We’ve received a lot of questions about how to conduct Course study groups. Each group is unique, and any advice we offer would need to be adapted to the needs and desires of a particular group. And of course, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance is a vital part of discerning what a particular group should do. That being said, here are some guidelines we have found useful in conducting our groups. We recommend that, if possible, Course group should have the following:
1. A focus on Course material
This is perhaps the most critical point. Some groups mix the Course with other paths. Others focus on secondary materials, like the writings of a particular Course teacher. Others are solely about the Course, but don’t actually spend much time in the book itself. We recommend focusing on the Course itself, directly engaging the Course material in each group session-Text, Workbook, Manual, the two supplements, or selected passages. The group should also encourage in its members the habit of reading and practicing Course material on a daily basis, outside of the group.
2. A clear goal for the group
There are many things that can be done in a Course group. You could go through the Text in a year. You could go through the Workbook together. You could have a study of a different Course topic each week. Whatever you decide to do, it is extremely helpful to agree to a clear goal in advance and stick with it. Of course, the goal can be changed if circumstances warrant, but a goal determined at the outset helps everyone move in the same direction. As the Course says, “The clarification of the goal belongs at the beginning, for it is this which will determine the outcome” (T-17.VI.2:3).
3. A teacher/facilitator who is experienced in the Course and devoted to walking its path
Course students tend to shy away from the “teacher” as a formal role, but our experience has shown us that a good teacher can be the difference between a group that works and one that doesn’t. A teacher who has been given that role by the group should be willing to assume the role without apology or embarrassment, but only to serve the students, not to buttress his or her image.
4. A balance of teaching, discussion, and practice
We find it helpful to divide our classes into three components:
- Teaching: The teacher presents material he or she has prepared, material that is grounded in the Course and is in harmony with the goal of the group.
- Discussion:The group discusses the material, with the teacher acting as facilitator. The teacher’s role here is to keep the discussion on track and gently correct misunderstandings of the material (while being open to new understandings offered by group members as well).
- Practice: The teacher leads the class in a practice that applies the material that has been taught, a practice modeled on the Workbook’s methods of practice.
5. An atmosphere of courtesy and trust
People need to feel safe to share in the group, so it is important to create an atmosphere in which all participants are kind, gracious, and respectful to one another. In particular, we recommend that group members refrain from giving each other advice unless it is asked for. Comments like “You’re coming from your ego” or “You should just recognize your cancer is an illusion” are hardly ever helpful to anyone. We suggest keeping your sharing to comments and questions about the material, and your own personal experience. The teacher needs to both set the example here and actively promote this atmosphere during the meeting. At times, this will include gentle reminders to those who are giving unsolicited advice.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]