To lead our groups toward what God has said, we can reframe our Bible studies for different audiences, even when we cover the same text. But how do we go about framing the study for a particular audience? How do we construct a discussion plan for a specific group of people?
1. Don’t get ahead of yourself
The study’s framing is 4th on the list of 5 practices for preparing effective Bible studies. Don’t worry about getting the framing right until after you’ve taken care to 1) depend on the Lord, 2) understand the passage’s main point, and 3) apply the main point to your own life. Work on framing too soon, and you may lose clarity or credibility in your leadership.
2. Consider the group’s size
I’ll prepare a Bible study differently for a small group vs. a large group. With a larger audience, questions must be more direct to keep the discussion moving. If either the question is too open or the answer is too obvious, you’re most likely to suppress interaction. But for smaller groups, open questions like “What stood out to you in the passage?” may work just fine.
Thus in a larger group, I want the passage’s main point to take center stage. I’ll open with it and return to it often. In a smaller group, I prefer to help the group discover the main point through the discussion.
3. Be aware of your relationship with the group
For people he has never met, Paul—though warm—is somewhat formal (Rom 1:8-15) yet bold (Rom 15:15, 24). With close partners and key laborers, he gushes (1 Thess 2:17-20, 3:8, 2 Tim 2:1-8).
The truth itself will never change, but the way you pitch it may change depending on your relationship with your group. In studying 2 Timothy 3:10-17 with my church, I framed it as “What We Believe About the Bible”—personal, inclusive, familiar. I’d hesitate to use language like “what we believe” with a group of people I’ve never met; it might sound presumptuous. A better pitch for them would be “What the Bible Says About the Bible” or “What You Can Expect of the Bible.”
4. Know the group’s values and shared experiences
You’ll build more credibility as a teacher if you know your people. What do they want to get out of life? What brings them together? Why are they coming to your Bible study? What events have recently affected their community? What do they value? How do they talk? What do they do when they spend time together?
When you know your group well, you’ll craft a more personal and relevant Bible study, which produces higher impact and memorability.
For example, with college students, I try to be hip, but in an awkward sort of way (making it clear that I know I’m not really hip). I do this not to get them to like me but to communicate how much I like them. It’s my jam to understand these students better. For realz.
With families at church, I spend more time sharing about my family and our interactions with other families.
When I’m a guest teacher in a new place, I use that church’s pew Bible, and I listen to informal conversation to find something to incorporate into the study. It’s not hard to uncover a local news event or a church happening or an individual’s hope for the future. Working such things into the discussion (or into the framing of the study) makes the topic more palatable and helps it to stick.
5. Try different things
The key is not to master a set of techniques but to learn to love your people. Paul models such flexible servant leadership as he preaches to different groups of people:
Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt… (Acts 13:17)
Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious… (Acts 17:22)
We don’t teach to feel better about ourselves, nor to earn brownie points for being truth-bearers. We do it to serve God’s people and win outsiders into the Kingdom. We lead by laying down our lives and seeking to enter theirs (Mark 10:42-45).