As Christians, how can we make sense of our world, our relationships and our faith without some knowledge and understanding of the Bible? Well, I guess we can't! Finding ways to help young people explore, understand and apply scripture should be high on our 'to do' list in Christian youth work.
So we organise, creative, stimulating and engaging opportunities to explore God's word together as a group. Hmm. Easier said than done. In this series of articles I want to share some simple ideas and creative bible study methods I've found helpful.
Over the years I've tried to read widely and adapt ideas to work with different church youth groups. I'm indebted to friends and colleagues who have given me new ideas and inspiration in times of need! What follows is a compilation of ideas that have worked for me. But first, three key values for studying the bible with young people.
GET THEM TALKING
What do you think of when you hear the words 'group bible study?' Perhaps we should start with what it's not! A Bible study is not a lecture or a sermon. It's not a conversation between you and the most 'spiritual' member of your group, or an argument, or an interrogation. A group Bible study should involve every member of your group and our role should be the primary catalyst for discussion.
Research shows that people remember less than 10% of what they hear, but remember over 80% of what they experience. Positive interaction and discussion help move young people from impassive listening to a deeper involvement with each other as they share thoughts and views about a passage of Scripture.
Do I really listen to and respect the opinions of my young people? A good group Bible study leader is also a good listener. Of course, there will be times we need to clearly state the Bible's position on foundational Christian truths. On certain issues the Bible is very clear. But, let's not use that as an excuse not to give time to hear the thoughts and opinions of our young people. Listening first earns us the right to be listened to when we speak.
Questions are an essential tool in group Bible study. Good questions help to engage with a passage, reflect on it and discover its meaning. Good questions can stimulate your young people to participate in discussion. Jesus frequently posed questions to get people thinking for themselves and on matters of theology. He asks the rich young ruler, 'Why do you call me good?' He asks the disciples, 'Who do you say that I am?' Around 150 questions are recorded in the Gospels.
Prepare your questions in advance. Try to anticipate what kind of response you might get. Is an important question too quickly introduced? If so, add other questions which lead up to it. Prepare questions which encourage your young people to dig into the Bible text.
There are really only three types of questions you can ask in a group bible study. Open questions, closed questions or limiting questions.
Open questions are great for stimulating group discussion because there are no right or wrong answers. Open questions allow young people to share their own answers and thoughts on the subject or passage studied. Open questions can have a variety of answers. For example: Why do you think this is true? How is this important? Who does this apply to? What could this mean for our lives today?
On the other hand, closed questions stifle group interaction and discussion. Closed questions suggest an obvious answer or imply an answer expected by the leader. For example: Paul says we are to rejoice in everything, doesn't he?
Finally, limiting questions do just that! They limit the number of responses or correct answers your young people can give. For example: What 3 reasons does Paul give in this passage?
Clearly, good questions are 'open questions' because they can have lots of answers. They allow young people to comment more freely on personal experience, implications and opinions. For example: What makes it difficult to live as a Christian at home? (Personal experience); If this were true, what would it mean for our lives today? (Implication); If you were God, how would you stop the suffering in the world (Opinion).
HOW TO CREATE AN EMBARRASSING SILENCE!
Bad questions cut short discussion and discourage participation. Some members of your group will begin to feel threatened and feel that they don’t know anything. So, here are my five suggestions to avoid an embarrassing silence:
- Don’t ask questions which can be answered with one word (Do you agree God loves you?)
- Don’t ask loaded questions which suggest the answer (Our bodies are God’s temple, so should we smoke?)
- Don’t ask intimidating questions (If you really loved God, what would you do?)
- Don’t ask embarrassing questions (What is your most frequent temptation?)
- Don’t try and make them guess the answers you want (What are the three great truths from this passage?)
With some thought and preparation questions can be used very effectively in a group bible study to stimulate discussion. Sure, it’s not as neat and tidy as a sermon, but your young people will get more out of it.
Let's look at three more ways questions can be used to build creative bible studies.
INDUCTIVE BIBLE STUDY
The aim of an 'Inductive Bible Study' is to find out what the writer of the passage is trying to say and then to apply our understanding and insights to practical action in everyday life. 'Inductive' means reasoning, finding out and making deductions. Bible study is about being inquisitive and learning to ask questions. Be a detective. Look for clues. What's going on? What stands out to you? What don't you understand? An inductive bible study is put together with three types of questions.
Questions of Observation: Get your group to search for the facts – who, what, where, when, why, any commands? Any promises? Your prepared questions will vary depending on the passage you're studying, but here are some typical ones:
- Who wrote or said this?
- When was it written or said?
- Where did this happen?
- To whom was it written or who was listening?
- What circumstance or event prompted this incident or teaching?
- Why did the person act as he did? Or say what he said?
Questions of Interpretation: these questions encourage the group examine the meanings of words, phrases, actions, and the connections between them. Your questions should help them to link the lessons of the passage with any biblical truth they already know. What is the meaning of the passage for us today? Remember to ask the Lord for guidance. The Holy Spirit is essential to understand the depth of scripture John 14:26, 1 John 2:27
Questions of Application: How can I apply what I have learned to my life?
- do I need a change in attitude
- are there actions to take or avoid
- is there an example to follow
- do I need to confess something to God
- is there a promise to claim
Application questions challenge us to put into practice the things we discover from the bible. Check out what James says about putting our faith into action (James 2: 14-18). True Christian faith transforms our conduct as well as our thoughts. A changed life is a verification of our faith in Christ.
Your group may not allow you to use all your carefully prepared questions. Often they will jump to the heart of the matter before you ask. That doesn't matter. Just be prepared.
This is a simple method for those who are new to bible study. It works well with passages from the Gospels. Divide into small groups and give your young people details of the bible passage to look at. From the passage they choose 10 questions of things they would like clarified, answered or have the opportunity to discuss. After 15 minutes each group reports back and their questions are written on a board or flip chart for all to see.
The rest of the time is given to discussion in the whole group until they find satisfactory answers to their questions. Encourage young people to respond with their own thoughts. As you move through the passage take time to explain the background, give more information on the problem questions and provide clear teaching where appropriate.
Select a passage from one of the Gospels. Read the passage together and ask the group to answer the following questions:
- Where is Jesus?
- Where was Jesus before to this event?
- Who is Jesus talking to? (crowds, disciples, Gentiles or Jews, religious leaders etc)
- Summarize or quote everything Jesus says. Note Jesus' feeling, tone, and attitude. Note what Jesus does not say.
- What are others saying about Jesus? How do they feel about him?
- How do people respond to Jesus?
- What are my impressions of Jesus?
- What is Jesus saying in this passage that could change my life?
- What characteristics of Jesus would I like to see in my own life?
- How can I work with Him to make it happen?
TOP TIPS FOR LEADING GROUP BIBLE STUDIES
- Open in prayer. Ask God to help us understand the passage and apply what we learn to our lives.
- Clearly explain that the study is meant to be a discussion. Encourage every group member to participate.
- Take time to read and understand the passage. Have a group member read the passage aloud. Then give several minutes to read the passage again silently so that everyone can take it in.
- Stay focused on the chosen passage of scripture.
- Don’t be afraid of silence. People need time to think about the question before expressing their thoughts out loud.
- Avoid answering your own questions. If necessary rephrase them until they are clearly understood. An eager group quickly becomes passive and silent if they think you will do most of the talking.
- Don’t be content with just one answer. Ask what others in the group think, until several people have had an opportunity to give answers to the question. Acknowledge all contributions. Be affirming. Never reject an answer.
- Don’t expect every answer to be addressed to you. As the group becomes more at ease, they will broaden their interaction with each other. This is a sign of a healthy discussion.
- From time to time summarise what the group has said about the passage. This helps to draw the various ideas together and gives continuity to the study. Don’t preach.
- Conclude your time together with prayer. Ask God’s help in following through any lessons learned or commitments you have made.
For more bible study ideas and resources, click on bible study methods in the category list on the sidebar.