Leading a Transformative Bible Study
Bible studies are a powerful and effective tool for introducing people to Jesus and for making disciples. This article lays out the vision, skills, preparation, and investment necessary for leading a transformative Bible study for those in your small group.
Optional Lectio Divina Prayer
- Read Psalm 1:1–6.
- Meditate on the words.
- Speak to Christ about this passage.
- Rest and listen in God’s presence.
- Discuss together.
God’s Word is powerful.
When Anthony was just eighteen years old he lost both of his parents and inherited a considerable amount of wealth. He was walking by a church one day and decided to go in to pray. As he entered, he heard the Gospel for Mass being read, “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell everything you possess and give it to the poor and come, follow me and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mt 19:21). The words from Scripture struck him to the heart and inspired him to do a most amazing thing. Anthony immediately decided to sell everything he had inherited, give it to the poor and pursue a life totally dedicated to God. This man who said yes to the Holy Spirit’s prompting through God’s Word in Scripture went on to become the founder of Western monasticism and is now known today as St. Anthony of the Desert.
God’s inspired word in Scripture has the power to change lives. Though not all people will have an encounter with the Bible as dramatic as St. Anthony did that day, every ordinary Christian should be challenged, encouraged and guided by the sacred words of Scripture in their daily lives. For in the sacred books, we encounter not merely the words of men from a long time ago, but the words of God, speaking to us today through those human words.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.
This is one reason why small group Bible studies can make a significant impact on people’s lives: We gather to read not any ordinary book but the inspired Word of God speaking to us today. As Scripture itself attests, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12). Like St. Anthony, the Scriptures have an incredible ability to open hearts and impact those who read them, even today.
But that’s not all. Participants in a Bible study not only encounter God in his Word, they also encounter God in their fellowship with each other as they consider how God’s Word can be applied to their lives today. Hearing how others are applying Scripture to their lives can be very encouraging, reminding us that we’re not alone in our faith journey; there are others striving to live the Christian life as well. Hearing about their struggles, trials, joys and triumphs in applying God’s Word to their life can inspire us to go deeper in our faith as well.
Discuss: Have you experienced the power of Scripture in your own life? How do you think God’s Word can make an impact in the lives of people today? How can a Bible study help people encounter God in the Scriptures?
GOALS FOR BIBLE STUDY
Lots of things can be accomplished within a Bible study. That’s why, as you begin to lead one, you need to know your goals. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? We encourage you to focus on these three goals: divine intimacy, authentic friendship and spiritual multiplication.
Divine Intimacy: The purpose of a Bible study is not simply to learn information or be part of a club, but to facilitate an encounter with God that changes lives.
Authentic Friendship: Your participants can learn about God’s Word by themselves. The power of a small group is the experience of learning from a leader and one another. The friendships formed within a Bible study are crucial for transformation and accountability.
Spiritual Multiplication: Bible studies also provide a setting to raise up others to become missionary disciples themselves. As good as it is to form friendships and grow closer to God, don’t let your study stop there; be on the lookout for others whom God may be calling you to raise up as disciples who will go on to lead Bible studies of their own.
Keep in mind, you don’t have to be a Scripture scholar or have an electric personality to be an effective Bible Study leader. Anyone who is following Jesus in divine intimacy, who is willing to build authentic friendships and who is committed to the method of spiritual multiplication can be effective.
Discuss: Are you committed to all three of these goals (Divine Intimacy,
Authentic Friendship and Spiritual Multiplication)? As you
prepare to lead a study, how can you keep these three goals
THREE ASPECTS OF LEADING A GREAT STUDY
Now that you know why you should lead a study and what your primary goals are, let’s turn to the other three aspects of leading a great Bible study: preparation, skills and investment.
You won’t be able to lead a good discussion if you haven’t taken the time to properly prepare for your study. Here are some tips for preparing well:
Pick Out the Right Study: Choose a study that meets the needs of your group. FOCUS resources can be found at focusequip.org.
Prayer—Sharing from Your Own Encounter with God’s Word: Don’t just prepare ahead of time, reading the materials and leaders’ guide. Make sure you also pray through the material carefully. Prayerfully ponder how the biblical passages challenge you or encourage you personally. Your Bible study will be more authentic the less it is about you trying to teach people and the more it’s about you sharing from your own encounter with God’s Word. Remember, this is God’s work and you need to rely on the Holy Spirit, not simply your own ability.
Prepare Questions for Encounter: Look at the discussion questions and select questions that will be meaningful for your group. Adjust or rephrase questions, if necessary. Ask yourself, “What questions will have the greatest impact on my group?”
For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them.
Select 1-3 Main Truths to Emphasize: As you read through the study you are about to lead, determine the one to three key truths you want to share with your group. Keep your focus on those points. Whatever else happens in the study, make sure you focus on these key truths and not get lost in too many details, side conversations or tangents. Always bring things back to the one to three big, main ideas you want everyone to come away with.
Discuss: Do you know how to prepare for a Bible study? Are you willing
to make the sacrifices necessary—particularly your time—to
Various skills are necessary for leading transformative Bible studies. Let’s look at a few key skills that will allow you to lead well:
Hospitality: Making sure everyone feels comfortable and welcome will make a huge difference for your Bible study, especially in the beginning before everyone knows each other. Here are some tips for great hospitality:
• Find an accessible and informal location that can be used or reserved each week. Ask yourself, “What is the easiest location for my group to access? Where will they feel most comfortable?”
• Provide food and refreshments, especially during the first few weeks. People love free food! It also gives the participants something natural to do as they begin to arrive and chat with one another.
• Build up relationships in your study. Ask good questions that allow your members to share their lives. Use your knowledge of various members to connect them with one another and to uncover common interests.
• Finally, find a length of time for your study that works and stick to it. Some Bible study members will fall off if you aren’t consistent. Begin and end on time.
Facilitating an Encounter, Not Teaching: As the leader of a Bible study, you aren’t primarily a teacher, explaining everything about the study each week. You should not be doing all the talking. Remember the goal is to allow your participants to encounter God’s Word in the Scriptures and in each other. So what can you do to facilitate conversation well? Here are some tips:
• Use great questions to draw out the conversation. Bible study isn’t a lecture. How can you use questions that lead the group to reflect on their own experiences as well as what the Scriptures are revealing?
• Keep bringing back the conversation to the one to three main truths you chose to focus on for the study.
• Allow other members of the group to answer questions. Just because someone asks a question, doesn’t mean you need to be the one to answer it. Present the question to the entire group and allow several people to contribute to an answer. Afterward, you can clarify, if necessary.
Generating an Engaging Conversation—Three Roles: Within your study, you have 3 key roles for developing a great discussion. You can think of these as the trail guide, the traffic cop and the cheerleader. Let’s look at these three roles:
• Trail Guide: If you’ve ever gone hiking, you know how Notes helpful it can be to have a guide who has been on the trail before: They know which way to go, when to stop and where all the good views are. With your Bible study, you need to be a trail guide—someone who has been through the material before and who knows where to go to make the discussion great.
• Traffic Cop: Have you ever watched a traffic cop in action? Their ability is almost an art form as they smoothly direct people and cars with just the power of their hands and a whistle. Numerous obstacles and traffic jams can prevent your study from flowing properly. Like a traffic cop, you may need to stop certain discussions or tangents. At the same time you may need to encourage shy members of the group to speak up and share. Be mindful of the conversation, make sure everyone is participating and direct the topic toward discussions that will build up your group.
• Cheerleader: Even when their team is struggling, a great cheerleader watches the games, cheers loudly, and wears their team’s gear. As the leader of a Bible study, you need to cheer on your study. Smile, encourage participation and create an environment where people know you are supportive of them and interested in what they have to say. Give some kind of positive affirmation when someone contributes, even if their comments are not perfectly on point. When people know they are cared about and appreciated, they are more likely to engage in the discussion.
You can know you are facilitating a study well when your study looks like a good volleyball game: the conversation should go back and forth “over the net” involving a variety of participants. As the leader, you serve the ball by asking a good question. Then someone answers, setting the ball up for someone else in the group to comment, who then passes it along to another. When the volley is dead, you serve up another question.
Also, if you struggle with facilitating a dynamic Bible study, don’t be afraid to learn from someone else. Go to another leader’s study and observe what makes their study successful.
Discuss: Have you ever been in a Bible study before? What made it great and what could have been done better? What skills do you need to grow in as a Bible study leader? How can you grow in these skills?
For full transformation and conversion of heart, relational investment inside and outside of Bible study is crucial. You are forming people, not simply conducting a regular meeting. Here are some tips for great investment in your Bible study members:
• Spend some time with them outside of study. Jesus didn’t spend time with his disciples only once a week in a class; he shared life with them throughout the week and they were impacted not only through times of formal teaching but also through his interest in them and his personal investment in them outside of formal meetings.
• Make invitations to other events and activities. How else can you spend time your participants? What other activities will help them grow?
• Witness a life well lived. Ask yourself, “Am I reinforcing the truths I am teaching in Bible study by the way I live?” As leaders, our lives should reflect what we are teaching. If we don’t witness to the truths we are teaching, then the members of our Bible study likely won’t accept what is being taught. We need to live the truths we are teaching.
Discuss: How can you make a deeper investment in the members (or potential members) of your Bible study?
Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Now it’s time to begin your Bible study. Here are some tips for getting started: • First, brainstorm potential members of your Bible study, being careful not to limit yourself. Who does God want you to invite?
• Pray that God would open the hearts of these people to attend the study.
• Make time to invite each person individually. When Jesus invited the disciples to follow Him, he didn’t post a scroll in the town square or leave messages at their houses. Instead, he approached each one individually and invited them personally.
• Follow up with everyone and make sure they have all the details for the first study.
• Send reminders to everyone on the day of your study or the day before. People forget sometimes. Don’t let that get in the way of a great study.
• Especially for the first study, take extra time to allow the group to get to know each other. Forming these bonds is a critical component for keeping people interested.
• Finally, be persistent. A great study may require several invitations or an additional investment of time and energy. Put in the extra work to make your study great. Keep praying, keep making invitations and keep working on your Bible study skills.
Discuss: Do you have any fears about leading a Bible study? What
would help you overcome those fears? What steps do you
need to take to develop a great Bible study?
God’s Word is powerful: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12).
The three goals of a Bible study: Divine Intimacy, Authentic Friendship and Spiritual Multiplication
The three aspects of a great Bible study: Preparation, Skills and Investment
Three Roles to Play While Leading: Trail Guide, Traffic Cop and Cheerleader