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How to prepare and lead a small-group Bible discussion

October 18, 2010

1. The preparation

Whether you are using published materials or creating your own Bible studies, you will want to be fully prepared to lead your study. Be diligent to “handle accurately the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) as you do your original investigation of each of the passages you’ll be discussing with your group. As you make your observations, interpretations, and applications of each passage, you’ll want to try to discover what I call the three Ts:

2. The objective

As you look at the two or three main points you’ve discovered in your personal study of the passages, pick out one major point that matches up with a critical need your group has. This becomes your main objective of the discussion (i.e., the one major thing that dominates their minds as they leave the study). Most small group discussions (along with most sermons) send their members away with a whole host of points. No wonder most of us cannot even remember what last Sunday’s sermon was about!

3. The questions

In this type of study, the format is discussion, not teaching! Jesus was a master at asking questions, and the key to good discussion will be the questions you design in advance. All the questions you create should inch your group members closer and closer to discovering the objective of your study. Good questions should create self-discovery, so never tell anyone anything that they could discover themselves as a result of your well-worded questions. As great a question as you might craft, if it doesn’t push them toward the prayed-through objective you’ve set for the study, throw it out! The three kinds of questions you’ll want to create are:

A. The discovery question (asks what?)

An open ended, well-worded question introducing a new topic seeking to gather facts.

Example: From this passage, what does Jesus teach us about love?

B. The understanding question (asks why?)

A more narrow, well-worded follow-up question, seeking to find the relevance and relationship of those facts.

Example: Why would Jesus say there is more reward in loving our enemies, than our friends?

C. The application question (asks how?)

A direct, well-worded, final question challenging the participants to make those relevant facts a reality in their lives.

Example: Think of one hard to love person in your life right now. How can you specifically show love to him or her this week?

Instead of allowing participants to just say, “My application is that I want to be a better Christian,” help them to SPAM it instead. Gently guide them to make it Specific, Personal, Achievable, and Measurable.

The common denominator in these three questions is the little phrase “well-worded.” This will require a lot of prayer, thought, and creativity. You’ll know whether it’s a good question the very moment it leaves your mouth! As you design each question, you’ll want to anticipate what their answers might be. Always be evaluating each question as to whether it helps them discover the particular truths from the Scriptures that you have discerned they need. The Navigators have developed “The Package Principle” where you, as the leader, bring more questions into the study than you have time to ask. View each question as a beautifully prepared present that you lay out in front of your group to proudly and carefully unwrap for them to feast upon. Be sure to end the study on time, always carting out a few unopened presents (i.e., questions) with you, piquing their curiosity, and making them want to come back the next week!

4. The phases

There are three phases to each of the well-worded questions you ask in your group. If you follow these three steps each time you throw out a question, you will truly be leading them into an exercise of self-discovery.

A. The launching phase

In a conversational tone, use one of your well-worded, open-ended questions to launch the discussion. Like a boat that’s on the shore, you have to shove it off in order to get it out into the water. Ask the question with enthusiasm and anticipation, but after you ask it—zip the lip! As hard as it might be the first few times, be quiet and wait for an answer. Don’t be afraid of silence! Don’t try to repeat or reword the question—give them time to think and reply. If they understand that this study is truly a discussion, and the ball is now in their court, their minds will get in gear to think through responses.

B. The guiding phase

Get excited about any responses that you get. Affirm their answers, but make sure you keep them on track. Ask questions like, “What does someone else think?” or “Julie, how would you respond to Katie’s answer?” Remember, you are not the authority as much as you are the facilitator. Imagine the discussion like a beach ball and your job is to keep it up in the air, trying to involve as many people as you can, especially the quiet ones. Keep good eye contact with everyone. Ask follow-up questions, seeking to get the group into the Scriptures and headed toward the objective you’ve set up for that session.

C. The summarizing phase

Once you have gathered the quality and quantity of information you were looking for, it is time to wrap it up and draw some conclusions. This is not a teaching time for the leader but rather a restating of what group members shared. You might even keep a pen and pad handy during Bible study so that during the summarizing phase you can refer back to comments that were shared, including the person who shared it.  Everyone wants to feel included, and this will make your group members feel like they contributed. You want them to not only leave the study excited but come back next week too!

An excerpt from The Fuel and the Flame
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