The Importance of Study Groups

Susan OwenI had the pleasure of attending the Study Group Symposium held last June in Madison, Wisconsin. I came away with some great ideas; but the biggest thing I ended up with was a number of big questions arising from these statements in the Publication Mandate, “An early publication of the Book has been provided so that it may be in hand for the training of leaders and teachers.” “Thousands of study groups must be brought into existence…”

Pretty good advice, but I wondered – could study groups be the vehicle by which the training of leaders and teachers most easily takes place? How do we find and identify these teachers and leaders? I don’t see any in my study group. Well, maybe a few candidates, but really… do we need training? And what would we be training them to do? We have been reading together for over 35 years and we are doing just fine.

These questions continued to haunt me, as I have faith that the revelators would not have given us such instructions if it wasn’t important. As my study group began reading Paper 99, I thought, “boy, these ‘religionists’ of the future are sure going to be something.” But more questions arose. Does the social, economic and political reconstruction described in the first three sections of Paper 99 have anything to do with the “present ideological struggle” referenced in the Publication Mandate? Do we need these ‘religionists’ now during our current ideological struggle? Are these ‘religionists’ the teachers and leaders spoken of in the Publication Mandate?

I recently came across a presentation given by William Wentworth from Australia at the 2012 International Conference in Medellin, Colombia entitled “We Teach What We Are.” After reading it, I recalled many of the passages in The Urantia Book that ask us to bear the fruits of the spirit, to consecrate our will, to supremacize our desire, to know God and strive to be like Him. And suddenly it was so clear. Every one of us who studies and cherishes the teachings in The Urantia Book is that ‘religionist,’ that teacher or that leader who needs to be trained. That’s you and me and our study group members! We are the ones who go out into our neighborhoods, communities, clubs, businesses, volunteer positions, churches, synagogues, and mosques all around the world. We are the ones who are tasked with training ourselves to be the best ‘religionists’ ever. To teach and lead wherever we find ourselves, every day of our lives. And how do we learn to do this? I opine by study and practice, practice and more practice – in the safety and community of our study groups. We learn from one another, and teach one another, in turn.

And we do all of this without ever mentioning the book. For me there is not a single other project more important to the success of the Revelation than this one. Just imagine the power of generation after generation preparing themselves in study groups around the globe and taking Jesus’ gospel message and the teachings of the Fifth Epochal Revelation to the world.

What are some of the teaching and leadership skills we can learn and practice that the study group environment can facilitate? A study group might consider some of these ideas:

  • First and foremost is:
    • In-depth study for a well-balanced understanding of the basic teachings in the book.
    • Supporting each other in the personal quest “to know God and to become like Him.”
  • Practice speaking skills by:
    • Giving a short presentation to the group on the next section from the book.
    • Taking turns in talking about your faith, your personal religious experiences or how you will apply what was just read in study group.
    • Making a video to critique yourselves so you know how you sound and what you look like.
    • Taking turns praying out loud.
  • Practice listening skills by:
    • Engaging in role play focused on the listener acknowledging and clarifying what was just said. This skill takes a lot of practice.
    • Making it a rule of your study group to listen, acknowledge, summarize and clarify what was said before introducing a new idea.
  • Prepare by:
    • Studying and comparing the Bible and Koran to the teachings of Jesus’ religion in order to learn to take the best as a foundation for sharing the gospel, just as Jesus did with his first six apostles.
    • Role playing actual or anticipated conversations.
    • Learning to pose thought provoking questions.
    • Learning to tell stories that illustrate your points, ideas, beliefs, personal experiences.
    • Seeking opportunities to become more comfortable speaking to others individually or in a group.

Susan Owen
Palm Desert, CA