When I find myself in a new city, it takes me a while to get my bearings. I need an idea of a city’s structure before I can move around with confidence.
In Pittsburgh—the biggest city near me—everything is organized by bridges and neighborhoods. If I feel lost, I look for signs for the closest bridge, stadium, or college campus. Knowing the big picture keeps me moving.
When studying the Bible, a book overview serves this same function. Knowing the themes, structure, and main point of a book is a great help when you wade into the chapters and verses. We’ve written before about how to do a book overview in your personal Bible study; today we’ll address leading a small group through the process.
Homework is Required
A fair warning: This particular small group meeting requires homework. Your group members may balk, but without homework, a book overview discussion will become a lecture. Nobody wants that.
My small group recently started Luke, and we kicked things off with a book overview meeting. Here’s what I expected my group to do before the meeting.
- Read the whole book. I asked them to read it at least once, and two or three times if possible. I encouraged them to jot down thoughts on the book’s structure and major themes as they read.
- Watch two videos. We’ve written before about The Bible Project’s book overview videos. They’re excellent. Here are the two videos that were produced for Luke. (This was the easy part of the homework!)
- Read an overview article. Either in a study Bible or an online source, I asked my group to find an article about the big purpose and themes of the book. (Here is one article I recommended for Luke. And here is another great resource on Bible book overviews.)
My group had five weeks between meetings to accomplish these tasks. Stating my expectations up front made leading the book overview meeting a snap.
The Meeting Itself
I told my group we’d discuss five simple questions at the meeting.
- Who wrote this book?
- To whom was this book written?
- Why did this person write this book to these people at this time?
- What are some key themes of the book?
- How is the book structured?
We hit all five questions, and because my friends had prepared, we had a lively discussion.
The goal of a book overview meeting should be to come up with a main point for the book you’re studying. Once you agree on this as a group, you can return to it to make sense of smaller passages. Even if you don’t hit on application during this meeting, you’re laying the foundation for future discussions.
Like a Compass in a Storm
The book overview won’t solve all of your Bible study problems. But it is a wonderful exercise for both personal and small group Bible study. When you know what an author is trying to do with the book as a whole, sometimes smaller sections of the book click into place.
Next time you start a new book in your small group Bible study, take a week to talk about the big picture. You won’t regret it!
Thanks to Peter for his help in preparing this article.