Cooking up a Bible Study - Part 3 : Presentation
The guests are on the way - are you ready to serve?
Would you serve up a gourmet, cordon bleu, gastronomique meal on paper plates with plastic cutlery? Or, even worse, chuck your guest the saucepan and tell them to eat it with their hands? Of course not – the way you “package” something can make all the difference in how it is received.
Okay, I'll pause the culinary comparisons here for a moment; we're talking about how to put your study together so it will have the greatest impact on all involved. And for this, you'll need to plan an introduction, work out some questions, consider some learning styles, and write it all down.
The introduction is the best place to get your group thinking about the big idea of the study. No point in easing them in – you may as well start thinking about the big idea right from the start. So come up with some way of getting the idea in the open and into everyone's minds. This will often be a pointed question or “something to ponder,” but it could also involve listening to music, playing a game, drawing a picture or simply saying “today we're talking about...”. If you're going to start with a thoughtful question, it could be good to revisit the question at the end too.
It may sound odd, but sometimes it's easier to write the introduction last, especially after you've spent plenty of time thinking about the big idea.
Asking good questions is the next step. It can be helpful to imagine that you are trying to lead your group members to discover Biblical truth themselves, rather than spoon-feeding them the meaning of each verse. But you are still responsible for making sure the big idea is explained properly.
You will need a mixture of closed and open questions. Closed questions usually have only one answer, such as “who was Jesus speaking to in verse 9?” These can be very useful for establishing the key facts in any passage or for creating simple questions that even the newest member of your group can answer. Open questions could have any number of answers and usually call for deeper thought, for example “what did Jesus mean in verse 9?” These are the questions which lead to meaningful thought and longer discussion.
Most often, you should move though the passage a few verses at a time. If it will help, look at the end of the passage first, then go back and see how the writer arrived at their conclusion. Whatever you do, think carefully about the questions. Bad questions can be predictable and uninteresting; good questions can be surprising, thought provoking and bring the passage alive.
Prepare for different learning styles. If there's one thing I wish I'd been told in my first year of Bible study writing, it would be to cater to different learning styles. It might sound pretty obvious, but not everyone learns in the same way. Some people learn more from listening than reading, some remember pictures more than movements, and some remember more when there are numbers and patterns involved. And, of course, everyone learns at a different speed. So, because you're a wordy person you may have no trouble reading a passage once and picking out the three key points, but some in your group may need a second reading, while others may need to write down the points before they can discuss them. Everyone is different. As a Bible study leader, one of the best things you can do to cater to the individual needs of your group is to try to appeal to some different learning styles in each study.
I suggest adding one different activity to each study, so that in the course of time everyone in your group will be catered for. This could be as simple as doing something musical one week (i.e. listening, singing, creating), something involving drawing the next, something involving movement (i.e. a game or drama) the next, followed by something using patterns (i.e. making a list or chart). When you put your mind to it, it's not difficult to think of an appealing activity for each study, and your group members will thank you for it. It's also a good way of making sure your studies are not predictable.
Writing it all down is a must for any new Bible study leader. It takes an experienced leader to run an effective study without notes, and it is not something a new leader should try. Instead, make sure you write down everything you need to keep the study running smoothly. You won't look like a fool because you created your own “cheat notes,” or for printing out a copy of the passage so that you can write all over it. It may even help to brainstorm a list of possible curly questions you are likely to be asked and have some Bible references ready.
It is not always the case that you need to type up every question and provide a copy to each member of the group. This can be useful, but can also force your study to follow a set order of questions and answers which can lead to a very standard study. More often than not, your group won't even use the sheet the way you intended, they will just glance at it then leave it on the floor. So, think about the environment and what is best for your group and decide whether or not to produce a sheet. But, whatever you decide, make sure you have all your notes in order before you need to run the study.
By now you've been cooking up this study for a week or so; you have it all planned, you're prepared for any discussion which may occur, and you're ready to go. Next week, it's time to get everyone seated at the table and move to Part 4 – serving it up!