Picking the low-hanging fruit

At The Young Clergy Women Project conference this summer, keynote speaker Dr. Margaret Aymer taught participants how to design contextual Bible studies with a missional bent. Every discussion of scripture, she said, should conclude with a commitment to action: what small, immediately-doable step can we take in light of what we’ve learned together?

Creative Commons "Apple Tree" by Brad Greenlee is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Creative Commons “Apple Tree” by Brad Greenlee is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Dr. Aymer used a fruit tree metaphor for sorting possible action items. Low-hanging fruit can be gleaned without too much effort. As you reach for fruit further up the tree, you’ll need a taller stepladder, exert more energy, and take more risk. (You’ll also be able to pick fewer fruits at a time, since you’ll have to juggle your harvest and hold onto the ladder.)

I’ve found the fruit tree metaphor very useful the past few weeks:

What fruit is hanging within easy reach? What small course corrections can I make that will yield big results?

What low-hanging fruit do I need to leave hanging so that others can glean it? How can I be a Boaz and empower the Ruths around me?

When do I really need to break out the stepladder? Have I plucked all the fruit I can/should with both feet on solid ground? Or is the fruit that grows further up somehow more substantive?

How can I minimize the risk? Or, shifting perspective a bit, whom do I need to hold the ladder for me as I climb and to tell me how to reach fruit I can’t easily see?

May your theological discussions and the initiatives that come out of them be fruit-full.

Contextual Bible study

A couple of weeks ago I attended The Young Clergy Women Project conference in Austin, T.X. I have gone to seven TYCWP conferences primarily for the fellowship, but the content is invariably excellent as well. Led by Dr. Margaret Aymer, this year’s plenaries focused on how to design a Bible study that emerges from the questions of the community.

Creative Commons "Bible time" by brett Jordan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Creative Commons “Bible time” by brett jordan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The first step in the process is to gather some of the community’s leaders and ask them to name the most pressing issues facing the community. This group then brainstorms some passages of scripture that could potentially speak to the selected issue and chooses one to study.

The Bible study facilitator then takes the passage and creates discussion questions about it with the issue in mind. The questions attempt to draw out and privilege the wisdom in the room. They address such angles as:

  • what the scripture passage is about
  • who’s in the passage and what they’re doing
  • what the context (historical, narrative, etc.) is in relation to the selected issue
  • how the passage speaks to the issue and the community’s context

The Bible study is not just an academic exercise, however. It ends by asking, “Now what are we going to do about the issue at hand, given our discussion of this passage?” The students name possible actions and choose an easily doable one to tackle.

The contextual Bible study would be an effective approach in any situation, but I believe it would be especially helpful in situations of conflict and/or transition. If you’d like a fuller explanation of this method, the Ujamaa Centre for Community Development and Research has a manual here.