When I was growing up, my Dad would sometimes teach Sunday school for a quarter. He would spend most of the day Saturday studying the Bible and commentaries and maps and such. On Sunday morning he was really ready to bring the lesson to life. I remember his careful preparation with respect and even awe.
Effective Bible study leadership demands preparation. But the difference between teaching a class and leading from a guide is that, with questions already provided for you, the time needed to do your best job is greatly reduced when you are using a guide. The preparation time needed to lead a LifeBuilder Bible Study (though this will vary from person to person) is thirty minutes to an hour. This time should be devoted to prayer and Bible study. If you keep to it faithfully, you will be confident and competent every time you lead a study.
In John 15 Jesus gave us this warning: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Of course you can do something. You can carefully prepare and even lead an apparently effective study. But apart from the Lord, it will have no spiritual value. And most likely, lives will not be changed. Of course, God sometimes chooses to work through us despite our sin. But greater investment will bring greater growth. The Lord’s presence with us will transform our efforts from mere activity into life-changing ministry.
Pray for yourself. Ask God to help you to understand the passage and apply it to your own life. Unless this happens, you will not be prepared to lead others. Ask God to help you understand both the passage and the study questions so you will be able to concentrate on helping the group members learn from Scripture. Ask him to fill you anew with his Spirit so you will be free from the self-consciousness that can so easily interfere with the work of God’s Spirit in the group.
Pray for the members of the group. Think of them individually: their strengths, weaknesses, needs, interests and knowledge of Scripture. Pray that God will enable them to discover something of the richness and challenge of the passage. Let Paul’s prayer be your model: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you will be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:9–10).
Having immersed yourself and the group in prayer, you are ready to begin studying. Martin Luther compared Bible study to gathering apples. “First I shake the whole tree, that the ripest may fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf.” Here’s how you can follow his advice
The questions are designed to flow naturally out of the passage. You may feel that these studies lead themselves. But don’t be fooled. It will feel easy and natural only when you have carefully prepared. When you feel confident and ready, you will be able to get your nose out of the guide and be attentive to the group members, encouraging everyone to interact and respond.
I would sometimes ask my Dad how he felt about doing all that work for one Sunday school class, and he would always respond in the same way. He would tell me that it was a great opportunity for him to spend time studying the Bible. For him, teaching wasn’t about receiving accolades for Bible knowledge or increasing Sunday school attendance with fascinating lesson plans; it was about the time with God. And the same benefit is available to us as we lead Bible studies.