I first learned how to lead spiritual discussions while in college, where I had the opportunity to run Bible studies in the dorms for three years. While there might have a wide range of familiarity with the Scriptures, the perspectives tended to be fairly homogenous, since the participants were drawn from the same pool of young, relatively well-off Ivy Leaguers.
It wasn't until I got involved in my church here in West Philadelphia that I've enjoyed the privilege of leading a more diverse group in spiritual discussion. Earlier this month was the last of six weeks that I taught Sunday School at church, finishing up a 12-week DVD-based discussion called "The Reason for God," in which Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, talks about difficult questions with a group of non-believers.
Dr. Keller and the DVD participants were pretty cerebral, as well, as were our congregants. Fielding questions like "why does God send good people to hell" and "how can a good God allow suffering and evil" tend to move the discussion in those directions.
And yet, because of the mish-mosh of Sunday School attendees, rather than in spite of it, we ended up having a really wide range and a really meaningful depth of discussions. In our group included the marginalized and the powerful, the well-educated and the less educated, people in their 20's and people in their 80's, whites/Asians/blacks/Latinos, and so on.
Even with all of this diversity, people did a good job of listening to one another and staying on topic, by and large. The topics each week were so accessible that practically everyone contributed, and no one felt they had nothing to share or were too afraid to share.
Alas, the DVD series came to an end, so I'm taking a break from leading Sunday School until at least the first of the new year. One participant came up to me afterwards and said we should keep on talking about these things. I do hope that congregants will continue to wrestle and share and listen and help. And I'm now racking my brains as to what we can cover in 2012 that will also lend itself to such a diverse group being able to track together and carry on such a lively discussion.