but were specifically designed to draw people out, it made them easy to lead as well as satisfying to participate in. 

Lion Hudson requested another volume, and in September published 100 More Stand-Alone Bible Studies, which looks at sacred moments in the Christian life, the way of discipleship, covenant, atonement, watchwords of the Christian faith, the “signs” in John’s gospel, and all the spiritual charisms given in the Bible. 

It follows the same concise and discussionfriendly outline, keeping the emphasis on the group’s sharing and exploration, and offering – as before – a support for the novice home group leader to gain confidence and the experienced leader a volume of stand-alone studies to turn to; it also proved useful for individual study. 

Canon Andrew White described the book as “totally outstanding and inspirational”. 

Penelope Wilcock is the author of The Hawk and the Dove Series and many other books such as In Celebration of Simplicity and 100 Stand- Alone Bible Studies. She has many years of experience as a Methodist minister and has worked as a hospice and school chaplain. Penelope is married to Tony Collins.


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