Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Seattle, has taken the idea of discussion to the pulpit. While preaching on the subject of relationships, he asked his staff to hook up a system that would allow people in his congregation to text him questions while he was preaching. Near the end of his sermon, he went to a monitor, took a look at the questions and answered some of the best. Real questions. Real answers. In real time. If a pastor can go to those lengths in a corporate worship service to generate discussion about the Bible, maybe we could do the same in our community and Sunday morning Bible study groups. Maybe we should open the door to discussion.
When we did the initial young adult ministry research, people unaffiliated with the church told us a discussion format would be a much bigger attraction to Bible study than a lecture format. This makes perfect sense. People outside the church should have more questions about the Bible than Christians, right? They need to have the place to ask them. The problem is this tends to scare the daylights out of the average Bible study leader. Sometimes they’re afraid of opening Pandora’s Box of questions they can’t answer, unleashing a controversial debate, or having a member of their group hijack their topic.
Here is my encouragement to you: Take a risk and see if moving to a discussion-oriented group transforms your teaching and takes the people in your group to a new level of biblical learning and application in their lives. Here are some tips to help you lead discussions:
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
Ask for a little time to research your answer. Ask the questioner if you can call them during the week with the answer, or relay the answer to the entire group at the next gathering. Either way, the questioner will not think you’re stupid. They will appreciate your effort to research the accurate answer and give them what they need. The Broadman and Holman Apologetics Bible is a great source for research, and there are countless online Bible research tools you can use. If you need additional insight, ask your pastor or a church staff member. They will relish the opportunity to help you help others.
Know your Bible inside and out.
I have a personal confession for you. I am most intimidated by leading a discussion of the Bible when I have not been a good student of the Bible myself. Study and meditate on the Word of God every day. Don’t rely on what you learned two weeks ago, two years ago or what you remember from Vacation Bible School when you were 10. Get in the Word today and stay there. It’s guaranteed that God will reveal new truth to you each day, truth that can help you better explain and illustrate His message to your group.
Keep the discussion focused on the Bible.
It’s great to hear opinions, but what really matters is what the Bible speaks to on a given topic. Spend your time talking about biblical interpretations instead of individual opinions. And if a topic is one of those disputable matters that is not directly spoken to in God’s Word, go to Romans 14 and follow these wise instructions on how to find answers and peace in your study.
Don’t let one person do all the shooting.
I coach a boy’s basketball team, and every once in a while I ask the most talented kid on the team to give everyone the definition of a black hole—the collapsing star that sucks all identifiable matter into its vortex. You may have a person masquerading as a black hole in your Bible study from time to time. The best way to counter that problem is one simple sentence. “OK, Josh, we understand your thought on this. Let’s hear from someone else on this subject.” If that doesn’t work, take them aside after your study and ask for their help in making sure you get more people talking in the group. Don’t let one person monopolize the discussion.
Keep the rabbit chasing to a minimum.
I don’t know about your Bible study group, but in mine there are plenty of times when we start out talking about what the Bible says about purity and we wind up on the subject of tattoos or global poverty or when the NCAA tournament starts. Don’t hesitate to call time every now and then to re-focus your group on the topic at hand. You may have to do this two or three times, but keep the discussion on topic. On the other hand, there may be times when the subject you switch to needs to be the one you really dig into. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide.
Watch the intimacy meter.
Because the Bible is a two-edged sword that cuts deep into the heart and soul of those who study it, tough life issues will come tumbling out. Sometimes, those issues are too tough and too intimate to deal with in a group of 10 or 12 people. In a case like this, ask the person if you can talk individually with them after your group discussion about their issue. If it’s an issue that’s too difficult and complex for you to handle, call on your pastor and church staff members for counsel. Don’t try to handle everything by yourself.