Can you use a DIY Bible Study Guide with a group of friends, in a small group Bible study or with a Sunday School class?
Absolutely! It’s simple to adapt the Guide for use with your group. But first think about the type of group you are in and what their expectations are.
I have been in a slew of different Bible study groups over the years and there seem to be two major types: those that don’t do any preparation in advance and those that study the passage from the Bible on their own in advance and come to the group to discuss it
Knowing what your group expects means you’ll meet with more success as you lead them. If you aren’t sure what their expectations are (perhaps because the group is just forming), then ask them which approach they prefer. You might even find a middle ground where the people in the group receive the DIY Guide in advance as an option but not a requirement.
How you use the DIY Bible Study Guide will depend on which type of group you are leading.
If you are leading a group that doesn’t do any preparation before coming to the meeting, then you have a choice. One option is to just keep a copy of the DIY Bible Study Guide in front of you and read the questions one at a time, giving the group time to work through each answer together. People could take turns reading the passages from the Bible.
Another option is to give out copies of the DIY Bible Study Guide to the group participants when they arrive. This enables them to follow along. You’ll find you won’t have to repeat questions they didn’t hear or understand. They can also take notes right on the DIY Bible Study Guide.
However, if your group wants to work through the Biblical text on their own before coming, all you have to do is send them a link to the DIY Bible Study Guide at understandingthebibleispossible.com and they can print it out for themselves. Even if all of them don’t complete the DIY Bible Study Guide, having some people who’ve spent time thinking about what you are studying will deepen the conversation of the whole group.
Keep in mind that even those who did the Guide in advance might might not remember the passage in perfect detail by the time the group meets. I recommend reading each question and Bible verses associated with it as you go, so everyone in the group (prepared, semi-prepared or unprepared) is on a level playing field as the discussion begins.
Whatever style your group prefers, some things remain the same.
First, you, as the leader, have to do more work than everyone else. To lead well, you need to have really studied the passage thoroughly beforehand using the DIY Bible Study Guide.
Did the question make sense but you couldn’t figure out the answer to save your life? I’m happy to help with this as well, but you could also try using the topical index or the concordance in the back of your study bible or at biblestudytools.com to see what other places in the Bible say about this person or situation.
Did the question in the DIY Bible Study Guide raise another question in your mind that wasn’t in the Guide? If a question occurred to you, I can almost guarantee someone else in the group will have the same question. Check the notes at the bottom of the page in your study bible for help with it or use a concordance or topical index, either in your Bible or online, to see what other places in the Bible say about it.
After I do this kind of study on my own, my final step is usually to read a commentary on the passage by a scholar who knows a lot more than I do. (You can find these at biblestudytools.com, also.) Sometimes that author will bring up issues I hadn’t thought of. I don’t usually mention this extra information in the group. However, if someone springs a question on me that I hadn’t thought of, I might still have an answer from what I read in the commentary.
Just as an aside, if someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, DON’T make something up. Just say you don’t know. Do a little research later and get back to them with what you found.
Now you are ready to hit the ground running when the group meets. Let me give you a few ideas on how to use the DIY Bible Study Guide in a way that is natural and stimulates discussion.
One critical component is to know exactly how much time you have for the discussion of the DIY Bible Study Guide and stick to it. Whether you have 30 minutes or an hour doesn’t really matter. You can make the Guide work for you. One trick is to count the questions in the Guide and mark on your copy of the DIY Bible Study Guide the one that is dead center. Write next to it what the time on the clock will be when the meeting is half over. Keep an eye on your watch. If you are getting toward that midway time and you aren’t halfway through the Guide, you need to pick up the pace. The same applies when the time to end the group is approaching. If you haven’t made it to the end of the Guide move a little faster.
You can do a couple of things in advance that will help you move faster if you need to. After you have done your own study of the Guide, go back through it and circle the numbers of the questions that you want to be absolutely sure you cover. These are typically the ones that include reading the passage you are studying, a couple that deal with the meaning of it, and at least one that probes how the people in your group believe God is asking them to apply what they are learning.
You can also cross out the numbers of any questions you think are not worth the time, knowing you plan on skipping right over those. During the group just say that you are going to skip question 6, for example, or the group will think you did it by mistake and stop to point it out to you.
Finally, mark questions that have very simple, short answers. In a pinch, you could just answer these yourself. For example, time is running out and you know you need to move faster. Question 8 asks what reason the passage gave for why people are supposed to obey the command given. If you were studying 1 Peter 4:8, the answer would be because “love covers a multitude of sins.” To save time, when you get to that question you could say, “Question 8 asks for the reason we are to love others and says we are to do this because love covers a multitude of sins. With that in mind, let’s read question 9 because I’d like to hear what you all came up with for that.”
These simple tactics can not only help the group end on time but also ensure that you make it to the end of the DIY Bible Study Guide. I personally think two things are critically important when I lead: being sure that we read the passage together and being sure we figure out how our lives are going to change as a result. Therefore, I make sure those questions never get skipped.
But what do you do if you show up well prepared, DIY Bible Study Guide in hand, carefully annotated so you keep a good pace in the allotted time, ask your first question and no one answers?! No problem. Well, actually it is a problem, but here are a few things that can help.
Remember that if this group hasn’t done any advance preparation they are hearing the passage from the Bible and the question for the first time. Give them a few minutes of silence to think it through. Count to ten silently. Count to 20 silently. Pray!!
If no one answers after that, there could be a number of problems and you need to do a quick diagnosis to see if you can find out the trouble.
Do they not know each other and, therefore, feel a little unsure of themselves in this new group? If that’s the case, you might want to come into the first group meeting (and perhaps the second and third, as well) with an “icebreaker.” You can Google “icebreaker questions for groups” to get some great ones. Here is a list of fun, lighthearted icebreaker questions that can get people talking; perhaps even laughing. You’ll be surprised how much something this simple can help with later discussion.
One of the most likely reasons no one is answering, especially if they are hearing the question for the first time, is that they don’t understand the question. Try rephrasing it in your own words. In fact, when you are working through the DIY Bible Study Guide beforehand, if you find a question you had trouble understanding the first time around, go ahead and rewrite it on your copy of the DIY Bible Study Guide so you are ready to help the group if they struggle, too.
Another option if they still don’t seem to understand the question is to break it down into smaller chunks. For example, if the question asked for all the things we are told about Peter and everyone is staring at you blankly, try saying, “Let’s just look at verse 1. What are you specifically told about Peter in that verse?” Or if the question requires a little more sleuthing in the passage and they just can’t find the answer, you could give them a hint. “Try taking another look at verses 9 and 10.”
Sometimes no one is answering because they don’t want to be the first to talk. I’ve lived in many different places in the United States and I’ve noticed that in some parts of the country it’s actually considered a little rude to be the first one to pipe up. But there could be lots of other reasons as well. Whatever the reason, the solutions are probably the same.
If you know someone in the group really, really well, and are absolutely sure they won’t be embarrassed if you call on them, then ask them directly if they had an answer for the question. After they finish, follow up by asking the rest of the group if they had anything else that hadn’t been mentioned.
If you don’t know who to call on, I wouldn’t start randomly calling on people to answer questions. Remember that moment of panic in fifth grade when you suddenly heard the teacher call your name to answer the question he had just asked?! You don’t want to put anyone through that in your group.
Another option is to share a tiny little bit of the answer (not too much, you’ll be doing a lot of talking as is) and then ask if they had anything they could add to it.
One other note. The questions at the end of the DIY Bible Study Guides typically are more personally probing and require people to be vulnerable about areas of their lives that could be embarrassing to them. It is my considered opinion that the leader should always be the first one to answer these questions. If you make yourself vulnerable first, that shows it is safe for other people in the group to admit that they aren’t perfect either. Keep in mind, however, that most people won’t share the really risky stuff until they feel very comfortable with the group. That means you might have to suffer through several weeks of superficial answers while putting yourself out there. Just keep on sharing how much you need Jesus and hopefully they’ll feel safe enough to do the same, too.
So that’s the scoop. I hope I didn’t overwhelm you with details. But really there is just one take away message: the DIY Bible Study Guides are the means not the end. The end is to know Jesus better through studying the Bible and to know ourselves better in light of who he is and what he has done. Make the DIY Bible Study Guide work for you to accomplish that goal.
But now I’m going to let you in the secret to being a great leader. Get ready to write this down.
Because when we ask God to help us lead well, to help us prepare well, to help the people in the group understand the Bible, and to speak to everyone in the group, including we who lead it, then we are tapping into the same power that raised Christ from the dead. Perfect leadership doesn’t change lives. Perfectly moderated discussion doesn’t change lives. Even perfect Bible study doesn’t change lives.
Jesus changes lives.
When we meet the living God in the pages of the Bible and submit our rebellious hearts to him that’s when things change.
For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.
1 Corinthians 4:20, NLT
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