Your support is helping expand Progressive Christianity. We are one of the largest sources for progressive theological perspectives, as well as our thousands of resources. It is hard to overstate their value – every time you donate it expands our ability to do all those essential offerings even better. DONATE NOW!

Bible Study, A Wholistic Approach

Question & Answer


Q: By Tom

I’m a mostly retired (progressive) Presbyterian pastor who is working (less than) part time with an amazing — generous, dwindling, compassionate, creative and dying urban congregation. Some of the saints have been “here” for 50 years… and they’ve never “done” any regular Bible Study! Lot’s of simple Sunday sermons. No background, history, context…. They’re faithful, mostly ‘literal,’ pretty accepting and curious… in a “gosh, we never thought of that, before…” sort of way. How can I encourage (what gentle effective resources are there?) their actual “study” of the Bible, and not just smile at their one-dimensional acceptance of its stories and layered meanings? I (try to) lead an hour or so Bible Study before each of my two-Sundays-a- month preaching gigs… and am amazed at (and grateful for) their participation, receptivity, and curiosity… about the coming Sunday’s texts. How can I offer a more systematic, “remedial,” wholistic approach to the great Biblical stories, promises and callings? 

A: By Rev. Jessica Shine


Dear Tom,

I love your heart for the people you’ve been called to serve and I equally love your value of the Sacred Text! I also love the congregation’s willingness and interest in studying and learning together with you.

First, let me say this is a normal congregation, as far as Bible study goes. Some fundamentalists like to pride themselves on a different understanding of the word, and yet the typical congregation knows about as little as any other slice of Christianity. Similar to politics, we’re not used to fact-checking or reading outside of what we’ve been told. Then we begin to see text through only that lens and box ourselves into a theology that may or may not be helpful. Even though it sounded good at the time!

It also sounds like you’re off to a great start! What helped me in the local church in getting people to study for themselves was to model it; through my teaching/preaching up front as I told stories about my own devotional/study life. It also helps that you’ve got them in a group already, so they’re ‘test-driving’ what you’ve been teaching them in a safe group setting.

In my opinion, the next step would be to give them tools to encourage their own study, and invite them to bring that back to your group. I’d also try to invite a few other voices with various perspectives on sacred text. Perhaps a 5-minute perspective during a sermon from a local rabbi or imam on that same text from their tradition. Or a guest minister from your town could share a different perspective in your group study and why they believe it, of course safety would be a necessity as no one wants to feel as though they’re being converted.

A couple of resources that have helped me in my work have been simple acronyms I’ve picked up along the way. One is called SOAP (scripture, observe, apply, prayer). This is a simple way to help folks create a devotional habit and try out their own understanding. The first step is to select a scripture, this can be a book you read through together, or following the liturgical calendar. Then to observe the text as though you were there, use your senses (what do you see, hear, smell, feel, taste). Then application, in other words how does this matter to me? Then offering a prayer of gratitude. I enjoy using this process as I journal because it helps me save my reflections and I’m able to go back to them. The application is the ‘meat’ for me, as I’ve never understood the value of just ‘reading’ something without experiencing it and wrestling with it!

There are also great resources on the website! Under the “Resources” tab, click on “Gathering Planning”. Then scroll to select what you need based on a book of the Bible or a topic. A great one listed is Marcus Borg’s Evolution of the Word”. Perhaps you have a favorite that has helped in your journey of faith. In any case, you’re doing a great job of guiding. Thank you for getting them into the text rather than just talking about it!

Blessings on the continued journey!

~ Rev. Jessica Shine

About the Author
Rev. Jessica Shine earned degrees in theology and divinity, but still hasn’t figured out how to walk on water. Despite this, she was ordained to ministry by the Seventh-day Adventist church and continues offering spiritual care as a clergy member of The CHI Interfaith Community (based in Berkeley, CA). With two decades of experience serving church communities, police officers, hospital staff, and teenagers, Shine has a passion for people and a skill for communicating in transformative ways. She is a descendant of Mexican, Indian, and Western European immigrants. Her spirituality began in childhood, was influenced by Jimmy Swaggart and Mother Theresa, and continues in the Pacific Northwest. She dwells on lands where Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Bands of Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla and many other tribes made their homes. Shine also co-hosts a podcast on death and dying called “Done For” (available on iTunes, Google, and at

Review & Commentary