In this two-minute video, Terry Shue, former director of leadership development, shares about a new initiative, the Twelve Scriptures Project.
We believe the journey you are about to embark upon with your congregation is an exciting and formative one. We also believe this process of listening to the individuals and congregations across the land will be a powerful way to listen to the Spirit of God, speaking through the Word of God, discerned through the People of God! No matter where your congregation is at, no matter what size your congregation is, we would love for you to enter into this process and share the results. The desired outcome of finding the twelve Biblical texts which are dearest to the heart of your congregation is important, but likely not any more important than the process of arriving at these texts!
This process grows out of our denominational priority of Christian Formation which states:
“This first and highest priority commits us to fashion and mold our lives after that of Jesus Christ. As the sent One of God, Jesus sends us into the world. As missional communities, our congregations, conferences, and agencies will ensure that people are invited to make a commitment to Christ, discipled in the way of Christ, taught to engage with the scriptures, helped to develop Christian identity from an Anabaptist/Mennonite perspective, and given the capacity to cultivate their vocational calling. (Matthew 28:18‐20, Romans 8:28‐30, Colossians 1:28‐29, 2 Timothy 1:5; Articles 17 and 18, Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective)
Our intent is that congregational members at any and all ages are engaged in some way. We also desire that persons who have been raised in the church and immersed in the Bible, as well as those who may be new to the faith and in your congregation for only a short time can contribute in a meaningful way.
You as the leader will go a long way in helping to validate and encourage the voice of all participants of the congregation to be heard. The process outline below is a general format which can and should be modified to fit the congregation you know best, while allowing space for all voices to be heard.
The process can be done over several one-hour meetings, or a longer retreat setting. Each step should be done in sequence before moving on to the next steps. The time listed is a suggestion and will need to be adjusted to your specific setting.
Along the way I encourage you to have fun with the process and the end result. Take some pictures and tap someone on the shoulder to write up a short story of your congregation’s particular process of arriving at your “Twelve Scriptures”. Or how about making a video of your congregation acting out each one of the scriptures on your list? How many people in your congregation can you get involved? All of them? We would love to have these stories and videos posted and shared in a way to create interest for other congregations to do the same for themselves.
When the list is completed, explore ways which you as a congregation will intentionally work with, dwell in, teach and keep alive these important scriptures for the next generation. In what ways can you use the arts and artists in your midst to help tell the story? Where can they be placed, told, studied and remembered?
Things to consider along the way:
- Context – How are these texts particularly important to your context? How do these texts connect with your current context more than they might have 50 years ago? Why?
- Mission – How do these texts inspire and direct the vision of your congregation?
- Values – How do these texts support, express or build upon the core values of your congregation?
- Formation – How have these texts shaped persons in your congregation into Christ-likeness? How will they be used to do the same formative work for the next generation?
Small Groups or Sunday school classes
The following is an outline for the leader of a group of any size.
Items needed: supply of writing paper, 10 sticky notes for each person, large blank wall
- Begin with persons silently making a list of any and all the Bible texts they can think of. Think of Bible stories as well as wisdom, poetry and sections of letters which make up scripture. Encourage them to make the list as long as they can. 15 minutes
- Next have them individually go through that list and if there are more than 10 texts on their personal list, circle the top ten scriptures that have shaped them personally. Don’t evaluate at this point, we just want to identify what these scriptures are. 10 minutes
- Hand out 10 sticky notes to each person. Have them write 10 texts, including a brief description of the text on each one of the sticky notes. 5 minutes
- Draw an imaginary line on the blank wall. With the creation story on the far left hand side of the wall, resurrection would be near to the right side. As a group, have one person place one text (sticky note) on a wall, in a representative place of where it would come in the Bible. This is repeated by others in the group, until all of the sticky notes would be placed on the wall. Some of the sticky notes will no doubt will be doubled for the same text, just stack them! 10 minutes (Affirm your small group’s Bible developing before your eyes!)
- As you look at what is on the wall, what do you observe? What texts are repeated? You may want to add sections to your continuum in ways N.T. Wright does in the “Five Acts of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus, Early Church, and continue up through church history until today. What sections can be seen in the work your group has done so far?
- What did you learn as a group from this process? Are there texts which have emerged which are clearly part of the “Twelve Scriptures” for your group? 15 + minutes
- Closing out this session, have the individual reflect upon why these texts important for them personally? How have the scripture passages on this list formed you in your Christian life? 15 + minutes
- If possible leave the sticky notes up on the wall for the following sessions.
In the same small groups or Sunday school classes-(Note: This is set up for 110 minute session, but may be the discussion topic of several sessions depending upon the interest of the group)
- Review what you observed and note the texts which have already received the most support and are likely to be on your list of the top 12.
- Continue the conversations until you come to the place where your class or group can agree on the remaining texts to come to the 12 most important texts of the bible. If the group is above a size where this can be done conversationally, you may want to lead a process of having persons place a check mark or sticky dot beside their personal preferences. Differently colored sticky notes may be helpful as a way to label agreed upon texts. 30 minutes
- List them in order of priority by the texts receiving the most nominations. Observations? What is the selection of these texts beginning to tell about your class or group? 20 minutes
- If your group would like to dig a little deeper, have them explore why these 12 texts, which have been identified, are important to them.
- Note to the leader: Be mindful of who speaks and who doesn’t. You want to hear from everyone! There will likely be persons who could talk all evening on this topic. There will also be those who are more thoughtful and quiet which have a story to tell as well. Your leadership will help balance the final voice of your group and empower and validate the faith story of all participants.
- Looking back, how have they formed your Christian identity? You may want to do this in pairs talking through the list and then open reporting in the smaller group. Or it might be something each person could work on in a few minutes of silent reflection and writing about what each text on the list means to you.
- Looking forward, how are these texts being lived out today to continue shaping you and your congregation into the likeness of Christ? 30 minutes
- In preparation for the next phase, groups should prepare a piece of paper for each of the twelve texts, with the text reference and a few words of explanation. “Parting of the Red Sea”, for example. On this same sheet write notes of how this text has been formative to your group and important for the future of the church. 30 minutes
Congregational meetingNote: Depending upon the size of the congregation, this phase may need to be several of the smaller groups coming together to find consensus before coming together before the whole congregation.
- Representatives from each of the smaller groups give a presentation to the larger group of their top twelve texts and a brief explanation of why they are important to them. Depending upon the congregation, either sticky notes, copier paper, news print or power point should be prepared beforehand for this step in the process. Those scriptures from the groups should be placed on a wall as was done for session one. Creation stories on the far left and resurrection near the right end. 30 minutes
- What do you observe? What are the surprises? Where are the similarities which are undeniable? Are there several texts which come up enough that they are clearly part of the top 12 texts for your congregation? Get congregational approval on these texts and then set them aside in a different place on the wall, they are already in the “Twelve Scriptures”. 10 minutes
- Look at the remaining list of texts. Are there any in the list which did not get any duplication? With the whole group’s permission, take off the list those which are not supported by any other group, meaning there were no other group which put up that particular text. 10 minutes
- To determine the remaining texts for your “Twelve Scriptures” Bible Texts, the congregation will need to determine which of the many yet represented will make the list for your congregation. One of the easiest and enjoyable ways to do this is with colored sticky dots. Each person in the congregation is given five sticky dots and told to put them on the scripture texts which remain in question. In quiet prayerful discernment, the congregation watches as the remaining passages “appear” before them as the will of the congregation is expressed. 10 minutes
- If there is not yet clarity on the full list, there may need to be a similar process to break a tie which is too close to call.
- If the group wants to press on, have table groups take a text and come up with statements which will express why this one text is important to your congregation. After 15 minutes pass the paper (or laptop) to anther table group and have them improve the draft statement. Pass it around to as many tables as you have time for. You will help the groups by giving them a specific number of words to work within, say 50 or 100. 30 + minutes – This could also become another whole session!
- As pastors and congregational leaders, discuss ways to bring your Twelve Scriptures into a format which fits your congregation. Include also a brief statement of why this text is important to your congregation.
- Where will they be seen publically in an ongoing way to keep them alive? Bulletin, framed in the lobby, etc.
- Dream together as a congregation how these texts can proactively become formative to each member of the congregation, young and old. How can they be used in your community of faith in study, worship and service? Small group studies, preaching topics, children’s stories, memorization, etc.
- Consider options like having members of your congregation make short YouTube videos acting out the text and then explaining why this text is important for your congregation today. Use them in morning worship, and share them with your conference and denomination!
- Develop monthly resources of dwelling in the word to live with these texts for a month at a time. What is God communicating to you through these important texts today! In what ways have you seen these texts lived out in your congregation? In what ways can your church put them into practice rather than just studied?
- Share your scripture list and some of your ideas with your conference minister and send them to the denomination to have them listed on our website. Consider writing a story about the process itself and what it did for your congregation to engage scripture in this way. Share them in your newsletter, conference papers and post on our denominational website.
- Enjoy the process as we continue the journey of being formed to the image of Christ!