Last Friday, I listed 5 practices for preparing effective Bible studies.
- Depend on the Lord
- Figure out what God has said
- Allow the message to change you
- Decide how to lead your group toward what God has said
- Consider the beginning
This week, I offer a sample fruit of this model. Here are the notes I created to help me lead a recent Bible study. You may want to open these notes in another window to follow along as I walk through them.
I led this study for my church small group that met in my home. Our group met weekly, though we held a Bible study at only 2 or 3 of those meetings each month. We began studying the book of Exodus in August, and this study on Exodus 12:29-13:16 was our next-to-last study before breaking for the summer. (We live in a university town, so our lives are ones of utter enslavement to the academic calendar.) We ended with a climactic study on the Red Sea crossing (Exodus 13:17-14:31).
Our group consisted of a few undergraduate students, a few young singles, a few young families, and a few divorcées. We have a good mix of genders, generations, and life situations represented.
My expectations for the study were that participants would read the passage before the meeting and spend some time thinking about the following questions:
- What happened that Passover night?
- How are the Israelites to remember that night?
- Why are they to remember that night?
They were also supposed to sign up to bring something for dinner, but you probably don’t need to know that.
The Bible study part of the meeting lasted 1 hour. We didn’t read the text, but dove right into the discussion.
The first 2 minutes of the study are the most important (see Practice #5 in last week’s post), so I set the tone with this question:
What is the most important thing you would like to be remembered for in the future?
Though this was my first question, it was the very last thing I prepared. Everything else on this page of notes came first, as I studied the passage and grappled with the structure, main point, and list of questions to stimulate discussion.
Once I knew where I wanted to go, I was ready to construct the beginning. I wanted a strong question that would get us thinking about applying the main point of the passage, but without giving the whole thing away too soon.
After 2 or 3 minutes of sharing about what we want to be remembered for, we were ready to hit the text.
I keep this item at the top of my notes, because it’s the most important thing for us to get to. The discussion was pretty fluid as people would observe many details in the text and ask interpretive questions. But, though the discussion was fluid, I made sure to steer it in the right direction.
By putting the main point at the top, I’m more likely to make sure we get to it. Ideally, most of what comes up in the discussion will move us toward this point. And the study climaxes when we arrive here.
But sometimes, the group discovers a slightly different main point on its own. In those cases, I won’t require them to conclude what I wrote in my notes. I’ll be open and responsive to the text. I must hold my conclusions loosely if the evidence suggests a better alternative.
This section of the notes lays out the building blocks for the main point.
First, I list key themes in the passage (“This very day is special…”). Second, I outline the passage by discovering the main point of each paragraph. Third, I make sure to consider how the passage connects to the mission of Jesus Christ.
In the meeting, I don’t walk through these items. They’re in my notes to serve as reminders. When the discussion gets close to something in this section, I want to take advantage of the opportunity to lead the people there.
Observation/Interpretation Questions to help lead to main point
In this section of the notes I list the questions that I will use to stimulate discussion. In this case, I had emailed these questions to the group before the meeting, so I was able to work through them in order. Each question led to a treasure trove of observation and interpretation of the text. I won’t let people get away with an answer without mentioning a verse number or a specific observation that supports what they say.
This section of the notes lists a range of possible application questions I could ask the group. I rarely have time to ask all of them, but I want to be prepared to lead the group in many different directions.
We want to make both inward and outward application. We should consider head, heart, and hands. And we can consider both individual and corporate application. I try to hit every one of these areas over time, since we’re rarely able to hit every area in every study.
So you can see I don’t use these notes as a script, but as a prompter. I plan the launching question and the first observation question, and then I hope for the best and do what I can to keep us moving toward the main point and application. And I pray, of course. Always pray!
———————-This model for preparing and leading a Bible study is heavily influenced by Colin Marshall’s terrific book, Growth Groups.