Back in college I led a number of Bible Studies, each very well-intentioned and some even mildly well-done. One of the biggest struggles I had, however, was that I led the studies as though I were the one on whom everything depended.
Here are three suggestions for how to be smarter than I was by letting the Spirit lead:
Suggestion #1: Pray
You’d think this would be obvious, but I neglected it often. Rather than acknowledging on my knees that I was a Bible Study leader in desperate need of grace, I’d spend hours preparing, I’d use free time for recruiting and I’d survey people afterwards for feedback. Notice the repeated word? I…
Did I author these verses…?
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)
Nope. The Spirit did (2 Peter 1:20-21). So pray, then let Him lead.
Suggestion #2: Be satisfied with who shows up
I remember one time a guy I’d been inviting to come to the study for weeks finally showed up. In fact, he was the only one who came that night. Know what I did? I canceled it.
He never came back.
If only one or a handful of people show up to your study, take full advantage of the dynamics and relational opportunities that avail themselves to small groups. Don’t assume that a group of 5 or 13 or 20 will mean that you’re godlier somehow or that you’ve arrived. Jesus had a Bible study of 5000+, but not many of them panned out.
And don’t forget the corollary to this suggestion: Be satisfied with who doesn’t show up – even if you’ve been inviting them for months or years. If the Spirit is leading, He’ll bring just who He wants just when He wants them.
Suggestion #3: Throw out the script
I used to spend a ton of time trying to come up with just the right sequences of questions to help those in my study really “get” the Bible. Yet without fail, by the time I got about two questions in, someone would make a comment or ask a question that steered me off my “script”. I’d usually end up frustrated and/or staring like a deer in headlights as I tried to come up with a way to get the study back on my agenda.
If the Spirit is working in the hearts of those who come, you needn’t rely on your perfect planning. Yes, you should lead them through the basics of observation, interpretation and application, but the specifics of what that looks like needn’t be precisely pre-planned. After all, the Spirit has already been working to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8 ESV). You’re basically just along for the ride.
One sure-fire way to see what the Spirit is revealing to the group after reading the text is to ask the simple question, “What stood out to you?” You might assume it would be verse 2, but someone says, “Wow… verse 4 is amazing… I never realized that God loved me that much…” In those moments, you’ll be delighted that you weren’t the One “leading”.
Your turn: what other suggestions would you give in regard to letting the Spirit lead?