Leading a Bible Study

Contains core material by Aron Wall, New Life Church, 2009

Aron Wall is a long-term part of New Life Nazarene Church. Indeed, he grew up there. When he wrote this he was at the University of Maryland, working on his PhD in physics. He now is now doing his post-doctoral work in physics at the University of Maryland. He also writes a great blog around the theme of the intersection of science and religion. It's called Undivided Looking.

On one of Aron's visits home I asked him to teach an adult Sunday School class. I talked with him about our then-current need for the Lord to raise up some new adult teachers around the church. So Aron developed this material and taught it. It's great, just great. Afterwards, I asked him for a set of teaching notes and permission to post it online. I trust the Lord will use it to help you teach in and around your local church!

Here are Aron's teaching notes:

Preparation: Choose a scripture. Read it, look up any quotations found in that passage to get their original context, think about it, meditate on it, pray it. Choose a general idea in the passage to focus on. Then write out a list of what you're going to do. Prepare MORE than you think you are going to need, because you can always skip questions. Important: Since this method is based on asking questions, it's okay if you're still confused--as long as you can ask it as a question.

Creative ways of learning: Human beings don't just learn through hearing, but also through seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. In the Bible, God uses objects as symbols to tell us about him. Jesus said we could do the same thing when he said, "Every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old" (Matt. 13:52). You might bring in objects, or ask people to illustrate part of the story.

1. Pray

Call on someone to pray--since the Holy Spirit is the teacher, not you.

2. Icebreaker Question (optional).

The purpose is to get people talking about their lives or about some topic in a fresh way, to help them understand the passage using their own experiences.

Examples: (with possible ways of filling in the blanks for John 6:24-35)

Have you ever ______________? [been really hungry]

How do you react when somebody ___________? [does something you didn't know they could do]

Why do people _____________? [eat bread]

What is/are ____________ like? [large crowds]


3. Read Scripture

Ask someone to read, or divide into verses or sections and go around the table. Briefly explain the context of the passage (such as who is writing to whom, what happened in the story previously) Note: for long scriptures, you must divide it into chunks and come up with some of the following kinds of questions for each section--and that way you won't need as many for each section.


4. Content Discussion

The purpose is to make sure people understand the basic surface meaning of the text. Ask a series of who, what, when, where, why, how questions whose answers can be found just by reading the right part of the text. You don't necessarily need to prepare these in advance if you have the knack of asking questions that refer to specific things in the text that you notice. Examples: "What does Jesus say the work of God is?", or "And what did the crowds say in response to that?", or

"Who gives the bread from heaven?" Alternatively, you can ask someone to summarize the passage in their own words, and the rest of the group can point out anything interesting that was missed. If the passage is simple and clear, this step may be done quick. In the case of a difficult or confusing passage (like a letter of Paul that you aren't sure everyone has read before), you may need to go through verse by verse and make sure everyone understands what is going on in each verse, in which case the content discussion might be the longest part.


5. Thinking Questions

The purpose is to get people to go deeper by asking questions whose answers are not immediately obvious but might be figured out by thinking about the text. A good Thinking question must be specific enough to get people talking but not so easy that the discussion immediately ends with an answer. You want people to think hard but also to stay focused on the text and not drift off into controversial or unrelated topics. Avoid yes/no questions because these don't trigger discussion as easily. But it's okay to use a yes/no to lead up to another, harder question. Often "Why..." or "How come..." questions give the best results.


Why did ________________  (do)  _______________?         [the crowd]  [ask for a sign]

What does ___________ reveal about the character of God (or somebody else)?    [giving manna]

What does this passage tell us about _____________?         [doing "works"]

Did _____ do the right thing when they _________?  Why or why not?  [the crowds]  [followed Jesus?]

What was God looking for when _______________?    [he sent Jesus from heaven]

The entire Bible is about Jesus, because "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10). This means that many parts of the Bible, in addition to their literal or factual meaning, also have a deeper meaning where they point to Jesus and the New Covenant. In John 6, there is an explicit spiritual meaning, Jesus = Bread. But suppose you were doing a Bible study on the manna in Exodus, or the grain offerings in Leviticus or the bread brought to Elijah by ravens in Kings. In this case, you could remember the way Christ is symbolized by bread, and use this to talk about Jesus. This leads to the following important kind of question:

How does ___________ symbolize/point to Jesus (or salvation, holiness, the Church etc.)  [manna]

For the remaining questions, you may need to read another part of the Bible as well:

Does _______ remind you of any other Bible story?  What is similar or different?  [the giving of bread]

Why does _________ quote/refer to ________?   What is he saying about it?    [Jesus] [Moses]


6. Application Questions

The purpose is to get people thinking about what the Bible means for their lives. Similar to the Icebreaker Question, but where the Icebreaker uses your life to think better about the Bible, the Application Question uses the Bible to think better about your life. The goal is to encourage people to trust and obey God with more and more of their heart, soul, strength & mind.


Using this passage, how might one ___________?        [explain the gospel in a new way]

What kinds of things are ________ in your life?               [food that spoils]

What attitude should we have towards __________?         [popularity]

In what situations is it difficult to _____________?       [trust God with our spiritual hunger]

How does one go about doing ______________?   (Is it difficult or easy?)     [the "work of God"]

Who can we love better by _______________?    [not confusing their role with God's]

Can you think of times when you've ________? What does this text say about that? [asked for a sign]

How might one imitate the example of _______?   (or not imitate a bad example)  [Jesus' discernment]

Since these questions typically have different answers for different people, be prepared to give an example from your own life to show vulnerability and make it easier for others to know how to answer.


7. Pray again

You can take prayer requests if you're running early, but make sure to avoid gossiping about things other people wouldn't want the group to know. You can also suggest a particular topic of prayer based on what was discussed during the Bible study.

What to do during the Bible study:

* It's not important to begin on time, but it is good to end on time. Keep your eye on the clock: if you're running early, try to encourage more conversation; if you're running late, skip questions.

* Don't allow the conversation to drift to topics unrelated to the text; if it drifts, it's your job to change the subject back to the text, by commenting on it or moving on to the next question.

* Be flexible: if someone else asks a question, or the conversation takes an interesting turn, or you think of something else in the middle, scrap your plans. Group members: asking questions is good!

* Wait 15-20 seconds after asking questions/soliciting volunteers for others to respond. It's longer than you think. If a question leaves everyone speechless, try making it more specific or asking a related, easier question to help prompt them to think. 

* Encourage others to talk (especially if they are shy) but don't scare them. Thank people for contributing and praise them for good answers. Correct incomplete wrong answers as gently: you don't usually have to say, "You're wrong", you can just tell them what's right and why.

For a sample Bible study, click on this Sample Bible Study.

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