Cooking up a Bible Study - Part 2 : The Method
You've got the ingredients, now get cooking...
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth,” wrote an elderly and experienced Paul to his young ministry apprentice, Timothy.
Bible study leading, is about getting the truth across - and it matters how you handle it.
By now you've chosen your passage, and spent some time thinking and praying about what your Bible study members need to hear ( If you haven't, first go back to part 1 - the ingredients). But what is the passage going to say to them? To discover that, you need to:
1) find the big idea
2) find helpful supporting ideas
3) consider possible applications of the passage for your group.
1) The big idea of a passage should be obvious when you read it carefully.
Authors usually discuss one main point per section, adding supporting material to strengthen their argument. Find the big idea and use it as the basis of your study.
Resist the temptation to make the passage say what you want it to say. Also, remember that a passage may contain many ideas, some of which may not be helpful to the members of your particular group - you may want to focus on points in the passage that you know will be of most help to them.
When the big idea of a passage is not obvious, you may have some really hard work to do. I have written another article on interpreting difficult passages, however this may also be the time to re-evaluate your choice of passage. For example, is the big idea missing because you have chosen too short a passage?
2) Supporting ideas are those ideas which will help the members of your group understand the big idea better.
Sometimes a verse will quote another Bible passage, or refer to events which happened elsewhere in the Bible. At other times, two separate passages will talk about the same main point and it helps to look at both.
You may better understand how an author uses a specific word by looking at how he uses it in other verses. Sometimes a quick overview of a chunk of Biblical history will be needed in order to explain an event, or a map or diagram will help your group understand the movement described in a passage. Pictures or stories will sometimes help to bring an idea to life (especially with younger children).
Some supporting ideas will be of vital importance to understanding the big idea, and others will just be “nice to look at.” Make sure the vital supporting ideas are included, with the less important ideas kept up your sleeve just in case.
3) Application is a common word which is often misunderstood. Put simply, application means that you take the truth of the big idea and consider how it should change your beliefs, thoughts, and actions now.
This assumes your group members have understood the truth of the big idea; and they desire to be changed by that truth. These things don't always happen, or they may not happen every study. This is why you should work hard on making sure the big idea is clear and understood.
There are many different ways you could look at applying a passage. Here's a few common questions to ask:
“how does this change your beliefs about... God, Jesus, and yourself?”
“how could you act differently at... school, home, church, with friends?”
“what does this mean today?”
I have found, however, that you cannot just rely on this kind of generic questioning in order to develop meaningful application. Group members will quickly learn your standard questions and give the standard answers each time.
Instead, focus on one or two areas of application each study and try to think about them in more detail, never letting the group get away with the simple answers.
So, when cooking up the study, spend plenty of time brainstorming how the big idea could or should change your group's beliefs, thoughts and actions, and you will be better equipped for this section of the study.
You should begin cooking up the study at least a few days, preferably a week, before you need to serve it up – I always found the best studies happened after I'd let the above thoughts simmer for a few days in my head. Don't worry, the cooking analogy isn't finished yet. Now it's time for part three - the presentation (or how to package your study ready to be run).