Ben and I led a workshop over the weekend – “Developing Bible Study Leaders.” My little piece of the pie was specifically on leading the discussion time, and it was not lost on me how ironic it is that God has allowed me to develop some skill in this area.
Me – who tried to derail nearly every Bible study I participated in during college and even after – always playing the devil’s advocate, always questioning whether or not we were discussing truth or just conjecture, always very skeptical and unsure, always answering questions with more questions, only very hesitantly engaging God’s word with my heart.
Fast forward about 10 years… Now it’s a real passion of mine to engage students over the Word. My goal is that they would walk away feeling they had really engaged personally with God through His word and contributed to the collective knowledge and application for the group.
You may have heard of the “Potluck” metaphor before? You know, each person does their personal Bible study thoroughly and brings something they can share with the group – and then we all enjoy the feast of one another’s ideas, thoughts, applications, knowledge, etc. Well, what I’ve found is that most people come to Bible study with an assortment of ingredients in the form of answered questions and half-formed ideas and feelings concerning their answers.
I know we’ll have to do a bit of cooking during our time together – and I like that!
So, here is a list of very, very practical tips for facilitating a discussion. They are the result of years of trying, failing, stumbling, and finally carving out a style that seems to work for me. I hope these tips will help you too!
Come with an outline of major ideas covered in the material. Go into the study with goal of discussing A, B, C, and D. That way when someone shares A and half of B, you know where to lead the discussion. Don’t just teach C and D. Find ways to direct the conversation to those points.
Use transitions. Instead of just moving from question to question, quickly summarize the point you are leaving and give a quick intro to the next. Ex: So we’ve seen that Jesus displayed compassion and concern for others. This next section seemed to draw out something completely different about the character of Jesus. Did anyone else notice that?” This helps lead the thought progression and development of ideas. It also gives people the 30 seconds they often need to regroup their thoughts and move on to the next one.
Use all kinds of questions. Ask for little details, ask for their specific answers, ask them to summarize entire sections, ask how they feel about what they answered, ask them to put things in their own words, ask them if they have experienced personally a point they are making, ask them to say it again, ask them if they have anything else they didn’t get a chance to share. Don’t rely heavily on the questions provided in the material. Use a mix of those with questions that help students synthesize, summarize, and personalize what they brought with them. The goal here is that students begin to articulate beyond what they wrote, but what they think and feel about the material.
Create a comment friendly environment. Ex: When someone shares a thought, try to build on it by agreeing, pointing out how it relates to another idea, ask a follow-up question, etc. I try to keep each persons comment or answer “alive” in the discussion for at least a few minutes. Ask other mature believers to help you do this. This encourages people to share and helps prevent people from venting or dumping. If the group knows that typically the leader or someone else in the group is going to keep what you shared on the table a while, it can act as an extra filter for sharing thoughts that contribute to the “meal.”
When someone shares something that seems irrelevant… Recognize that there probably is some sort of connection for the person who is sharing. The key is to figure out what that connection is. I say this all the time, ” That seems like a really fascinating train of thought. What was it about the material we are studying this week that prompted you to look at that? ” That way you are not creating a rabbit trail, but you allowing them to explore their thinking a little further.
Affirm. Write down what they say in the margins of your own study. Ask them to explain the process of study that led them to that. Open up your Bible to the passages they use. Praise well thought out answers or personal applications. Do their applications with them if they are better than your own. Facebook message students with a summary of key points shared, application checkups, etc. This encourages a sense of contribution and often results in better and better personal study.
(This is the outline I brought to the conference to help prompt my little discussion, so if anything is unclear, just ask.)
And now on to what I do with an even greater degree of skill than lead Bible study groups – speed cleaning. If you need additional tips on either of these topics, I’m your woman.