What the Dictionary Taught Me About Bible Study

I don’t watch many videos online. I almost always skip them when people link to them. But when blogger Mark Ward says, “This video is fantastic,” I pay attention. Mark shares my love for linguistics and for careful, contextual Bible study, so I respect his recommendations on such things.

So I now share with you Anne Curzan’s TED talk entitled, “What Makes a Word ‘Real’?” And I echo Mark’s evaluation. This video is fantastic. Watching it may be your best-invested 17 minutes all week. I believe you’ll find the video to be quite impactful, and I wish I had some way to incentivize your watching of it.

Curzan explains how language changes over time, and she peels back the curtain on the editing of dictionaries. I appreciate her comment that the dictionary is probably the only book we’re trained never to think critically about. But we should. Below the video, I’ll trace some implications for Bible study.

What does Curzan’s presentation tell us about Bible study?

  1. Because languages can change drastically every hundred years, word studies are far less important than book studies when we come to the Scripture. Our chief goal should be to understand how each author uses his language; our goal should not be to tap into the history of the Bible’s vocabulary.
  2. “No dictionary is the final arbiter of what words ‘mean.'” This is no less true of Bible dictionaries and lexicons than it is of modern English ones. The difference, of course, is that biblical languages are now dead and no longer changing. But those languages (particularly Hebrew) changed so much over the time the Bible was written that it’s irrational to think we can look back over their millennia of use and identify the single “true meaning” of any biblical word. Just think of the American Heritage Dictionary’s contradictory entries for the word peruse.
  3. Just like in contemporary word usage, biblical authors felt free to make up new words to suit their purposes (I think of “more than conquerors” in Romans 8:37 as an example). In such cases, they likely were aiming more at emotional impact than technical precision.
  4. We must be careful not to read current theological categories back into the words of Scripture. The Scriptures must stand on their own, in their own context. For example, when the New Testament uses the word “church,” the authors do not always have in mind what we think of as “church” (a local congregation, meeting at least weekly for worship services, with a pastor, a budget, a building, a set of by-laws, and an annual meeting). “Preach” is not always referring to the sermons presented by the ordained minister on Sunday morning.

Words are beautiful things, as long as we notice how they’re used and don’t expect them to carry loads they simply can’t bear. Consider this video your invite to a fruitful understanding of basic linguistics. And please don’t defriend me over it.

Check it out!

Keep the Context Front and Center

Last week, I read some amazing things in the New York Times:

The president’s announcement was the first official confirmation of his death.

“They were disappointed, frankly, that I didn’t have some breakthrough.”

Minutes earlier, she had fled there for safety as she called 911, telling the operator that her fiancé had thrown her on the bed and hit her in the face and head. She was two months pregnant.

Thousands of people attended hundreds of enrollment events around the country at public libraries, churches, shopping malls, community colleges, clinics, hospitals and other sites.

Are you amazed?

Enrique Burgos (2010), Creative Commons

Enrique Burgos (2010), Creative Commons

The Problem

Though all these quotes came from a single publication with a single editorial board, they also came from a variety of articles, written by different journalists, and spread out over a few days. Each article had a different topic, designed for a different column, reporting on a different sector of the news. But my selection of quotations doesn’t really mean anything to you without more information. You need the context for each one to make sense.

Do you read the Bible like this? Do you find a remarkable sentence or two here and there, memorize them, and base your hope on them? You don’t read anything else in this way. Not newspapers, novels, letters, emails, blogs or textbooks. Sure, sometimes you’ll scan. Other times you’ll highlight key statements that you want to remember. But you won’t limit your reading to isolated sentences.

Do you teach the Bible like this? Do you string together verse after verse to make a point? It’s fine to do so, as long as you’re not doing violence to what those verses meant in context (Paul does it in Romans 3:10-18, David does it in 1 Chronicles 16:7-36, and Jonah does it in Jonah 2:1-9). But Satan can quote isolated statements from the Bible in support of evil intentions (Matt 4:6). Plenty of folks today likewise excel at sampling Bible verses to mix some truth with catastrophic error.

The Challenge of Bible Studies

In a Bible study meeting, you may have 30-90 minutes to dive into a particular text. You’ll look at the details, ask many specific questions, and try to make particular applications. As you work on a small portion of text, how do you keep the big picture (the context) front and center? How do you prevent the group from moving through one isolated text to another, week after week, without ever fitting them together?

A Proposed Solution

These suggestions are not the only ones you could follow, but they summarize what I’ve found most helpful.

1. Do a good book overview

When leading a study through a book of the Bible, I always dedicate the first meeting to a book overview. This overview gives us clarity on the historical context: author, audience, occasion, and structure. But more importantly, it enables us to discuss the entire book’s main point. For example, in my church small group, we’re studying Romans. Our book overview led us to a pretty clear main point: Paul wants to preach the gospel to those who are in Rome (see Rom 1:15-17).

2. Remind the group of where you’ve been

Each week, I make sure to summarize the text’s argument over the last few chapters. This enables us to situate the present text within the book’s flow of thought. For example, our last study in Romans 3:9-20 came as the climax to Paul’s argument that began in Romans 1:18. Before tackling Rom 3:9-20, we briefly reviewed the section up to this point: God’s wrath is revealed against the immoral (Rom 1:18-32), God’s wrath is against the moral (Rom 2:1-16), God’s wrath is against the outwardly religious (Rom 2:17-3:8).

3. Make sure to grasp the passage’s main point

It’s worth it to fight for the main point. By definition, doing so enables you to focus on what God considers most important. Incidentally, it also helps you not to get lost in the sea of sub-points and minutiae that so easily commandeer your attention. As you keep main points front and center, you’ll decrease the likelihood of missing the context.

4. Connect each passage to the book’s main point

Every week, as we study a new section of Romans, we ask, “How does Paul preach the gospel (good news) in this passage?” The key here is to take the passage’s main point and show how it advances the book’s main point. Of course, in Romans 1:18-3:20, there is not much “good” news yet. We’ve had profitable discussions about why it’s so important to understand the extent of the bad news before the good news will seem truly good.

5. End with a book review

A book review is just like a book overview, except that it takes place at the end instead of the beginning. When you’ve completed examining all the book’s pieces, take time to put them back together. You may even need to revise your overview in light of what you saw as you dug deeper through the details. So I find it helpful to dedicate an entire meeting to reviewing what we learned from the book, both themes and applications. This review may solidify the lessons and help people to remember them when they return to this book in their personal study.


When you lead people in careful, contextual Bible study, you’ll be amazed to see that some of your favorite memory verses don’t actually mean what you once thought.

For example, in context, Romans 8:28 doesn’t mean that “all things” you could ever experience work together for the “good” you might hope for. No, Paul is saying specifically that all of “our present sufferings” (Rom 8:18-27) work together for that single good purpose which God predestined from the beginning: that we might be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29). Romans 8:28 offers not so much an alleviating comfort as a promise of crushing, suffocating pain — albeit a pain that will make you more beautiful for having gone through it.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Bible Study Tools

Last week, the Gospel Coalition published a piece I wrote called “My Love-Hate Relationship with Bible Study Tools.

What if I were to ask you to solve 30 long-division problems? One thing, though: there’s no calculator. Sure, you probably remember how to do it by hand, but since you haven’t since childhood, you’re rusty. As a result, the whole idea seems a little threatening and needlessly difficult, doesn’t it?

Thanks to the blessings of the modern age, nobody does long division by hand anymore. We’ve become dependent on the tool. Why go to all that intellectual effort when you can punch a few buttons and have an answer at your fingertips in a matter of milliseconds?

I love that we have access to calculators. I don’t even mind that using them has permanently atrophied my math skills. But I refuse to let modern Bible study tools—as great as they are—do the same thing to my Bible study skills. I never want to become so dependent on these tools that I forgo the deep joy that comes from sitting down with a Bible, plus a pen and some paper, and simply digging in. I never want to pretend that reading the fruit of someone else’s Bible study efforts is the same as plumbing the depths of God’s Word myself. And no matter how biblically wise or learned I may become, I never want to train anyone to rely on me more than they rely on Scripture.

What’s more, I’m convinced that if the New Testament authors were alive today they would back me up: modern Bible study tools are a great blessing—but if you rarely or never study the Bible without them, you’re not only doing it backward, you’re seriously missing out.

The article then lists 3 fruits of personal Bible study and makes a brief case for the OIA method. If you’d like to read the full article, have at it!

3 Disciplines to Develop Wise Speech

You’ve tasted and seen the effects of a wise leader’s words, and you want to be that kind of leader. You want to speak words that deliver, delight, gladden, and heal. You’d like to be able to defuse, persuade, inspire, and influence. You can picture leading such Bible studies, but you don’t know how to move in that direction. You see the potential, but you don’t know how to realize it.

You’re not alone, and you don’t have to feel stuck. Proverbs describes not only the product but also which best practices will help you get there. The following 3 tips don’t include everything that could be said about how to become a wise leader. But if you give yourself to these 3 disciplines, you’ll quickly find, by God’s grace, you have something to offer. “The lips of the righteous feed many” (Prov 10:21).

Steven Shorrock (2011), Creative Commons

Steven Shorrock (2011), Creative Commons

1. Listen more than you speak.

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Prov 18:13)

When leading Bible studies, your goals should be, first, to hear others, and second, to give an answer. Reverse the order, and you’re on the way toward shameful folly.

What does this mean? What does it look like to hear before giving an answer?

  • You care more about winning people than about being right.
  • You want to know what other people think more than you want them to know what you think (even when you’re the leader).
  • You learn how to ask good observation, interpretation, and application questions that stimulate discussion and don’t shut it down.
  • You create a group culture where crazy, even false, ideas can be freely spoken. Please note: This doesn’t mean you create a culture where crazy, even false, ideas are accepted. Loving people doesn’t mean compromising the truth. And loving the truth doesn’t require you to feel threatened by questions or objections.
  • You ask open-ended questions.
  • You avoid questions that have only one answer. Such questions are not really questions but mind-reading exercises.
  • You pay attention to what people say.
  • You reflect what you hear people say, rephrasing their comments in your own words. This reflection demonstrates that you understood the substance and didn’t merely catch the words.
  • You don’t answer every question yourself but toss questions back out to the group.

2. Draw others out.

The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. (Prov 20:5)

Listening is good. It’s an important first step. But if that’s all you do, you’ve got a support group or love fest on your hands instead of a Bible study. People are like wells, and your goal is to drop the bucket and scoop out their purposes. You want to help them understand themselves better than they did before. Once they do, change becomes possible.

Let me illustrate. One person leads a Bible study on Romans 3:9-20 and teaches the material well. He observes the text well and gets people looking up all the Old Testament quotes. He shows how these passages about Israel’s enemies are used by Paul to describe Israel herself. Even Jewish mouths are thus stopped, and the whole world is held accountable to God. The leader communicates a clear doctrine of human depravity, and he challenges people to trust in Christ and not themselves. They listen eagerly, happy to learn and grow.

Another person leads a study on the same passage, but does so through thoughtful questions, careful listening, and stimulating follow-up questions. He covers the same content as the other leader, and he gets people talking about the topic of depravity on their own. One person mentions an obnoxious family member, and the leader asks her how that relationship has colored her view of the world. Another person challenges the doctrine of depravity, and the leader—who doesn’t jump on the objector with immediate correction—asks more questions to understand why it’s so hard to swallow. Another participant confesses feelings of guilt whenever the topic of sin arises, and the leader sensitively coaxes further context-appropriate detail from him.

When you actually understand why people think what they think, you’re in the best position to convince them to think something else. When you understand why people respond the way they do, you’ll be able to connect the dots for them so they can repent and choose different responses in the future. If you don’t scoop out the purposes in their hearts, you’ll end up with a group that agrees with what you’ve taught, but doesn’t understand how to make specific changes to their lives. The result? Very little change in their lives.

3. Sweeten your speech.

The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Prov 16:21)

If you listen and draw others out, the time will come for you to speak. And you don’t have to say much, because your words will weigh far more from all your listening and investigation. But it’s a good time to remember the age-old adage that has inspired many a fledgling leader: “You’ve done well so far, but don’t screw it up.”

When the time comes for you to speak, it’s not a good time to criticize people who aren’t in the room. “I can’t believe how wrong all those Arminians [Calvinists, Baptists, Presbyterians, whatever] are…”

It’s also never a good time to scold a participant, belittle one in error, or ignite a quarrel.

Instead, you have an opportunity to woo, persuade, and build trust. You get there by sweetening your speech. Give them reason to trust you and lower their defenses. During a Bible study:

  • “Other translations say…” is better than “You should get a more literal translation.”
  • “I can see what you’re saying, but have you considered…?” is better than “I disagree.”
  • “That’s a good question for another time. For now, what does the passage say?” is better than “Please don’t go off-topic.”

This is not mealy-mouthed refusal to engage in public discourse. This is not political spin. This is sweet, persuasive, winsome ministry.

3 Ways Not to Use Greek in Bible Study

An all-too-common myth in Bible study is that there is a “true” or “deeper” meaning in the original languages that doesn’t come across in English. Not only is this idea almost always untrue, it is also normally damaging to careful Bible study.

I’m not saying that Greek and Hebrew are worthless. They matter, and pastors and Bible teachers will benefit from studying the languages. But we must study them as languages, not as secret codes. It’s far more useful to learn how language works than to learn how to reference Strong’s numbers and identify Hebrew and Greek word roots.

For example, “agape” means very little on its own. It finds meaning only when it’s used in a sentence. Matthew, Luke, Paul, and John may have very different things in mind when they use the same word. We benefit much more from examining the sentences than by scrutinizing the exact vocabulary. And normally we can do this just fine in English.

Justin Dillehay walks through 3 common errors committed by those who dabble in Greek vocabulary in their Bible study. We do well to take notice!

  1. Usage trumps etymology: Avoid the root fallacy. The origins of a word have very little to do with that word’s later usage.
  2. Scholars are necessary: Avoid the cult of the amateur. Praise God for those members of the body who dedicate their lives to rich understanding of Greek and Hebrew. Perhaps we ought to be slow to suggest how a certain passage “should” be translated.
  3. Context is king: Avoid the overload fallacy. When a writer uses a certain word, he’s not normally tapping into every other use of that word in prior literature. Therefore, Dillehay writes, “An ounce of good contextual analysis is worth a pound of poorly done Greek word studies.”

Dillehay’s full article is well worth reading. Check it out!

8 Effects of a Wise Leader’s Words

When you lead a Bible study, you quickly discover that people are different. And when your meeting consists primarily of discussion, people’s differences can make things messy. It’s not hard to find good advice for moderating the messiness (such as how to confront conversation hijackers or redirect discussion detours), so I won’t repeat such advice here. Instead I’d like to reflect on the effects of wise words.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. (Prov 10:11)

The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense. (Prov 10:21)

Drew Bennett (2008), Creative Commons

Drew Bennett (2008), Creative Commons

The righteous wisdom from God is a great blessing for the people of God, because those with such wisdom on their lips “feed many.” Thus, I’d rather attend one Bible study led by a master sage whose godliness disinfects any mess, than a hundred Bible studies led by an inquisitive guru who has memorized all the proper techniques. The wisdom of God demands that we not only do wise things (Prov 1:2-3) but also become wise people (Prov 1:4-6). Thankfully, the Lord has made the evidence of such wisdom easily observable so we can search it out and increase our risk of contamination.

1. Wise Words Deliver

With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. (Prov 11:9)

Wise leaders speak knowledge that delivers. Repentance and faith take root. Conflict resolves. Lives change.

2. Wise Words Delight

To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is! (Prov 15:23. See also Prov 16:24, 24:24-26, 25:25)

When wise leaders speak, people rejoice. Seasonal words can’t be programmed; they merely flow from a heart conditioned to consider others’ needs more than its own.

3. Wise Words Gladden

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. (Prov 12:25)

The difference between this point and the previous one is the difference between a process and its result. If you want those you lead to find delight, you’ll need to learn how to go about encouraging them through their dark moments. This “good word” that gladdens has very little to do with getting the sentiments exactly right. It has everything to do with listening, asking questions, and letting yourself feel what they feel. Often, the good news comes when they find they don’t have to suffer and groan alone (Rom 8:22-27).

4. Wise Words Heal

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. (Prov 16:24.)

Wise leaders speak hope that not only rescues from sin but also directs toward righteousness. Such heart surgery is the Christian’s highest health. Sometimes we misdefine “healing” as “freedom to stew and to speak every angry thought you’ve had toward the person who offended you.” But true spiritual healing stands in stark contrast to such violent sword thrusts (Prov 12:18).

5. Wise Words Defuse

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov 15:1)

When a wise leader gets involved, tempers dissipate and misunderstood people learn to seek understanding. A wise teacher won’t refute an opposing viewpoint unless the opponent would agree his position has been represented fairly. Generalizations are not overused, and particularizations are not asinine.

6. Wise Words Persuade

The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Prov 16:21. See also Prov 16:23.)

Wise leaders have a reputation for distinguishing truth from error. People in need of help seek them out and ask for their opinions. Such leaders can pinpoint main ideas, use accurate labels, predict actions’ consequences, and enumerate clear recommendations. And hungry souls find such speech extraordinarily sweet.

7. Wise Words Inspire

The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. (Prov 15:2. See also Prov 15:7.)

When good leaders adorn the truth with beauty, people discover a thirst they didn’t know they had. The knowledge of God becomes more desirable, and folly looks not only foolish but also repellent.

8. Wise Words Influence

Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right. (Prov 16:13)

Sometimes we worry about what people think of us, and we should repent. But other times we don’t think about it enough, and we should. People can love you for the wrong reasons, and they can also love you for the right reasons. The problem is not with the love but with the reasons. Do they think of you as someone who speaks what is right? Do people follow your leadership because they have to, or because they want to?

By all means, please learn good techniques for leading Bible study discussions. But more importantly, please gain lips of wisdom.

Question: What are your next steps for developing a heart and mouth of wisdom?

Escaping the Box: Main Session Videos

One of my greatest privileges is teaching the Word of God. Another is teaching God’s Word alongside teammates whom I respect and from whom I love to learn. I love serving with an organization that loves God’s Word and is committed to helping college students learn how to study it.

On October 24-26, DiscipleMakers held our annual Fall Conference. This year’s theme was “Escaping the Box: The Mind-Blowing Message of Jesus.” At the main sessions, we taught on key aspects of Christ’s salvation from the book of Romans. Below are clips from each session, and you can click the links to video of the full talks (mine was the closing session).

Romans 1: The Overwhelming Despair of Depravity

Romans 5: The Surprising Joy of Justification

Romans 8:1-17: The Gracious Acceptance of Adoption

Roundtable Discussion: The Compelling Summons of Sanctification

Romans 8:17-39: The Unbelievable Goal of Glorification


Prepare Him Room: Advent Devotional and Curriculum

If my wife didn’t forbid it, I would play Christmas music all year. I would give (and gladly receive) presents every day. I would sing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing!” every Sunday. I love Christmastime.

Prepare Him RoomSo I was delighted to hear of Marty Machowski’s new Advent devotional and classroom curriculumPrepare Him Room. By using these resources in the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas, families and churches will lead their children through a study of Old Testament promises, Jesus’ birth narratives, and New Testament explanations of Christ’s person and work. This material ties the entire Bible together in a sound and simple-to-use package. I highly recommend it.

How It Works

If you’re not familiar with Machowski’s other works for children (The Gospel Story for Kids series), an explanation is in order. If you are familiar, and you’d like to get to the meat of my recommendation, you may want to scroll to the next section.

With The Gospel Story for Kids (TGSFK), Machowski developed material for use in both churches and homes. The idea is that church children’s ministries ought to support what parents do at home (duh!), and so the curriculum all fits together. The pieces are:

Long Story ShortYou can use any part of the package independently of the others. (For example, if your church doesn’t want the curriculum, you could still use the family devotionals at home). But if you use them all together, they take your children through the entire Bible in 3 years (a year and a half for each testament), and your children will experience the walk through three times (once at each age level: preschool, lower elementary, and upper elementary). All children and families are studying the same Bible passage each week, in an age-appropriate fashion.

Prepare Him Room works just like the rest of TGSFK series, except that it’s designed just for Advent season. There is a family devotional book, and a CD with lesson plans for classrooms. For those using TGSFK materials, Prepare Him Room will give you a 4-week break to focus on the birth of Christ.

Why I Like It

My church has used TGSFK for over a year now, and we love it. We use the curriculum for ages 3-11, and a church member donated money to give each family copies of the Bible storybook and family devotionals. We had a special meeting with everyone to kick it off, and I’m scheduled to lead a seminar this Sunday to refresh those who need encouragement to press on in family devotions.

It has not proven to be a magical ambrosia guaranteeing eternal life to all who partake; we still have to train teachers, equip parents, and shepherd children’s messy hearts. Christian discipleship is a heavy business that resists oversimplification and systematization. But these tools have made our job simple and delightful, and here’s why:

  • Machowski focuses on reading the Bible. His materials supplement the Scriptures but do not replace them. Even in the children’s Bible storybook, much space is spent quoting the text of Scripture. The upper elementary curriculum trains students to read and study the Scripture for themselves. Hurrah!
  • Every class lesson explicitly connects the Bible passage to the gospel. No child can escape the weekly mantra: “The gospel is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation.” The most eye-catching part of each lesson plan is the little box explaining how that week’s text preaches the gospel.
  • When every child and family reads the same passages each week, it grows our identity as a community. We now have shared material to discuss informally. And every time a teacher reads from the story Bible or devotional, at least one child is guaranteed to shout, “We have that book at home, too!”
  • Gospel Story CurriculumThe family devotions are short. When the subtitle says Ten Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God, it speaks truth. We’ve been able to work ours in at dinner time, and it rarely feels like a burden. There are devotions for 5 days per week, but when we’re feeling overwhelmed with our family schedule we can drop the 5th one without losing too much continuity. It hardly takes any time, but without sacrificing depth.
  • The lesson plans are easily adaptable. They give suggestions in 5-10 minute chunks to cover a class up to 80 minutes long. Our church schedule allows for only 40 minutes of class time, but it’s not hard for teachers to figure out which chunks to drop to fit within our constraints.
  • The lessons require little preparation. Of course, the best teachers (not me) spend oodles of time and have terrific lessons. I teach, not because I live to teach children, but because I want to serve. And this curriculum doesn’t cost me too much. I can gather my props in 5 minutes and spend the bulk of my preparation in study and prayer. I’m not chasing down construction paper, wiping off bottles of glue, or picking glitter out of my hair. Perhaps I’m showing too much of my hand, though, and other teachers may prefer supply scavenger hunts.

A Few Qualifications

Though this review is about Prepare Him Room, the Advent devotional and curriculum, I couldn’t review it without reference to the rest of The Gospel Story For Kids series. If you like TGSFK, you’ll love Prepare Him Room. If you’re unfamiliar with TGSFK, Prepare Him Room may be a painless introduction to the model.

As with the rest of TGSFK, you can buy Prepare Him Room as either a set of family devotionals or a classroom curriculum. There are just a few differences with Prepare Him Room, when compared to TGSFK:

  • The family book includes devotionals for just 3 days per week.
  • The family book also includes a 4-chapter story, one chapter per week, to serve as a fourth family time. The story is okay but not great, and I wish there was a fourth devotion in the Scripture each week instead.
  • Sovereign Grace produced a CD of carols old and new to go with Prepare Him Room.
  • For some reason, the fourth week of the Sunday School curriculum doesn’t match up with the fourth week’s family devotional topic.

Though New Growth Press gave me a complimentary copy of Prepare Him Room in exchange for an honest review, I would absolutely buy it if they hadn’t. I’m delighted to recommend it to you.

9 Things Everyone Should Do When Reading the Bible

This article at Relevant Magazine lists 9 simple things anyone and everyone should do when reading the Bible.

  1. Read “king” when you see “Christ.”
  2. Read “you” differently (it’s usually plural, not singular).
  3. If you see a “therefore,” find out what it’s there for.
  4. Realize that not all “if” statements are the same.
  5. Recognize that lamenting is OK.
  6. Realize that prophecy is more often FORTH-telling than FORE-telling.
  7. Become familiar with the idioms of your king.
  8. Remember what you learned in English class.
  9. Read to study. But also, read to refresh your heart.

These are great tips. On the first point, I suggest reading “the Chosen One” instead of “King,” but the article’s general point is sound: “Christ” is a title and not just Jesus’ last name.

Check it out!

Different People are…Different

I would never accuse Kevin of being a people person, but his insight nearly knocked my socks off.

David Sitting (2014), Creative Commons

David Sitting (2014), Creative Commons

We sat in a coffee shop, just days before our college graduation. Kevin had studied mechanical engineering and not philosophy, but that didn’t prevent him from deep reflection in the advent of one of life’s major milestones. Though he had locked himself in a computer lab for the last four years and had only just come up for air, he was able to answer my question with a deliberate clarity I didn’t expect.

“What is the most helpful thing you’ve learned in college?”

“People are so interesting. Each one is different.”

With our schoolwork behind us, we could spend a lazy afternoon unpacking this profound truth together. Kevin shared his regrets: not making more time for friends. I shared mine: not being quicker to see how the differences among people were very good. We committed ourselves to praising God for making so many people so different.

Leading Bible Study

More than 15 years later, this conversation still haunts me when I find myself getting annoyed by people who aren’t like me. Especially people who slow me down. Especially when I’m doing something important like leading a Bible study.

Would you believe there are people who would voluntarily attend a Bible study—knowing full well that it is a discussion group—and never say a word? And others will come who never shut up? And some won’t understand that you call it a Bible study because you intend to study the Bible?

People are different. Their motives are different. Their challenges, experiences, and dreams are different. The Lord’s work in each one is different, and the pace of each person’s spiritual growth is different. But your mission as a leader remains the same:

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2, ESV)

“Complete patience” means I’m not bothered when people are different. “Complete teaching” means my goal for each person remains the same. I strive to preach Christ and him crucified, and I make every effort to see that nobody misses the grace of God.

Seeing the Opportunities

The Unbeliever may help your group to ask questions it never would have considered on its own.

The Aggressive Atheist may tie his own noose—and in so doing, strengthen the faith of young Christians—if he’s not willing to allow the text to speak before he tries to contradict it.

The Speechless Introvert may be the most thoughtful and considerate attendee.

The Tenure-Seeking Lecturer may actually bring some helpful knowledge of theology or historical background to the table.

The Off-Topic Questioner may care more about application than you do.

The Critical Nitpicker may help you to become more clear and effective in your leadership.

The Spontaneous Emoter may be your best recruiter.

The Invulnerable Thinker may be able to develop the best strategy for growing the group.

Truth is singular; people are plural. Good leaders learn to connect the two. Without compromise, and with complete patience.