Though we sometimes feel lost, we know that we are not alone.
We are glad you have decided to read and wrestle with Lost in the Middle? We trust that the ideas in the book will generate sustained and prayerful reflection. We expect that studying the text will lead to many fruitful, if not always easy, discussions. Most of all, we hope that an intentional approach to the text will help you and your study group to come away from the experience with a profound sense of our Liberal and Evangelical heritage and further insights into why moderate Christians often feel lost in the middle. What exactly this means in practice will vary from congregation to congregation and from person to person, but we hope that you are refreshed and heartened by the experience of discovering that you are not alone.
Our experience is in congregations big and small, in churches both Liberal and Evangelical. Over the years, we have learned that many times people find it easier and more rewarding to approach a text like Lost as part of a larger group. This is not to say that reading the book and making use of this study guide will not be helpful if you undertake the journey alone. We think that the ideas presented in the text may be of considerable interest to individual ministers, lay leaders, and seminary students. Rather, we hope that individuals who find the book stimulating will take the time to encourage others to encounter it as well, in a group, together.
Thus, we have written this study guide with small groups in mind, anticipating the kinds of questions that adult Sunday school classes might have, the needs of Christian book clubs for discussion starters and case studies, and the desire of many Christians to turn to the scriptures for guidance. There is no right or wrong way to study the text, just as there is no right or wrong way to use this study guide. You and your fellow readers should feel comfortable using these resources and your time together as you see fit, to strengthen your congregations, deepen your faith, and find renewed hope in the Liberal and Evangelical tradition.
Using This Study Guide
Lost is divided into 5 parts and each part has a corresponding part in this study guide. Some study groups may wish to work through each part of the guide as they read the book together, taking several weeks or meetings to complete each part. Most groups will proceed at a brisker pace, one week per part. We recommend picking and choosing which chapters of the book to spend more time on and which exercises and sections of the study guide to use. Again, there is no right or wrong way to use this study guide, so feel free to make choices and use materials that suit your group.
Each part of the study guide is organized into six sections. We designed these sections to reinforce central themes of the book, encourage further discussion in the group, or engage with Biblical texts. We offer group prayers, for those in traditions that use written prayers. And we present case studies for those who would like concrete examples of abstract ideas.
Think of these as tools in a tool box. Not every tool (activity) will work for every job (group). Nevertheless, some combination of tools should do the job for everyone desiring to engage more deeply with the themes raised in Lost. We discuss these various tools in what follows.
Get Started: Chapter Summaries and Introduction
Each part of the study guide begins with chapter summaries. These quick surveys of the book’s content will help you check your understanding of Lost against ours. The chapter summaries are followed by an introduction that offers provocative insights into key ideas from Lost.
The hectic among us may find that, though our discussion group meets on Wednesday evenings, our only free time for reading during the week is on Thursdays or Fridays. If this is the case for you, you may forget some of what you read before you have the chance to come together with your group. The “Get Started” section provides a brief refresher.
We encourage everyone studying Lost to take notes, underline key phrases and ideas, highlight poignant passages, write in the margins of the book and study guide, and jot down your questions at the end of each chapter. Active reading stimulates the memory and encourages deeper engagement with the ideas in the text. So make full use of the book and the study guide as you prepare for the discussion group.
Get Busy: Exercise and Discussion
We designed each exercise and the accompanying discussion questions to make use of the talents and experiences of your group members. This part of the study guide also helps draw everyone into discussion. We learn to articulate ourselves better as we share our insights.
The exercises are varied and frequently call on group members to jot down first impressions, respond to key terms and new ideas, or generate short responses to probing questions. There are no right or wrong answers! Rather, each exercise is designed to enhance understanding and reinforce new ideas. The discussion questions apply the insights developed in the group exercises to concrete situations. This is where the diverse experiences of group members adds enormously to the experience of reading a text.
There are many different denominations, churches, and congregational settings. We recommend that group leaders look ahead at the group exercises and questions and decide which are likely to stimulate the richest discussion. Modify and adapt the exercises to meet the needs of your group.
Get Caught Up: Homework and Discussion
Each part of this study guide includes homework exercises and homework discussion questions. For some of us it may have been decades since we have done homework. For others, seminarians in particular, homework may seem all too familiar. Do not let the name intimidate you. The point of the homework exercises is to encourage individual group members to begin thinking critically about the material before meeting with the larger group. Some homework tasks call for sustained reflection during the week, while others ask you to think critically about very specific ideas, keep a journal, or write down pressing questions.
The key to making good use of the homework is for each participant to complete the assignments before coming to the group meeting. If everyone is prepared, meaningful and memorable discussions are more likely. Group leaders and participants should look ahead to the homework discussion questions in each part of the study guide. These questions provide a chance for everyone to share the ideas that the homework generated and to integrate the work done during the week with the book’s larger themes.
Get Scriptural: Bible Reading and Reflection
The biblical text plays a central role in many Christian traditions. It can play a similar role in your discussion group. Each part of the study guide presents a Bible passage that leads us to reflect more deeply on themes raised in Lost. The bible translation is the New American Standard Version (NASV).
Accompanying the scripture readings are reflections and questions that probe the biblical text and push us beyond proof-texting to engage the Bible deeply and consistently. As with all sections of this study guide, the scripture passages are recommendations. Groups may wish to explore other biblical insights and should feel free to do so.
Get Practical: Case Study and Discussion
Some of us are interested in abstract ideas for their own sake. Most of us are eager to see how ideas play out in our everyday lives, our local communities, and our Christian congregations. With that in mind, we designed the case studies to help you both imagine ideas in action, and picture how to implement ethical and sociological strategies. Case studies allow us the freedom to see ideas at work in an imagined setting where the stakes are low and the chances of doing real harm are minimal! That helps us imagine our own churches and families in similar situations and ponder how we might respond.
The case studies encompass a wide range of church styles, congregation sizes, ideological commitments, and economic circumstances. It is inevitable that some of the case studies will not speak immediately to the needs of your particular congregation or study group. Again, leaders should feel free to modify the case studies whenever they see fit. We recommend that groups consider how churches different from their own might handle the situations depicted in the case studies, all of which are based on real events. This makes the case studies exercises in Christian empathy, and that can lead to new insights.
Get Going: For Further Thought and Closing Prayer
At the end of each part of this study guide you will find closing reflections for further thought and a closing prayer. Because Lost aims to address moderates in both Liberal and Evangelical communities it is likely that not all groups will belong to church traditions that use written prayers. If you are part of a group that is accustomed to spontaneous prayer, then by all means pray in your own words. If you are part of a tradition that uses group prayer, then pray together using the text or have one person pray aloud. We offer the prayers to help Christian study groups focus their attention on Jesus Christ at the end of each session.
In addition to Lost in the Middle? and the companion volume Found in the Middle!, you can locate additional resources at LiberalEvangelical.org. There you will find an ever-growing collection of material for individuals, congregations, seminaries, and study groups. In the public areas of the site, you will see a host of news articles on issues of interest to Liberal Evangelicals, Le Blog, reviews of relevant texts and media by and about Liberal Evangelicals, commentary pieces by leading Christian moderates, and links to news feeds for denominations. In the member areas, you will find discussion forums for people like you who are wrestling with the ideas found in Lost and Found. There you can share your ideas, your reactions to the book, and the travails and triumphs of your own congregation. You will also find alternative study materials, and member-generated advice and resources for moderate Christian congregations covering everything from Christian education to study guides.
LiberalEvangelical.org supports a growing community of Liberals drawn to the biblical Christ-centeredness of Evangelicalism and Evangelicals who feel pulled toward the openness of the Liberal tradition. We may feel lost in the middle, between the traditionalist behemoths on the Right and the loud relativist voices on the Left. But at LiberalEvangelical.org we are beginning to learn the truth: a growing number of moderate Christians are committed to both the values of Liberal inclusiveness and the Evangel (Gospel) of Jesus. We are not alone. We have a voice, and we are learning to articulate a moderate Christian vision. We need more moderate Christians, committed critics, skeptical Liberals, and passionate Evangelicals. Join the community and add your voice to the conversation.