A Bible study is a wonderful way to surround yourself with fellow believers, learn more about God’s Word and build a community of faith. Unfortunately, a good Bible study doesn’t just happen! Chances are, you’ve attended a group where the discussion was shallow or you felt unwelcome. Perhaps you’ve been to a study that didn’t actually study the Bible at all—which is what you came to do!
A thriving Bible study requires some effort from the host, but with intention and purpose it’s possible to encourage a group of believers to grow with one another in faith. Below are four principles to keep in mind if you’re planning to start a group of your own.
1. “Facilitate” Rather Than “Lead”
There’s nothing wrong with leading a Bible study; every group needs someone to set the direction and keep it on track. However, those of us with natural “leader” personalities need to be cautious about how we lead. The point of a Bible study is for everyone to sit at the feet of Jesus—not at the leader’s feet! When a group leader holds the reins too tightly, the group becomes dependent on his or her views. This inhibits discussion and prevents the group from being completely vulnerable.
Instead of “leading,” facilitate the group. Set the direction, host the attendees, but let the discussion flow. Encourage others to speak up, especially the introverts. This will make everyone feel valued and keep the sense of community you’re trying to build.
2. Keep the Focus on the Bible
A book study can be very fruitful. We all need these from time to time. But have you noticed that the goal of every Christian writer is to encourage readers to get into God’s Word? If you decide to do a book or devotional study, make sure to incorporate as much of the Bible as possible. Perhaps rotate your study by doing a book for a few weeks, and then studying the Bible itself for the next few months. Keep the focus on the Word of God more than the words of man about the Word of God. The latter is helpful, but it should not be our primary source of wisdom.
As Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
3. Don’t Be Afraid of Silence
Oh, the dreaded awkward silence. We try to avoid it like the plague! In the Bible study I currently attend, silence is encouraged. Why? It takes several seconds for a person to formulate a thought and then to articulate it to the group, so silence allows those thought processes to take place. If you want a more meaningful discussion—and more vulnerability among your attendees—silence is necessary.
When a silence happens, give it about 10 to 15 seconds. Let go of the discomfort and wait to see if anyone speaks up. If someone says, “Well, this is awkward,” explain why silence is a good thing and how it can help everyone have a chance to speak.
4. Turn Struggles Into Prayer at Every Opportunity
Another difficulty in Bible study groups: complaints disguised as prayer requests. Everyone should have a chance to share what is going on in their heart and life because prayer is life-changing. However, it’s easy for “prayer requests” to take a very negative turn if the facilitator doesn’t direct the conversation.
This doesn’t mean we shut down a request for prayer. If someone is sharing a long story about a struggle—to the point where others aren’t getting a chance to share their requests—gently ask, “How about we pray about this right now? The best way to solve this is to bring Jesus into the equation!” This keeps the focus on Christ and provides the best solution to your attendee’s difficulty.
A thriving study will grow and develop with the members who attend. As the facilitator, you determine the heart of the group. Keep the focus on God’s Word, keep prayer as the central element and watch your group grow into a community of believers ready to impact their world.