Studying the Bible and leading a Bible study are not the same thing. Though they’re composed of the same raw materials, the order of events makes all the difference.
When I study the Bible on my own I follow the steps (roughly) in order:
- Ask questions
- Answer questions
- Determine the main point
- Connect the main point to Jesus
Of course, it’s organic and cyclical. But the workflow generally moves in order through these steps (see the OIA infographic).
But when I lead a Bible study, I arrange the same steps in a different order:
- Launching question introduces the main point.
- Opening application.
- Observation and interpretation questions are all mixed up.
- Determine the main point.
- Connect the main point to Jesus.
- Application questions.
When Bible study apprentices are ready to begin leading studies (the “You do; I help” stage of training), I make sure to help them see the difference. In our private study, we begin with a blank page. But in public teaching (including small group discussions), we begin with a nudge in the right direction. In all settings, public or private, we listen to the text and don’t presume upon it. And as leaders, we can help group members also to listen carefully to the text.
So when I meet with an apprentice to prepare the next Bible study, I have a few goals. The preparation meeting usually follows this agenda:
- Study the passage together and reach agreement about its main point.
- Come up with specific applications for ourselves.
- Come up with some application questions for the group.
- List a few observation and interpretation questions that will help the group reach the main point.
- Craft a strong launching question that will plant the seeds of the main point in the study’s opening minutes.
By the end of the meeting, I want the apprentice to have enough material to create a set of leader’s notes. I offer much direction to make this happen. But after doing this for a few months, the workflow passes through a series of phases:
Phase 1 (should have happened by now): I create the leader’s notes, but we meet to discuss them before the study.
Phase 2: Apprentice and I meet to create the leader’s notes together.
Phase 3: Apprentice creates the leader’s notes without me, but then we meet to discuss them.
Phase 4: Apprentice creates the leader’s notes without me, but emails them to me for feedback before the study. In this phase, my regular meeting with the apprentice focuses on shepherding the people (discussing how they’re doing, next steps, etc.).
Phase 5: Apprentice leads the study, and I never see the notes. I now give feedback on the study itself, only after the fact.
The point here is for the apprentice to have a steady increase in responsibility, along with a steady decrease in oversight. The details may look different for each person, but the key is to keep moving forward. And this movement should be gradual. If you go right from Phase 1 to Phase 5, most apprentices will feel abandoned and disheartened.
As the apprentice masters each phase of responsibility, we move into the next one. Such visible progress inspires and builds trust.