During the conference in Amsterdam, I met with a long-time reader and had an interesting discussion with him about the name, nature, function, mission, and goals of study groups. Since then I had a few more discussions about this subject with readers from Europe, North America, Africa, and my local association. In all those exchanges, my goal was to explore what can be done to make study groups more appealing, practical, and useful to the readers and students of both the new and the old generations.
Looking at the directives expressed by the revelators in the Publication Mandate to create thousands of study groups, to train leaders and teachers, and to respond to the challenge to accomplish the mission of The Urantia Book as stated in the Foreword: to expand cosmic consciousness and enhance spiritual perception [0:0.2]—and to answer the other great challenge, to achieve better communication with the divine Monitor that dwells within the human mind [196:3.34], my questions are: Are the study groups fulfilling these goals? Or are study groups organized and facilitated without having any of these specific goals?
From these exchanges, I realized that study groups need to be revisited if they are to accomplish what the revelators possibly had in mind for them. Perhaps doing study groups for so many years and becoming somewhat complacent about them, we may gradually forget about their true purpose and importance while making them more intellectual and social instead of more spiritually progressive and attractive to a new generation of readers.
There is nothing wrong with the intellectual or social aspects of study groups as long has it does not overshadow their real purpose. For many years, there was not much being done to improve how study groups were organized or how they managed themselves, often reasoning that they were freer to pursue activities without any interference from any organization. Today, I believe, if study groups are to succeed in their mission to revitalize the world spiritually by elevating the consciousness of the majority of its inhabitants, Urantia organizations as well as study group hosts need to re-evaluate the true potential of those groups, and devise strategies to help them become more effective and appealing.
If we look at the name “study group” as an example, what comes to mind? For many, it’s mostly the intellectual aspect of the book. Our experiences as students in regular schools have conditioned us to think of study in a very limited way; maybe this appellation needs to be revised to respond better to the needs and mindset of the present generation of readers. Naming them “study groups” might have appealed to the earlier generations of readers, but today I think it needs to reflect and emphasize more its spiritual transformative power, not only its intellectual aspect.
Here is a description of the term “study group” found on the Internet:
A study group is a small group of people who regularly meet to discuss shared fields of study. These groups can be found in high school and college setting, within companies, occasionally primary/junior school and sometimes middle school/intermediate. Professional advancement organizations also may encourage study groups. Each group is unique and draws on the backgrounds and abilities of its members to determine the material that will be covered. Often, a leader who is not actively studying the material will direct group activities. Some colleges actively set up study group programs for students to sign up. Typical college level academic groups include 5-20 students and an administrator or tutor drawn from the graduate program or an upperclassman. Professional groups are often smaller. [Wikipedia]
Does this definition reflect what we are trying to achieve with Urantia Book study groups?
Modifying the name “study groups” would be just a first step in improving how they should be perceived and what they could accomplish. That modified name would have to reflect an orientation compatible with the spiritual mission of The Urantia Book as well as its intellectual dimension in order to enlarge our conception of cosmology, philosophy and religion. It also needs to reflect its transformative and progressive spiritual influence to encompass service-oriented activities. It is for no small reason that the revelators have strongly suggested that we study the time and life of Jesus, so we learn how to become living lights of truth.
You may preach a religion about Jesus, but, perforce, you must live the religion of Jesus. [Paper 196:2.1, page 2091.10]
The integration of the teachings of The Urantia Book in the life of its students should be one of the priorities of every study group. Such focus and orientation become a necessity when we strive to accomplish the mission that was given to us by the revelators. Many things come to play when we accept the responsibilities that such a mission requires of us, and many things we can do to live up to those responsibilities to the fullest of our capacity. A sincere dedication to participate in the spiritual mission of The Urantia Book is necessary if we hope to revitalize, improve, and modernize study groups.
“The future is not open to (your)mortal comprehension, but (you) will do well to diligently study the order, plan, and methods of progression as they were enacted in the earth life of Michael when the Word was made flesh.” [The Publication Mandate]
In today’s Urantia movement, the study group hosts are the spiritual lights that shine in many parts of the world; they are leaders and teachers whether they realize it or not. They have a tremendous responsibility and, as a brotherhood, considerable reserve of spiritual potential and power that can help change the world. If we could only imagine and actualize what the revelators foresaw in the potential of study groups, every serious reader and student of The Urantia Book would either participate in one or host one.
Descriptive words of things beautiful cannot thrill like the sight thereof, neither can creedal words inspire men’s souls like the experience of knowing the presence of God. [Paper 195:9.8, page 2083.4]
Study groups should focus more on the progressive integration of the teachings. They need to incorporate the exchange of experiences that enhance the values and meanings of the lessons being studied within the group. Such activities would open the doors to the expression of our spiritual potential in our day-to-day living and could be used to make the teachings more accessible to everyone.
By sharing these experiences, we could explore their spiritual, progressive, and transformative influence on us and others while keeping focused on the teachings. After teaching his Apostles, Jesus always sent them out to practice and teach the lessons learned. In this way, they would acquire firsthand experience by integrating these lessons. Once done, they would all meet again and share what they had learned. This was how the Master organized and managed the study group of his time.
Today we have access to many new technologies that can help enormously on how we gather for a study group. By means of internet programs like Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp, it is possible for isolated students and readers to meet at their preferred time. The Urantia Book Study Group Directory has a register of more than 80 virtual study groups in many different languages occurring at different times and days of the week. There are also groups that enjoy both meeting in person and in virtual at the same time. There are more than 400 regular groups listed in different directories managed by different organizations.
There is a plethora of study aids available today that were not available many years ago. These study aids can be used to improve the effectiveness of study groups by helping students visualize difficult concepts, or to understand the organization of the universe in its many forms and expressions. Efforts should be made to translate the best of those study aids and make them available in the Study Group Directory, so students of different languages could benefit from the work of other readers. Sharing experiences related to the teachings in newsletters or the Journal is also a great way to give life to the teachings of The Urantia Book.
There is also another responsibility that should be endorsed by every student and host of a study group, which is the one having to do with sharing the book and its teachings with the outside world. What better place than a study group to learn about how this can be done? Too often today, we rely on social media to do the work for us, or we relegate to the organizations this fundamental work of our common mission as an advocate of the revelation. Perhaps our hope or our impatience to see rapid changes in society and the world at large, has restrained our progress in the endorsement of our individual spiritual change and influence. We need to become the change that we want to see in the world—doing otherwise is not very effective for our mission.
Believing that The Urantia Book will, by itself, change the world is an immature response to what it contains and stands for—the teachings need to come alive within each one of us; they need to be integrated so as to make us a living expression of their values. Before a tree can grow and become mature, it grows a network of roots. Once this is accomplished, those roots will be the life-giving anchor to this tree, it will help it withstand the adversity of the elements and, as the tree matures, the whole earth will benefit from its many fruits. Study groups are the same; they are the network—the spiritual roots that will anchor the revelation to withstand the adversity of ignorance, prejudice and fear. Its participants are its branches that should manifest spiritual fruits.
Let us dwell on the fact that this revelation was given for the next one thousand years. This is how long the revelators predict it will take to be the lever that will bring this planet to the next era. So why are we in a rush? I have learned one good lesson in my life, and that is “do it well the first time or you will have to do it again later.”
Quality of living, quality of thinking, quality of worship takes a whole life to master, and Jesus has shown us how to do it by the example of his life. To master these three things, we need to acquire the cosmic and spiritual mindset contained in every part of The Urantia Book, not only some part of it. This is where study groups can help, as long as their hosts or facilitators understand and are focused on actualizing these goals.
In order for study group hosts to accomplish these goals, they need help to train themselves in the art of leadership, facilitating, and teaching. The network of study groups needs to be strengthened and improved; it needs to grow and have roots in every country of the world and in all the cities and villages of those countries. There are possible solutions to these challenges but many of them will be found by gathering study group hosts and having them engage in productive exchanges with each other. They can benefit and learn from their shared experiences, and organizations can help by offering punctual and regular training as well as places to meet.
Looking at study groups in such a way, visualizing their true spiritual potential, gives us new insights about their role and how important they are to the mission of the revelation. Isolated or divided through organizational politics or divergent intellectual and spiritual orientation, study groups will fail to accomplish their true purpose or, at worst, will diminish their attractiveness to readers and students alike. Good leaders and teachers in the Urantia movement should spring forth from effective study groups—groups that are focused on their real purpose of intellectually (cosmically) and spiritually uplifting their participants.
Let us all remember that we need to be the change that we want to see in the world [Mahatma Gandhi]. Until we become the living expression of this change, the world will keep spinning as it is now. So, I invite study group hosts as well as their participants to engage in deep thoughts and exchanges about the ideas I am expressing in this article in the hope that in a near future we can all gather together and improve how study groups could benefit the revelation.