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Preparing Effective Bible Discussion Lessons – Part 1

One of the pivotal moments in my journey towards following Christ was attending a small Bible discussion as a university student. This informal non-threatening engagement with scripture opened me up to seeing God and hearing Him where other means would likely have been less effective.

As followers of Jesus, we aim, like Him, to help others see God through effective communication of His Word. One of the tools for teaching scripture effectively is a small group Bible discussion. However, simply meeting in a small group to discuss the Bible isn’t the same thing as having an effective Bible discussion lesson.

What is an effective Bible discussion?

As Terry Powell explains in his very practical book, Now that’s a Good Question: How to Lead Quality Bible Discussions: “Effective Bible discussion, generated by a hospitable learning environment, is a guided conversation that involves people in observing, interpreting and applying God’s Word.”

Or as Roberta Hestenes similarly expresses in Using the Bible in Groups, in a small group Bible discussion, “learning comes through interaction and discovery, and a good group helps people to experience the joy of discovery as they read and discuss.” 

An effective Bible discussion lesson produces a genuine conversation amongst participants which leads them to unearth truths from God’s Word by means of the group’s interactive and collaborative observation, interpretation and application of the passage(s) being studied.

Some of the advantages of a Bible discussion lesson are:

•       It tends to hold participant’s attention better

•       It causes participants to think more about the subject being discussed

•       It results in greater personalization of the lesson

•       Group members learn from each other

•       It helps each member to see things they would not on their own

•       It corrects misunderstandings from personal study

•       It leads to a deeper understanding of scripture

•       It facilitates better application.

Since people tend to remember more of what they say than what they hear, a Bible discussion should seek to get all of its participants speaking more, as a means of increasing their learning.

How do you prepare an effective Bible discussion lesson?

Below are 8 suggested steps to be followed in preparing an effective Bible discussion lesson.

We will consider the first 4 of these steps in this blog, and the remaining 4 in part 2, next week.

1. Select the Text

Preparing a Bible discussion lesson begins with deciding which passage(s) of scripture will be the subject of the discussion. Not every passage lends itself to being taught in a Bible discussion. In choosing what text to teach, you should think first of your audience and what is appropriate for discussion by them.

You should seek to avoid passages which involve controversial subjects that could produce debate instead of discussion. You should also avoid passages which may raise questions which you will not be able to address in the limited time available, or which could lead the discussion off on tangents from which it will be difficult to recover.

Ideally you want to select a single passage which is short and simple enough to allow for meaningful discussion in 30 – 45 minutes (for e.g. a psalm or a proverb). Alternatively, you can select 3 or so short passages to do as a topical study, or a short word study.

To cover larger portions of scripture you could consider breaking up the content over a number of discussions by doing a Bible study series. Bible study series options include a short book of the Bible (e.g. one of the NT letters, or a short OT book like Ruth), doing an overview of a Biblical theme, studying a Biblical character and even select prayers in the Bible.

2. Exegete the Text

Having selected the text for your Bible discussion lesson, the next step is to properly study the passage in order to draw out the meaning the Biblical writer intended to convey to his audience, instead of reading into the passage what we want it to say. The technical word used to describe this process is exegesis (from Greek to draw out). 

To exegete the text is therefore to draw out its intended meaning by careful study and investigation. This is done by reading it in context as opposed to taking it out of context. It requires paying attention to both the literary and historical context of the passage. Literary context refers to what the passage means when interpreted having regard to its genre (kind of writing) and to the meaning of its words in sentences and paragraphs. Historical context refers to the background of the passage. Who is writing to whom, when, where, and about what.

Here are a few steps to be followed in exegeting a passage:

  • Read the passage several times in multiple translations.

  • Make observations (literary form; structure; repeated words, phrases or ideas; connecting words; author and audience; location etc.).

  • Use Bible tools to fill out background and context and for help in understanding difficult questions.

  • Write out your thoughts and what you understand the author to have meant his audience to understand from each verse or phrase.

For a more detailed explanation of how to do exegesis, check out our How to Read Your Bible  playlist at the Scripture Window YouTube Channel.

3. Determine the Text’s Big Idea

Your proper study of the passage you will be discussing in your Bible discussion should lead to your being able to state the essential idea that it seeks to convey in a single sentence. This sentence / statement is referred to as the Text’s big idea and is important for giving your lesson a single focus around which it will be built.

In their book, Effective Bible Teaching, Wilhoit & Ryken helpfully describe the process of determining the  text’s big idea as follows:

It works best to use a two-step process in stating the big idea of a passage. The first step consists of identifying the broad topic or concept that names what the passage is about. The second step is to narrow that topic to a specific idea that the passage asserts about the broad subject. The most widely accepted terms for these two elements are topic (or subject) and theme (or thesis).

The big idea is derived by combining these 2 elements together.

If we were to apply this process to determining the big idea for Psalm 133, the results would be something like what follows:

  • What is the broad topic / concept (the topic / subject) that Psalm 133 is about? The benefits of unity.

  • What is Psalm 133 saying about the benefits of unity (the theme / thesis)? Unity is good and pleasant and results in God’s blessing.

  • What is the big idea of Psalm 133? Brothers living together in unity is good and pleasant because it results in God’s blessing.

4. Determine the Lesson’s Purpose and Function

Having stated the big idea of the passage you are now ready to decide on the purpose and function of the Bible discussion lesson.

The lesson’s purpose is the reason for its existence and is the answer to the question: “What do you want the lesson to say?” This can be referred to as the lesson’s big idea, which must itself be derived from the passage’s big idea. The lesson’s big idea is an expression of what you intend to convey to your audience from the intended meaning of the passage. It can itself be determined by answering the following questions in a 2-step process similar to determining the passage’s big idea: (1) What am I talking about? What am I saying about what I am talking about?

The lesson’s function refers to what you want it to do. In other words you should give some thought to what you want the lesson to accomplish similar to a teacher stating lesson objectives in preparing a class.

Figuring out the purpose and function of the Bible discussion lesson enables you to know why you are teaching and whether you achieve your objectives. It also focuses your delivery and prevents the discussion from wandering all over the place.

Next week we will examine the remaining 4 steps in preparing and delivering effective Bible discussion lessons. Join us then.



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