Why go all the way to Urbana to study the Bible? Can’t you do that on your own? Well, yes, you certainly can. (Please do!) But you can experience so much more of the Word when joined with a diverse community of God’s people. That is one of the gifts God wants to give us all at Urbana.
God’s Spirit speaks through his Word all the time, in all kinds of circumstances. But it is not just given to you and to me. It was written for communities of God’s people to hear and obey together. Community gives us perspective. God meets me personally in his Word, but without community, I can’t hear all that he’s saying.
Likewise, God meets me in my local communities, but I often hear the same voices quoted again and again. No matter how wise or insightful they may be, our favorite pastors, authors, communities, churches, and seminaries all have their own forms of myopia. Even if we seek out other voices, we cannot escape our own inherent biases.
We need each other—in all our diversity—to see clearly!
Eyes to See
I grew up loving Jesus’ story of the man with two sons, often called “The Prodigal Son.” But I never realized until my first year in college, studying it more closely with a community of friends, that Jesus was actually talking to a whole bunch of people very much like the older son in the story, who were angry that Jesus was welcoming younger sons home to the Father.
And I had never before seen that the father in the story is just as intent on pursuing his older son as he is on welcoming his younger son, that the older son is just as lost as his brother had been—and doesn’t know it. When Jesus ends the story without telling us if the older son joins the party, it’s like he’s pleading with the older sons in his audience, "Will you come in to the party? Will you join the celebration and share the heart of the Father?"
I realized Jesus was inviting me home in a way I’d never known. Without delving into Scripture in community, I never would have seen that.
Or Jesus’ story of the workers in the field, who started work at different times, but are paid the same at the end of the day. This parable took on an entirely new meaning when I studied it with someone whose whole family worked as migrant farm laborers.
And remember the Samaritan woman? Studying this passage in community helped me see her from another perspective. What if she wasn’t the promiscuous woman avoiding Jesus’ piercing conversation like I had always thought? What if she was someone who’d been victimized for years by multiple men in her life? What if she was actually tracking quite well with Jesus, and I was the one falling behind their conversation a bit?
I’ll never forget the moment genealogies became meaningful for me. A friend from China had been studying the gospels with our campus community for a couple years. She loved all she saw of Jesus, but the God of the Bible was still a foreign god to her. Then, in the midst of a study in Genesis, she began to weep as she encountered the genealogy in chapter five—something most of the group were tempted to skim. In reading those ancient names, she saw that God knew her ancestors by name, too. Jesus was no longer foreign. She came into God’s family that day. And our community saw a little more of the Kingdom as we caught a deeper value for all of his Word.
We need each other to hear God’s voice in his Word. We need the multi-ethnic, multi-denominational, international community of God’s people, with all our perspectives to have eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s Church. Come catch a glimpse of that at Urbana!
We need the multi-ethnic, multi-denominational, international community of God’s people, with all our perspectives to have eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s Church. Come catch a glimpse of that at Urbana!
Companions for the Journey
I don’t know about you, but sometimes my heart needs help to believe what my head knows to be true. I need the testimony of friends who’ve tested God’s Word where I’m afraid to do so. I need someone who can remind me of what I’ve experienced myself. I need people who remind me of what I already know to be true.
And I don’t just need help to believe—I need help to live it out and people to come alongside me. God knew that. That’s why he gave us community.
A few years ago, a friend and I were inspired by the example of John the Baptist. I never would have had the courage to do it alone, but together we decided to rally our community to live in boxes in the middle of campus for a week to call attention to the ways we neglect our poor neighbors.
People responded to us like they did to John. Some went to great lengths to avoid our little box city. Others were angered and defensive. But many were drawn to us, and we had great conversations about poverty, justice, and the gospel. International students and frat pledges joined us for a night. We saw more of God’s heart for our poor neighbors, which prompted us to act in new ways. And new friends met Jesus.
Studying God’s Word is never just about what we see. It’s about seeing ourselves transformed. And it all happens best in community.
Join us at Urbana to see more than you ever have in God’s Word and to be transformed as we learn how to live out Revelation together.