Friday, December 18, 2015

Tips for Preparing a Group Bible Study

This is the second installment in a series about preparing a group Bible study.

Step #1: Slowing down to notice the content

Have you noticed that when you’re familiar with a Bible story you tend to kind of skim over it? If you’ve been going to church since you were young, this can be a problem! You may find yourself zoning out through many a sermon or personal study time. What to do?

Write it down: Take a chunk of the Bible, like one story, one chapter, or the portion assigned to you as leader that week. Take quick notes in writing of 10-20 items you observe, in order. Do not attempt to spiritualize anything or go deep at this point, but simply write down each location, character, and plot development as it occurs. Here’s an example from Matthew 4:1-11.

v. 1          Jesus is led into wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil
v.2           Fasted 40 days; hungry
v.3           Tempter asks him to prove he’s son of God by turning stones into bread
v.4           Jesus: it is written man shall not live on bread but word of God
v. 5-6      Devil takes Jesus to temple, tempts him to jump off; it is written angels will protect you
v.7           Jesus: it is written do not put God to the test
v.8-9       Devil takes Jesus to high mountain and offers him everything if J. will worship him
v. 10       J. sends Satan away, it is written worship God only
v. 11       Devil leaves, angels come and take care of Jesus

Notice the details: Now look for repeated phrases or interesting details that jump out at you. For instance, doesn’t it seem like an understatement to say that Jesus was hungry? Isn’t it interesting that for the first nine verses, Jesus is the one being led, but in verse 10 he just sends Satan away? You probably also noticed how many times the phrase “it is written” occurs. Both Jesus AND Satan are quoting scripture here!

Practice makes perfect: Doing this exercise every time you prepare to teach or lead a Bible discussion will help the tendency to skim a familiar or difficult passage. Leading your group through the same exercise gives them the same benefits, and also demonstrates to newer believers a high view of scripture and a method that will enable them to begin studying on their own. Some groups immediately fall into talking about how the passage makes them feel rather than what it communicates about God, so utilize this tool to ground the group Biblically and create a solid foundation for growth.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Teaching the Bible in Small Groups

Most of us desire to include Bible study in our small groups, but as the week wears on and our preparation is thin, it can begin to seem more like a burden than a blessing. The next few posts will contain some practical tools for deepening your group’s connection with God and each other through studying the Bible together.

First, some encouragement about the benefits:

Knowing God: The primary purpose of engaging with Scripture is to know God better in order to have a deeper and more loving relationship with him. God has given us the Bible as a way to understand and know his character, and true worship grows in us as we more fully know the truth about Him. Even if this seems obvious to you, remember that some of your group members may be exploring the Bible for the first time and need your encouragement and guidance to understand why they should keep going.

Getting the wrong idea: Because sometimes people forget (or don’t know) that this relationship is the purpose of Bible study, they can be tempted to approach it primarily for other reasons. People often see it as an item to check off their list in order to make God happy, or as something to dread because they think of the Bible as a list of failed to-dos. In an attempt to avoid negative feelings, many want to focus only on isolated verses that bring happy thoughts, or see the Bible as a self-help book with themselves as the center. It’s even possible to enjoy the intellectual pursuit of Bible knowledge without giving a thought to really knowing God.

It’s complicated: When we delve into study for the purpose of truly knowing God, we may experience a wide range of feelings—awe, conviction, grief, wonder, joy, humility—just like we do with any real person, because God is a real person we are getting to know. We will miss out on the richness of this relationship if our primary goal is something other than knowing God himself.

Give it time: For this reason, every single foray into the Bible does not have to result in complete understanding or a neatly presented package. Sometimes, we observe the lament of the prophet and spend a few weeks lamenting our own culture’s shortfalls. We might wrestle over exactly how to apply a New Testament injunction to our present situation. We may struggle to come to terms with what we learn about past and future judgement. When this happens, we may simply arrive at a prayer: Lord, help us to see your face in this, help us understand your heart, illuminate your character, bring us wisdom.

Don’t give up: Rest assured that when we seek the kingdom of God first, everything we need is given to us (Matt. 6:33), and that knowing God’s word enables us to resist temptation (Matt. 4:1-11), walk a godly path (Psalm 119:105), teach our children what is right (Deut. 6:4-9), remain strong in our faith (I John 2:14b), grow in holiness (2 Tim. 3:14-16), and experience joy (Jer. 15:16).

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Ice Breaker Questions

You know that moment when you are leading a small group and you desperately need an ice breaker question but, for the life of you, you can't think of one?  Well, this post is here to help you to get through that moment!  Here is a list of creative questions that you can use to help people to share a little, tiny bit about themselves while introducing themselves to a group.

A.     Quick and light questions:

1.   If you could add one month to the calendar year, inserting it between two existing months, where would you put the extra 30 days?  (You can assume that the weather for this new month will be a mix of the weather typical of the month preceding it and following it).

2.    Suppose for a moment that you are truly color-blind:  all you can see is black and white.  Then one day you wake up to find you can now see one color.  Which color would you want it to be and why?

3.    If you could be anywhere in the world on New Year's Eve this year, where would you most want to be?

4.    What is the longest line that you have ever stood in?

5.     If you had to describe your personality in terms of a farm animal, which animal would you choose?

6.    If you were a professional artist, what would be the theme of your drawings/ paintings/ art work?

7.     If you had the ability to compete in any Olympic event, which one would you choose to enter?

8.    If you were to write a book what would you choose as the topic?

9.     What is something you really enjoy doing that is a chore or a bore for many people?

10.     If you could be the spokesperson for any product on the market, what product would you choose to enthusiastically represent?

11.    If all drinking fountains could dispense another liquid in addition to water, what would you want it to be?

12.    Which punctuation mark would best describe your personality?

B.     Slightly deeper, more personal questions:

1.     What would your dream house look like?  Be specific about one or two areas.

2.     What is the one event in the future whose outcome you would really like to know now?

3.     What is one item you own that has virtually no monetary value but has such sentimental value that you would not sell it for $1000?

4.    What is the most exciting event you have ever witnessed?

5.    Of all of the movie characters you have seen, which one do you believe is the most like you?

6.    If you could create a memorial to yourself in a city park, what would the memorial be?

7.     Whenever you are having a bad day, what is the best thing you can do to help cheer yourself up?

8.    What event or activity in the next few months are you looking forward to more than anything else?

9.     In your own not-so-humble opinion, what is your most likeable quality?

C.     Much more intimate questions:

1.     If you were writing an autobiography, what would be the book's title (besides your name)?

2.    When you look back on the life you have lived to this point, what in particular amazes you the most?

3.     If you could know without a shadow of a doubt the answer to one questions that you has always troubled you, what question would you want to have answered once and for all?

4.     Which age, when you turned it, was the most difficult for you to accept?

5.     If you were to die in the next year, what would you want your legacy to be?

6.     If you could go back and change one decision that you made in your life, what would it be?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Some Good Questions to Get To Know One Another in a Small Group

Recently, one of our small groups decided to take a break from doing Bible Study at their group meetings and take a few weeks to get to know one another better.  They decided to focus on the following topics:

-Family Background
-Race and Ethnicity
-Community and Relationships
-Work and Education

Family Background:

Questions to help start your conversations:
  1. Where did you grow up? 
  2. What did your parents do for a living?
  3. Do you have siblings? How many? How are you alike/different, both in childhood and recently?
  4. Describe your relationship with each member of your family?
  5. When you think of your home life growing up, how would you describe it? 
  6. What is a fun activity that you used to do together as a family?
  7. Can you share a fond memory of time spent with family, either during childhood or recently?
These questions go a little deeper.  Feel free to share about as many or as few as you would like:
  1. What do you perceive as your family's biggest weakness or root sin?  
  2. Are there difficult memories you have of your family that God is prompting you to share about?
  3. In what ways have you seen your family speak truth into your life and be an instigator to you encouraging others for the Kingdom?
  4. How do you think you see a picture of the Kingdom in your family? 
  5. In what ways might your familial relationships spark a chord of bitterness? 
  6. How can we be grateful for the families of origin God has given us?

Race and Ethnicity:

Questions to help start your conversations:

1.  When did you first become aware of race/ethnicity
2.  Did you or anyone on your family move to the US from another country? Where and when? What are a few of the stark differences and/or similarities you/they observed/experienced?
3.  What race/ethnicity do you identify with?  And/or is there a race or culture you have an affinity to?  How so? (i.e., I live in a largely Indian community, I feel connection there. OR I speak fluent Spanish and I feel at home when I am surrounded by others who speak Spanish
4.  What are some really exciting and fun things that are part of your ethnic tradition?
5.  How did race/ethnicity get talked about in your family of origin?  Or maybe you feel it didn’t - how does that impact the conversation now?

These questions go a little deeper:

1.  Are there common perceptions about your racial/ethnic identity that trouble you?
2.  What area(s) of your own culture have you come to recognize, possibly through the lens of race or ethnicity? (Or perhaps you were aware of it all growing up…)
3.  What are some of shortfalls of your cultural heritage?
4.  Describe a time when your race or ethnicity giving you an advantage? A
5.  How do you see the kingdom in your race/ethnicity/cultural heritage?
6.  Is there a specific hurt in your life related to race or ethnicity that we can pray over right now?

Community and Relationships

Questions to help start your conversations:

1. Who might you call to help at 4 in the morning or to give you a ride to the airport?
2. Do you have a best friend? What do you appreciate in him or her?
3. How do you maintain friendships?
4. How were relationships approached in your family/culture growing up? Did you talk about them much? How are they approached in life now?
5. Do you have a spouse/significant other?  How did you meet him or her?
6. Are there people in life/your church community whom you would like to get up know better? Why?
7. What is one thing you really love about your current stage of life? One thing you find really difficult?
Questions to help you to dig deeper
1. Why might it be important for us to talk about where each other is at relationally?
2. How does God intend for us to learn alongside one another, in terms of our relationships?  Have you seen God at work in this lately?
3. How can we as a community foster growth in where you at now, at this moment, in your relationship journeys? (i.e. Pray with you for God to reveal your next step, for God to provide accountability, for God to provide courage to take risks, plan group activities/outings, etc.)

Work and Education

Questions to help start your conversations:

1.  Where did you go to school growing up? College/university/graduate school?

2.  Did any stage of your education involve a cross-country and/or international move? What was that like?

3.  What did you study at University/graduate school? Did anything particular lead you to this field of study?

4.  Are you working in your field of study today?

5.  How have you seen God's sovereign hand over your work/educational experiences?

6.  Do you have hopes of further education? If yes, in what?

7.  What did you want to be when you were a child?  What about in high school or college?

8.  Do you remember someone you looked up to as a child/teenager as a role model for faith, work, or their level of education?  How did they influence you?

9.  What was the best work situation you've ever had?  What about it was positive?

10.  How did you arrive at your current line of work?  

11.  Do you enjoy your work? Why or why not?

Questions to help you to dig deeper 

1.  Do you feel like you have a clear vision for your career- or a vision for ministry- in the long term?  If not, what would you ideally be doing with your work 10-20 years from now? 

2.  How does your career intersect with your faith?  Are there ways you get to live out your faith at work, or ways you wish you could live it our more?

3.  Is there a certain experience you've had- perhaps at a church, a conference, a missions trip or a service project- of being called by God towards a career/ministry?  What was that experience like?  

Have you struggled ever with feeling like work is too stressful and is taking up too much time in your life?  How might God be engaging with you right now to find balance in this area?