A Model for Studying Anything On the Foundation of the Sermon on the Plain
(Last updated 3/8/2022)
This document reflects my current Plain Training model. Please feel free to borrow and steal as you like from this framework. I try to keep it updated to reflect the current practices and guidelines that I’m using.
My hope and prayer is that this model of studying anything can help us actually live like Jesus teaches us to live, building lives and churches and other institutions that do great good now, and which truly endure from age to age, and even onward forever, without end.
Plain Training can be used by existing small groups in churches for a time, or groups can be formed using the model to help them get started. Groups that start online in disparate areas can find opportunities to meet in person at conferences, or at meet-ups specifically for the purpose of ongoing prayer, training and encouragement.
I recommend praying deeply and together and for a good period of time, asking the Holy Spirit to come and inform your reading of the text.
Inclusion of the Lord’s Prayer is always encouraged, and instruction in the Lord’s Prayer is ideally given before starting a Plain Training group where people haven’t been taught its meaning. I’ve found N.T. Wright’s “The Lord and His Prayer” to be a really helpful guide, in helping me contextually teach this prayer.
After this, I recommend at least 15 minutes of worship singing, Centering Prayer, or Examen. This can be done in person or online, together or separately. The exact form of prayer is far less important than that the prayer helps the participants authentically connect with God, and invite the Holy Spirit into their reading of the text.
Prayerfully read Luke 6
The training is called “Plain Training,” which focuses attention on the Sermon on the Plain. Still, the context of the teaching is significant. Reading more of Luke or of the Bible, and use of scholarly commentaries, are warmly invited.
Still, the focus of everyone’s reading is specifically on their own personal interaction with the entirety of Luke 6.
Notice whatever happens. Description is welcome.
All participants take time to notice whatever happened, after they read.
Participants are invited, but never pressured, to describe whatever they’d like about what happened. What is important is that the participants take time noticing whatever happened, and have an opportunity to describe it to others.
Those who listen to the description listen with generosity, patience and without judgment. With permission from the person describing, others in the group may ask open-ended questions to help them explore what happened.
Consider and Possibly Articulate Commitments
Without any time pressure, the group’s members are invited to consider and articulate, primarily to God and themselves, any commitments they would like to make based on their experience. The time frame for commitments may be lifelong, or they may be more limited. The process of formulating commitments is an ongoing process, and it may take time for a person to even become aware of what their authentic commitments are.
The only objective, when articulating commitments in this way, is that they be honest. Also remember that commitments are just that. They aren’t vows or oaths or binding contracts. Instead, commitments are a personal articulation, however tentative of firm, of how a person would like to be in the world.
Insofar as it seems helpful, participants are also invited to describe and write their own commitments, based on what they are committed to do after reading the text. These don’t need to be shared, although the group can generously share them with each other. Commitments can include doing something, learning to do something, practicing something or cultivating a practice (such as some particular regular type of prayer), or learning more about something before committing to anything more than that.
Where a group is able to articulate at least one shared commitment, they have some common ground and are able to move on to step 5. A group that can’t articulate at least one shared commitment is invited to continue to iterate on steps 1 through 4 for as long as they like, or to discontinue meeting if insufficient common ground is found.
The nature of commitments that come out of this text, among people who are aware of themselves and honest, will involve an understanding that we all need an enormous amount of grace and mercy if we hope to attempt to move forward, into the deep waters that sometimes open up when people seriously consider the challenge of these teachings.
This process of considering and possibly articulating commitments can be quickly referred to as “finding common ground,” and where there is disagreement this can also be productive and illuminating. It can be called “finding uncommon ground.” This can be both an individual and a group process: individuals can find common and uncommon ground with the teaching in Luke 6, and they can find common and uncommon ground with each other.
Practice, Train and/or Study
If the group wants, now they have a foundation to practice, train or study anything at all that they like, with the hope that it will help them grow in their ability to carry some shared commitment forward.
One way to arrive at a list of topics to study can be to ask the question, “What do we want to learn to do, or at least learn, together?”
A group might not be ready to train or practice anything, but might instead need further study to remove obstructions to practical commitments. For example, a group might commit to try to understand if Jesus really intended his teaching on enemy love to be followed.
The group will continue to convene and decide if, when, and how they would like to continue to study anything in the Bible or Creation on the foundation they have laid together. They are also invited, at any point, to repeat steps 1–5 if they want to check their foundation, or common ground, and see what may have changed since they did it last. If a group is unsure of what to do next, repeating this basic training can help them reorient and begin again. Alternatively, they may move from this form of training into another, such as a Connect Ladder training or Spiritual Friendship, if they’re using the Grounding Kit.