11 Rules For Leading A Bible Study
Do less than 10% of the speaking
Guide. Instigate. Course-correct. Challenge. Spark. Re-orient. Draw-out. These are words that should characterize your leading style. Words that shouldn’t? Preach. Teach. Share. Lecture. Fish.
Expect your study to arrive prepared. Do not cater to the unprepared.
There are three types of Bible Study:
Mama-bird studies: A leader does all the work/digesting of Bible Study and vomits the “answers” into the mouths of the members.
“Share your ignorance” studies: No one has a clue what the Bible says, but everyone has an opinion. There are no wrong answers because a right answer might hurt someone’s feelings.
A Good Bible Study: Everyone is an equal participant because everyone is prepared.
For this reason, expect every individual in your Bible study to arrive prepared. Set the expectation that 1-2 hours of Bible study is the norm. If you cater to the unprepared, you change the norm and help no one. The best way to help the unprepared is to set a high bar and patiently teach them to prepare for Bible study.
Limit yourself to 1-2 big ideas
Understanding the intention of the author is the purpose of personal study. Creative engagement with the text is the purpose of the group gathering. If you expect everyone to come prepared, there is no need to teach/preach because everyone will be on the same page. Instead, choose one or two of the main ideas and creatively engage the group. This means that you will “miss” some verses. That’s not what is important. Active engagement with the text, the group, and with God is what is important.
Boring Bible studies suck. Do something unpredictable every week.
Use breakout groups
Break up the monotony of the study by breaking into groups or pairs. This allows the group to connect with one another and relax a little. You can have the groups share summaries, compare cross-references, share a story, debate, whatever.
I plan to have one small group breakout time (3-4 people/group for 5-10 minutes) and one partner breakout time (2 people for 3-5 minutes) per study. Follow-up with a large group time of sharing insights and stories.
Practice 20 seconds of silence
A leader who is uncomfortable with 20 seconds of silence is a terrible leader. He ostracizes introverts. He is insecure. He doesn’t have faith in his questions. Worst of all, he doesn’t allow the study to think.
Ask specific people specific questions often
“Matt, you mentioned X last week. How does that tie-in to Paul’s definition of love in verse 5?”
“Matt, you made a funny face when Todd said that. Why?”
“Matt, I can tell from the look on your face that you’ve been thinking really hard all night. Would you mind sharing some of your wisdom?”
“Matt, you’re reading Galatians in your Quiet Times, right? How do the main themes of Galatians tie-in to this passage in Romans?”
People do not follow leaders. They follow “first followers.” When a “first follower” follows a leader’s lead, it frees the rest of the group to join.
You can utilize this dynamic by designating one person every week as your “first follower.” (I like to think of them as spies.) Do this by connecting with someone every week before Bible study and giving them a secret assignment. Ideas:
Share 5 cross-references throughout the course of the study.
Don’t answer any questions. Instead, ask 2 of your own questions to the group.
When appropriate, ask 2 specific questions to 2 different people.
Be the first person to volunteer to share your application and pray.
Applications and Scripture Memory are more important than Highs-and-Lows
Sharing highs and lows is a fan favorite. They just take a lot of time. And they really don’t matter that much. We instinctively share those things with people already (and everyone knows them because of Facebook). It is not instinctive to share how we are applying the Bible to our lives or what verses we are memorizing.
What we talk about shapes the group dynamic. Therefore, shape the group dynamic by focusing on Biblical applications, accountability, and Scripture memory. We will naturally share our highs-lows when study is over, anyway.
Ending on time is more important than starting on time
Twenty minutes of joking around, talking about Netflix, and munching on chips and salsa is totally fine. Ending study twenty minutes late, however, is NOT. End on time, every time! If people want to stay longer and hang out, that is great. But 60-90 minutes is more than enough for structured discussion time.
Paul never prays “real quick.”
Jesus never prays for your cat, test results, or travel safety.
John doesn’t pray for the advantageous price fluctuations of your earthly possessions.
For every time you pray for a sick uncle or a brother-in-law’s surgery, pray for the Glory of God 1,000 times. Pray for sanctification and fearless courage to identify with Christ in the midst of suffering 2,000 times. Pray for your brothers and sisters in China. Pray for the Kingdom to come. Pray for joy. Give thanks. Sing praises!
As a leader, you don’t need to take prayer requests. You need to tell them what to request. You need to formatively shape how your Bible study comes before God. Teach them how to pray. Show them how to pray. Pray through Psalms, NT prayers, and catechisms together. Pray for the nations together.
Pray like the Bible prays and be very, very thoughtful about how you pray as a group. Otherwise, you’re just doing highs-and-lows again.
Bringing It All Together
If you didn’t pick up on this yet, leading a Bible Study is all about expectations.
Do members expect the leader to do most of the speaking? Or themselves?
Do they expect to come prepared? Or just show up?
Do they expect a social conversation about football? Or one about Biblical interpretation and application?
Do they expect the conversation to be lead in a structured way? Or a free-for-all?
Do they expect it to be fun, engaging and creative? Or a lecture?
Do they expect to go home on time? Start on time?
Do they expect to have their thoughts and opinions heard? Challenged? Refined? Mocked?
We cannot blame the members of a Bible study for expecting certain things. And we cannot blame them for acting on those expectations. Nevertheless, it is the duty of the leader to make the expectations clear, not just with words, but with actions (OK, especially with actions.)
So put effort into clarifying the expectations of the group, just like you put effort into clarifying the meaning of Scripture. It is better to have a small Bible study with clear expectations than a large Bible study without. Without healthy expectations, the best Bible study becomes about something other than the Bible.
So let’s keep our studies about the Bible by also being about the expectations.