This summer I met a professional (minor league) baseball player. I asked him if he still uses a tee for batting practice, and his response confirmed my suspicions: “Every day.”
A good Bible study guide is like a baseball tee. While it is not part of the actual game, it performs a critical function in training all players, be they youngsters, pros, or anyone in between.
Similarly, while Bible study guides should not be the heart and soul of our Scripture study, they are invaluable for refining, training, and conditioning our study skills. This goes not only for printed guides—workbooks, commentaries, etc.—but also for oral guides like discussion questions and prompting from a leader. In this final post on preparing to lead effective Bible studies, I’d like to reflect on something I often wrestle with: Should I give people specific questions to help them prepare for the next meeting?
What I Mean by Prompting
Last week, my small group was planning to study Romans 1:1-17. We had just discussed a book overview at the previous meeting. A few days before the meeting, I emailed participants with a few questions to help their preparation:
- According to this passage, what is the gospel?
- Why is Paul so excited about it?
That’s it. I didn’t put a huge effort into crafting a careful study guide. I just wanted to give a few open-ended questions to stimulate their thinking in the right direction. Is it helpful to do this?
Reasons to Prompt
There are many good reasons to prompt people in their preparation:
- People who have never studied the Bible before won’t know what to do without some help. They’ll sit and stare at the passage (if they have the fortitude to do even that) before giving up hopelessly.
- Some who have studied can still get in ruts. Familiarity may cause them to presume on the text’s meaning. A skilled leader can prompt them in the right direction.
- People eventually learn how to ask good questions after they’ve had good models to imitate.
- Such prompting sets the meeting up for success:
- It enables the group to begin the discussion farther down the road toward the main point.
- It may limit the number of rabbit trails.
- It provides structure for the group discussion.
- Prompting shapes expectations and communicates key ideas.
- It helps people to begin meditating on these key ideas before they get to the meeting. Such advance notice often makes interpretation and application discussions more fruitful.
What are some other good reasons for prompting?
Reasons Not to Prompt
I don’t have a long list for this category; just one chief danger. Prompting can short-circuit people’s ability to interact with the text directly.
When I ask (good) questions, people will (usually) answer. But how can they learn how to ask their own questions if I never give them the chance? The first step of interpretation is to ask questions of our observations, and Bible study participants should have opportunity to practice this skill as much as the rest. Though I may succeed at communicating the truth of the text, will I succeed at showing people how to find that truth in my absence?
To prompt or not to prompt? Like most areas where we need wisdom, the answer is: It depends.
It depends on who the people are. It depends on how much experience they have with Bible study. It depends on what my goals are as I lead them. It depends on what the people are ready for. It depends on what they want. It depends on whether they’ll feel stretched or broken.
I believe neither that we must always prompt nor that we must never prompt. But I believe we must at least think about it if we want to lead effectively.