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Paul J. Bucknell
I have taught many Bible studies and sat through many more led by others. Some have been good and enriching Bible studies while others dull and boring. I have seen the Spirit of God at work, but I, like you no doubt, have seen a slow hardening of hearts develop over time.
The question we should be asking is, "What makes a good Bible study leader?"
We want to learn how to create that Bible study where everyone knows the Spirit of God has been at work. No one really wants to stop. We know that God has been doing something in us even if we cannot tell what it is.
Holding a Bible study is a huge step of progress over just a number of Christians getting together. This is not always the case. We waste so many get-togethers which otherwise could be divine meetings. The Bible plays a crucial part in the developing of the body of Christ and as His people seek out to Him, the Lord speaks transforming the gathering into a special event.
But just because someone tells us that we should have a Bible study, the vision and value of a Bible study is not that easily passed on. What I mean is that often we do not pass the vision of a Bible study onto another, we only find someone to lead it.
We do not simply pass the task of doing a Bible study on to another. This is so dangerous! It is like asking a person to preach without any guidelines. Let me give an example of what not to do–find a facilitator, that is, a person simply to read off the questions.
We want the Spirit of God to be at work! Are we not admonished not to work from the flesh? We must stay far away from a Bible study where the Spirit of God is not working in the hearts. Instead, we want the Spirit of God to mightily move in each heart present.
The people are interested, have questions, see problems being resolved, making deeper commitments, ready to pray together about the things they are learning. This greatly contrasts to the Bible studies where everyone is ready to end ten minutes ago. In other words, it has created a dullness over the hearts of God's people rather than have given them a fresh understanding.
Koinonia fellowship is one where God's people meet in God's presence, understanding His Word and being impacted by it. Just because we open or discuss the Word of God, it does not make it a time of genuine Koinonia fellowship. Many times the Spirit of God has not even visited our groups. Even worse yet is when we didn't even know or care!
There is some tension here. On one extreme we have Bible study leaders who dominate. It essentially becomes a lesson from the teacher. On the other extreme, is the facilitator, where everyone's opinion becomes inspired truth. Of course, we would not say this, but this is one area where the world's philosophy has found an inroad into Christian ministry.
1) Teaching instead of leading
Clearly, if one wants a teaching lesson, then it should be teaching. Don't pretend to be a Bible study. One will only frustrate the attendees rather than focusing on the truth. Yes, the leader should be excited about what he discovers, but he should not share all of it. It is more important to see how God's Spirit is teaching others. It is this what we want to uncover so that everyone is even more touched by God's work.
2) Facilitating instead of leading
The other extreme is where the leader does not lead. He simply guides everyone through the questions. These leaders are even taught just to read the introduction and conclusions. This kind of study becomes a simple mechanical process. We understand that one wants to be ‘fair’ by having everyone take turns leading and to take the edge of the qualifications needed to lead a Bible study. Our goals are higher, however. This is simply not the way to go, however, not if we want our goals of a dynamic Spirit-led Bible study to become fulfilled. Neither of these extremes will do.
These extreme cases might not often occur but when they do, the study misses the mark. More than often, there is some balance: either the teacher does field some Bible study questions or the facilitator is moved and shares what he thinks everyone should learn. That is good. But if we start off here, we are not properly poised to see the Spirit mightily work in our lives through the Bible study. Why not simply properly lead?
A good Bible study needs a good godly leader. They must be trained. We meet with them, individually is best, and share how God has transformed you and others through dynamic Bible studies where the Spirit of God touches our lives as leaders but people in the group too.
There are two essential elements of a Bible study: a good leader who guides the group and good questions which direct people to further contemplate what God might be saying to them through the Word of God.
The good Bible study leader must get into the Word of God. The point is not only to understand but to be stirred by the Word God. Once this occurs, then the major points and applications become observable. One is motivated to better work through the questions in order to pass the main message of the study on to others.
Good Bible study questions are important. Without them, the study is likely to have little impact. The Bible study questions, however, but they are the means of entry into the hearts of the people. It is the passion, faith and love of the leader that is passed on into the hearts of the people.
It was mentioned that the Bible study leader is merely a facilitator. From all I have learned, this goes against what a good Bible study leader is. This is more the serendipity approach which has been affected by different perspectives of the world's philosophies.
The good part is that it is a Bible study and each person is to explore. If there is a natural leader, the study will be helped by this person. But the bad point is that it is not being led. Think of a sermon, a preacher simply going by someone else's notes. The preacher does not have the burden on his own heart. He has not been moved by the Spirit, but is simply mechanically going through it all. This is the belief that Christianity is just another religion and not a work of the Spirit of God.
This might be the worse case scenario but this kind of Bible study leader tends in that direction. Someone else did the work. We are busy. We will simply present the questions. This is not what is needed!
This is not helping the leader or the group. Would it not be better to search for those men of God who the Spirit of God will give an insatiable love for His Word and work with them so that the Spirit of God would work mightily work through them? This is not a time when everyone shares their opinion because everyone's opinion is right. A true Bible study is when we meet in the presence of God and He is cutting away our dependence on the flesh and gaining new spiritual perspectives. Deep spiritual work is happening.
The world believes everyone's opinion is equally true and valid. I don't go for this. We instead want a person who has seriously dug through the passage and prayed it through - something like a sermon. People can and should share, but we want their reflections to be those where the Spirit of God is prodding them. Any good Bible study is a spiritual warfare where the evil one has been quieted and the Word of God released.
As I said, when you have a good leader, he will get into that Bible study, but when that leader is not well-trained, then the study will slowly induce a deadening effect into the group.
Perhaps you have things to encourage a proper study, but be careful of the underlying pinnings. This approach of a facilitator leader is not what the scriptures teach is needed. We need teachers who know how to skillfully introduce questions.
The BFF Discipleship #3 Digital Library has all our many resources, including Powerpoint slideshows, audio, videos, and handouts for the third level of discipleship training as well as developing the skills and knowledge for the teacher and leader. There are more resources on leading Bible studies there too!
Or look at all 3 of the BFF Discipleship Libraries.