To varying degrees, chapter ministry leaders across the country have experienced resistence to having a Bible study within their fraternity or sorority. But even if you've never heard anyone verbalize a complaint or concern, take a look at your small group and consider these suggestions for being as welcoming and inclusive as possible.
“You can’t advertise a Bible study on the email listserv.”
“You can’t meet in the house.”
“That would make people uncomfortable.”
Perhaps you could add more phrases and reasons to this list about why a leader can't start or continue a Bible study in their chapter. When another brother or sister says these things, it can be frustrating and discouraging. But when the President or Exec Board says these things, it can really change how you can proceed. In over twenty years of ministry through Greek InterVarsity, there have been many Greeks who have faced opposition when trying to start a Bible study. Whether you are thinking about starting a Bible study soon or already have and met opposition, consider these suggestions that have helped others.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Calling your discussion a “Bible study” may be descriptive, but is it actually creative and welcoming? On the other end of the spectrum, disguising what you're doing by naming it something obscure is misleading. But language like "Bible discussion" or "spiritual sisterhood" feels more inviting and open.
When you talk about what happens in this meeting, stress that it is a discussion where everyone is welcome to come and share their opinions regardless of their religious beliefs. Several chapters have named their discussion times something to do with their chapter, symbols, or ritual. Consider this list of creative Bible study names as inspiration: Gentlemen's Hour, KEG (Kappa Sigma & God), Arrowchat, Angel Talk, Bear Bonding, DG Dialogue, Diet Coke Discussions. Comment below if you have other ideas too!
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Check your chapter by-laws and your university rules about religious groups on campus. But first, read the First Amendment. You have the right to free exercise of religion and the right to assemble with others peacefully. You can be confident about starting a Bible discussion group in your chapter—the law is on your side as long as you are abiding by your university’s and chapter’s rules.
Jesus experienced plenty of rejection during his time on earth
If you face opposition, consider it an opportunity for your chapter to engage in dialogue about what the free exercise of religion means in Greek life. Understand that this is never an invitation to have a hostile exchange about your beliefs - it will be more harmful if you do. Seek wise counsel from a trusted Greek alumni, advisor, or Greek IV staff about how to proceed. Sometimes waiting for the next executive board to come to office changes the atmosphere, but it could also be worth entering into the conflict before the leadership transition happens.
ASK QUESTIONS BUT MOSTLY LISTEN
Have a conversation with those who have spoken up against your meeting. This is a time to genuinely ask what makes them uncomfortable. Is it that they are uncomfortable with any type of book club or a group for another interest? Does the religious aspect make a difference? Do they feel you have acted in a way that excludes others? Gently, humbly asking good questions may help you all understand each other better and may lead to a good outcome.
Ask yourself questions. Often, people who object the most strongly are either of another religion or grew up with faith and have since rejected it. It's possible they are uncomfortable with the reminder of having left religion behind, or have had a truly negative experience with people or organizations associated with religion. You will only find out the reason by listenining and caring. From what you know about your brother or sister, could these factors be playing a part in their opposition? If so, it could have nothing to do with you.
Ask God what He may want to teach you during this time. Jesus experienced plenty of rejection during his time on earth. How would Jesus react in this situation? How does God want you to love your brothers or sisters in this time?
Ideally, a Bible discussion would take place in your house if you have one, but it doesn’t have to. Here are a few creative ideas:
1) If members strongly object to it being in your house and you feel that it would do more harm than good, head to a room on campus, a coffee shop or an ice cream parlor for a tasty treat and a great discussion.
2) Host the meeting in your room, but find ways to be inclusive, such as making sure your roommate is okay with it too, keeping the door open, and extending an invitation to everyone.
3) If you are told you can’t communicate with the chapter in official chapter ways like your email listserv or in chapter meetings, invite folks the way they are invited to a 21st birthday party—the same rules would apply! Greeks certainly know how to promote an event, so pull out whatever tools your chapter uses: Facebook, individual emails, snap chats, tweets, texts, signs on the bathroom door, and most importantly, face-to-face personal invitations.
FIND ENCOURAGEMENT & PRAY
Leading and hosting a spiritual discussion is a commitment, whether you're facing additional headwinds or not. In your journey as a chapter ministry leader, one of the best things to do is to reach out to others who follow Jesus and encourage each other. Ask your Greek IV staff, InterVarsity staff, pastor, or other Christian mentor to support you and pray for you. Look for a sister or brother in your chapter who can be your partner.
Connect with other Greeks leading chapter ministries, either on your campus or on Greek IV’s Facebook page. If you need support, there are people who want to give it to you, but try taking a step of faith by seeking out support for yourself.
God wants your brothers or sisters to know Him and to follow Him together. He is more powerful than any opposition you may face. God can change hearts and situations to make anything possible. Keep praying, get others to pray with you, and watch and see what God does in your chapter.