MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU. (2 COR 12:9)
Leading a Bible discussion can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. But it can also be scary—especially if you’ve never done it before. If this is your feeling, you’re in good company. When God asked Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he replied, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it!” (Ex 4:13). It was the same with Solomon, Jeremiah and Timothy, but God
helped these people in spite of their weaknesses, and he will help you as well.
You don’t need to be an expert on the Bible or a trained teacher to lead a Bible discussion. The idea behind these inductive studies is that the leader guides group members to discover for themselves what the Bible has to say. This method of learning will allow group members to remember much more of what is said than a lecture would.
These studies are designed to be led easily. As a matter of fact, the flow of questions through the passage from observation to interpretation to application is so natural that you may feel that the studies lead themselves. This study guide is also flexible. You can use it with a variety of groups—student, professional, neighborhood or church groups. Each study takes forty-five to sixty minutes in a group setting.
There are some important facts to know about group dynamics and encouraging discussion. The suggestions listed below should enable you to effectively and enjoyably fulfill your role as leader.
Preparing for the Study
- Ask God to help you understand and apply the passage in your own life. Unless this happens, you will not be prepared to lead others. Pray too for the various members of the group. Ask God to open your hearts to the message of his Word and motivate you to action.
- Read the introduction to the entire guide to get an overview of the entire book and the issues which will be explored.
- As you begin each study, read and reread the assigned Bible passage to familiarize yourself with it.
- This study guide is based on the New International Version of the Bible. It will help you and the group if you use this translation as the basis for your study and discussion.
- Carefully work through each question in the study. Spend time in meditation and reflection as you consider how to respond.
- Write your thoughts and responses in the space provided in the study guide. This will help you to express your understanding of the passage clearly.
- It might help to have a Bible dictionary handy. Use it to look up any unfamiliar words, names or places. (For additional help on how to study a passage, see chapter five of How to Lead a LifeBuilder Study, IVP, 2018.)
- Consider how you can apply the Scripture to your life. Remember that the group will follow your lead in responding to the studies. They will not go any deeper than you do.
- Once you have finished your own study of the passage, familiarize yourself with the leader’s notes for the study you are leading. These are designed to help you in several ways. First, they tell you the purpose the study guide author had in mind when writing the study. Take time to think through how the study questions work together to accomplish that purpose. Second, the notes provide you with additional background information or suggestions on group dynamics for various questions. This information can be useful when people have difficulty understanding or answering a question. Third, the leader’s notes can alert you to potential problems you may encounter during the study.
- If you wish to remind yourself of anything mentioned in the leader’s notes, make a note to yourself below that question in the study.
Leading the Study
- Begin the study on time. Open with prayer, asking God to help the group to understand and apply the passage.
- Be sure that everyone in your group has a study guide. Encourage the group to prepare beforehand for each discussion by reading the introduction to the guide and by working through the questions in the study.
- At the beginning of your first time together, explain that these studies are meant to be discussions, not lectures. Encourage the members of the group to participate. However, do not put pressure on those who may be hesitant to speak during the first few sessions. You may want to suggest the following guidelines to your group.
- Stick to the topic being discussed.
- Your responses should be based on the verses which are the focus of the discussion and not on outside authorities such as commentaries or = speakers.
- These studies focus on a particular passage of Scripture. Only rarely should you refer to other portions of the Bible. This allows for everyone to participate in in-depth study on equal ground.
- Anything said in the group is considered confidential and will not be discussed outside the group unless specific permission is given to do so.
- We will listen attentively to each other and provide time for each person present to talk.
- We will pray for each other
- Have a group member read the introduction at the beginning of the discussion.
- Every session begins with a group discussion question. The question or activity is meant to be used before the passage is read. The question introduces the theme of the study and encourages group members to begin to open up. Encourage as many members as possible to participate, and be ready to get the discussion going with your own response. This section is designed to reveal where our thoughts or feelings need to be transformed by Scripture. That is why it is especially important not to read the passage before the discussion question is asked. The passage will tend to color the honest reactions people would otherwise give because they are, of course, supposed to think the way the Bible does.
You may want to supplement the group discussion question with an icebreaker to help people to get comfortable. See the community section of the Small Group Starter Kit (IVP, 1995) for more ideas.
You also might want to use the personal reflection question with your group. Either allow a time of silence for people to respond individually or discuss it together.
- Have a group member (or members if the passage is long) read aloud the passage to be studied. Then give people several minutes to read the passage again silently so that they can take it all in.
- Question 1 will generally be an overview question designed to briefly survey the passage. Encourage the group to look at the whole passage, but try to avoid getting sidetracked by questions or issues that will be addressed later in the study.
- As you ask the questions, keep in mind that they are designed to be used just as they are written. You may simply read them aloud. Or you may prefer to express them in your own words.
There may be times when it is appropriate to deviate from the study guide. For example, a question may have already been answered. If so, move on to the next question. Or someone may raise an important question not covered in the guide. Take time to discuss it, but try to keep the group from going off on tangents.
- Avoid answering your own questions. If necessary, repeat or rephrase them until they are clearly understood. Or point out something you read in the leader’s notes to clarify the context or meaning. An eager group quickly becomes passive and silent if they think the leader will do most of the talking.
- Don’t be afraid of silence. People may need time to think about the question before formulating their answers.
- Don’t be content with just one answer. Ask, “What do the rest of you think?” or “Anything else?” until several people have given answers to the question.
- Acknowledge all contributions. Try to be affirming whenever possible. Never reject an answer. If it is clearly offbase, ask, “Which verse led you to that conclusion?” or again, “What do the rest of you think?”
- Don’t expect every answer to be addressed to you, even though this will probably happen at first. As group members become more at ease, they will begin to truly interact with each other. This is one sign of healthy discussion.
- Don’t be afraid of controversy. It can be very stimulating. If you don’t resolve an issue completely, don’t be frustrated. Move on and keep it in mind for later. A subsequent study may solve the problem.
- Periodically summarize what the group has said about the passage. This helps to draw together the various ideas mentioned and gives continuity to the study. But don’t preach.
- At the end of the Bible discussion you may want to allow group members a time of quiet to work on an idea under “Now or Later.” Then discuss what you experienced. or you may want to encourage group members to work on these ideas between meetings. Give an opportunity during the session for people to talk about what they are learning.
- Conclude your time together with conversational prayer, adapting the prayer suggestion at the end of the study to your group. Ask for God’s help in following through on the commitments you’ve made.
- End on time.
Many more suggestions and helps are found in How to Lead a LifeBuilder Study.
Components of Small Groups
A healthy small group should do more than study the Bible. There are four components to consider as you structure your time together.
Nurture. Small groups help us to grow in our knowledge and love of God. Bible study is the key to making this happen and is the foundation of your small group.
Community. Small groups are a great place to develop deep friendships with other Christians. Allow time for informal interaction before and after each study. Plan activities and games that will help you get to know each other. Spend time having fun together going on a picnic or cooking dinner together.
Worship and prayer. Your study will be enhanced by spending time praising God together in prayer or song. Pray for each other’s needs and keep track of how God is answering prayer in your group. Ask God to help you to apply what you are learning in your study.
Outreach. Reaching out to others can be a practical way of applying what you are learning, and it will keep your group from becoming self-focused. Host a series of evangelistic discussions for your friends or neighbors. Clean up the yard of an elderly friend. Serve at a soup kitchen together, or spend a day working in the community.
Many more suggestions and helps in each of these areas are found in the Small Group Starter Kit. You will also find information on building a small group. Reading through the starter kit will be worth your time.