One of the most practical—but least expected—pieces of advice I give to Bible study leaders is to wear a watch.
I know it’s easy to keep track of time on your phone. And maybe you can consult your phone in a way that isn’t obvious or distracting. But a Bible study leader needs to monitor the time, and there’s nothing quite like a watch.
Love Each Other
As a Bible study leader, I’ve far too often lost track of time. I’ve ended the study late, put a strain on the parents in the room, and inconvenienced those for whom driving later at night is difficult.
We don’t often consider time management when leading a Bible study, but it has much to do with how well our friends learn from and apply the Bible. When we rush, we can miss the supporting truths and observations on which a solid interpretation rests. When we proceed too slowly, we risk boring our friends and ruining the interaction that is so vital to a good Bible study.
The way we structure the time within our group study can have a huge effect on the way we engage with the Scriptures. Let’s take a look at six different time-related ways we can love our group members.
1. Start on time.
Try to arrive a few minutes early and begin at the agreed-upon hour. I’m not advocating you cancel any built-in mingling and conversation time. But when it’s time for the Bible study portion of the meeting, be faithful to that committment.
2. End on time.
This is even more important than the previous point. When you’re setting up the group and inviting folks to join, make sure you allow enough time for your intended purposes. Then honor the committment your friends make to the group by ending on time.
3. Manage the other parts of the meeting.
Most small group meetings include other aspects of fellowship besides Bible study. Perhaps it’s a meal, a time for prayer, singing, or door-to-door evangelism. Try to stick to a rough schedule that everyone knows so that no one is surprised and the gathering flows as expected.
4. Plan the pacing of your study.
As you get to know your group, you’ll have a sense of their interests, their strengths, and their weaknesses. You’ll learn roughly how long it will take to discuss certain passages. As you prepare your Bible study, in addition to the questions you will ask and the applications you will raise, plan out the time. Divide your study into well-defined sections so you can press the accelerator or the brake as needed.
5. Plan time for application.
But application is hard. It involves a raw look at ourselves, our group, and our church or organization, confessing our failures and pressing the truth of Scripture into those areas for obedience. It takes time.
We have to do better than tacking on a half-hearted two minutes of application to the end of our studies. To nurture application-focused discussion during which real transformation can happen, set aside at least 10 minutes for this part of the conversation.
6. Be flexible and gracious.
In advocating an eye to the clock, I’m not arguing for cold schedule-keeping. All that we do as Christians, and especially as leaders, needs to flow out of love for God and neighbor.
Sometimes love—and a sensitivity to the work of the Holy Spirit—demands flexibility. On a few occasions I’ve ditched my Bible study plans entirely in favor of encouraging, praying for, and lamenting with a brother or sister with a tremendous spiritual burden. People are more important than plans.
Additionally, sometimes the Spirit is at work during a group discussion when the meeting time ends. I suggest announcing to the group that the meeting is over and acknowledging that some people may need to leave. Offer to stay and continue the conversation with those who are able and interested.
Mind the Time
By keeing an eye on the time, we love and serve those in our small groups. This isn’t easy, and it is a skill we develop with experience. As you pray for your group, ask God to help you use and manage the group’s time for the group’s good and God’s glory.