This article features simple, step-by-step instructions on how to lead a Lectio Divina group. These instructions are meant to go along with Soul Shepherding’s library of Lectio Divina Guides, each of which provide the format we use. I’m assuming that you have some knowledge and experience of with Benedict’s 6th Century way of reading and praying through a Bible text. If not, you can read my article “Lectio Divina Groups” to learn more about this discipline and how it can be helpful for small groups.
I’ve been enjoying this Scripture prayer process and sharing it with small groups and larger communities of pastors and leaders since 2007. Our approach to Lectio Divina is adapted from the Benedictine monks at Saint Andrews Abbey in Valyermo, CA. Some approaches to Lectio Divina have a Bible study feel and others put emphasis on imagination as in Ignatian meditation. We feel it’s helpful to let those disciplines remain more separate and to keep Lectio Divina in the Benedictine tradition of heart-engaging listening, quiet prayer, and personal sharing. In this way Bible study, imaginative Ignatian meditation, and Lectio Divina are each preserved as somewhat distinct and complementary disciplines/traditions.
Before I give some “how to” steps let’s talk about about the big picture purpose of a Lectio Divina Group and the attitude of the leader.
The Vision of Lectio Divina
Using Lectio Divina as the basic structure for a small group is different than most other church-based small groups. To learn how to lead a small group in this process it’s best to personally experience being led by someone else who knows how to do it. This way you can absorb the purpose, pacing, and feel of it.
A Lectio group is not a Bible study, which tends to focus on cognitive learning and people sharing their ideas and opinions about a Scripture. Instead, the learning comes through the experience of quiet Scripture meditation and prayer in the community. We’re seeking to be formed more into the image of Christ, not accumulating intellectual knowledge. Ironically, wonderful insights often come when we abandon pursuing them and instead focus on being in God’s presence together and listening to the Word. This is an example of how we learn more from personal experience than we do from receiving a teaching or discussing opinions.
Also, Lectio is not a support group in which people share their personal needs and pray for each other. Done optimally, there is personal and vulnerable sharing, but it happens in response to reflecting on and praying through the Bible passage. It’s essential that the group is a safe place in which members don’t judge, advice, or reassure each other, but they listen with empathy and prayer. In this way, group members are not only drawn closer to one another, but also to the Lord who is present in the meeting.
So the vision of a Lectio Divina Group is to offer compassion and pray for one another and to become more like Jesus by being with him in a community and listening to Scripture with our hearts.
The Attitude of the Leader
The way to lead a Lectio Divina Group is as an assistant to the Lord Jesus, seeking to draw everyone’s attention to him and what he’s saying and doing. The lectio process is designed to help you as the leader to get out of the way and to direct everyone’s attention to the word and Spirit of Christ, as they are manifested in the content of the Bible text and in the process of meditating and praying on it. The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of our sacred Scriptures and he inspires proper reading/listening to it.
With your heart is set on the risen Christ present in the group to lead then you are freed up to serve as a “participant leader.” You’re the human leader of the group, but you’re also a participant in the group. So it’s appropriate for you to share your personal concerns and prayers during the Lectio Divina process, as long as you discern that this will not only be helpful for you, but also for the group members. The rule of thumb on vulnerability in self-disclosure from a leader is: Don’t share anything that is mostly unresolved for you or that you feel ashamed about, but only share things in which you’ve experienced some grace and learning. In other words, don’t use the people you’re ministering to as a therapist or primary source of support. Your deeper needs, brokenness, or sin struggles are best shared with your confidantes. Then when you’ve received some empathy and made some progress it may be appropriate to share as part of your ministry to others.
Step By Step Instructions to Lead Lectio Divina
Let’s go step-by-step on how to lead a Lectio Divina Group. I’ll be following along with the format of the Lectio Divina Guides on Soul Shepherding. For each step I’ll write out an example of the kind of things I actually say when I’m leading a group, especially if the experience is new for someone. You’ll want to customize your instructions to your context, their spiritual tradition and maturity.
- Guidelines. What we share in this group needs to be kept confidential. We want everyone to feel safe and to receive empathy and prayer — not judgment, advice, or reassurance. As we go through the Scripture meditation process I’ll prompt you on what we’re about to do. Listen for my prompts or you’ll get confused. This way of being a small group is different. If at any time you’re not sure what to do then just wait quietly.
- Lectio Divina Rhythms. There are four movements in Lectio Divina that are imbedded in the process of interacting with the Bible text. Three times we’ll go through a cycle of reading the text, reflecting quietly on the focus question, responding in quiet prayer (with journaling if you want), and then resting quietly until I prompt you that you can verbalize out loud a prayer or share personally.
- Silence. Altogether, after each reading there will be about five minutes of silence. If you’re not used to being quiet for in a group then you’ll probably feel some discomfort, perhaps getting distracted, anxious, or antsy. If that’s your experience try to accept this as a learning opportunity. It’s a different way of praying and being present to God in community. It’ll take practice for you to receive benefit from this discipline. [In beginner groups five minutes at one time for silent reflection and prayer may be a little too long, but for more experienced groups it may be too short.]
- Introduction. The title and theme for a Bible text is… And we have an introduction to this passage — let’s read it out loud in unison…
- Opening Prayer. To prepare our hearts for the Scripture meditation we have an opening prayer. If you find yourself distracted or uncomfortable during the periods of silence you could slowly repeat this prayer to help you abide in the Word. Our opening prayer is… [You have the option of doing the prayer as a “Breath Prayers From the Bible.”]
- First Reading. As we do our readings and responses we’ll be entering into a prayer mode rather than talking with each other. For our first reading our focus question is to listen for one word or phrase from the text that the Holy Spirit impresses on you. Then we’ll each meditate quietly on that… __(Group Member’s name)__ will you please read our passage out loud… [Make sure you pick someone that is comfortable doing that. Or you can read the passage yourself. In groups with men and women it may be helpful to alternate the gender of the readers.]
- First Response. [After about 4 – 5 minutes of silence.] If you haven’t received a word yet it’s okay, keep listening as it may come later. If you have a word or phrase you can share that with the group now by speaking it out loud as a prayer — without any explanation or commentary. This way we can feed off of the fruit of one another’s meditation.
- Second Reading. For our second reading our focus point is to enter into the Scripture passage. What do you feel? What are your emotions? What specific situation in your life today relates? In the quiet reflection you can write down a prayer or pray quietly. __(Group Member’s name)__ will you please read our passage out loud…
- Second Response. [After about 5 – 10 minutes of silence.] Often in our small groups we pray for each other, but I want to invite you to pray for yourself. If you’d like to, you can offer a short prayer out loud now to express your emotion or life situation that’s been touched by the Scripture. This would be a blessing for the rest of us in the group to join in agreement with your prayer. [The first share at this point sets the tone for everyone else. To set a model of vulnerability, using a personal example, and focusing on how God is being experienced it may help the group for you to share first.]
- Third Reading. Let’s do our last reading. Our focus question is, what is God’s personal invitation to you from the Bible passage? You can write down what God may be saying to you or offer a prayer of thanks for what God is showing you. To hear God you need to turn off the critic or cynic in your mind that questions whether or not you’re really hearing God. If God speaks it’s usually in thoughts that come into your mind. Later you can check what you discerned to see if it’s consistent with God’s authoritative words in the Bible… __(Group Member’s name)__ will you please read our passage out loud…
- Third Response. [After about 5 – 10 minutes of silence.] In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen… [Allow a pause for people to open their eyes and re-orient from quiet prayer to engaging their attention on group members.] If you’ve received a personal invitation from the Lord and the Scripture we’d love to hear that. Or if you have something else that you want pray for you can share that. [Group members take turns sharing. Moderate the process to help the people who share to receive empathy and compassion. Set gentle boundaries if anyone offers advice or reassurance. Moderate the length of time each person shares to allow time for everyone to share if they want to and for the group to close in prayer.]
- Closing Prayer. [Depending upon available time and what you decide is best for the group, you can close with a wrap up prayer or people can intercede for one another.] If you’d like to offer a prayer, perhaps for someone who shared, you can do so now and then I’ll close us…