Welcome to OhhowIloveJesus! One of the ways that I’ve come to love Jesus, and to learn more about him, is through Bible study. I’m going to give you some of the ones I’ve done, and some of the ones that I come across, as well as some tricks and tips for how to lead a great Bible study. I hope that this site is helpful for Bible study leaders, and helps to grow your faith as well as the faith of those you teach.
Blessings!

Leadership Bible Study: Practice Study

So you’ve read all the other “Leadership Bible Study” studies.  You’ve learned how to read the Bible, how to pray in public, how to plan a study on any topic, and how to mentor people and handle problems.  Now, Bible Study, Leadershipyou have to put it all together.  This study is designed to show you how to get the information and how to put it together.  This study is on Revelation, which is probably one of the more difficult topics to lead a Bible study on.  If you can learn how to lead a study on the Book of Revelation, you should be ready for anything!

Study Guide 1 – Leader’s Guide

Letter to the Churches, Revelations chapters 1-3

Opening Monologue: The point of this study is more to help you understand how to read Revelation yourself; to show you the background of the symbolism and the major ways in which the book has been understood in the past.  Please note also that we won’t be making specific predictions in this class; so don’t expect this Bible Study Leader’s version of how the end times are going to play out.  People have been trying to see how the end times would go from this book for 1900 years, and so far no one’s gotten it right yet (in 1st century Rome, they thought the end times were around the corner, in 999 they thought that Christ was coming back, in 18th century Holland, they thought the end times were going to be next year, etc).

Four Ways:

There are four main ways of interpreting the book; we’re mostly going to just mention 3 of them and skip the 4th (because it’s not very popular at the moment in Protestant circles).  I’m going to give you the scholarly name for each way here, but I’m usually just going to refer to them by their main proponents since that’s easier to keep straight.

Modern/Liberal:  This view, originating in 18th century Germany, holds that the book of Revelation primarily refers to the political situation of its day and should not be used to predict the future, although it is still a wonderful testimony to God’s love and care for his people in this view.  This is very popular in Protestant mainline, more liberal churches and seminaries.

Dispensational: Dispensationalism is a way of making sense of the Bible that relies heavily on an understanding of “church ages,” or dispensations, which affect how we should interpret the Bible (Footnote: for instance, was Jesus’ command to “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” just for those before the age of grace, or does it apply equally to all people in every time? Some Dispensationalists would say no, that message was to those people in that time, but most other Protestants would seek an explanation that doesn’t get us off the hook.).  Dispensationalism is usually associated with extremely conservative groups, and authors like Tim LaHaye of the “Left Behind” series.  Concerning Revelations, Dispensationalists generally hold to a belief in the Rapture, a tendency to seek contemporary explanations of the book’s symbolism, and a belief in the immanent return of Christ.

Historist view: This view holds that the book of Revelation has been slowly but progressively fulfilled throughout history.  In this view, Hitler might be one beast, and a future Anti-Christ another.  Interpreters look throughout history for various fulfillments.  This view was popular for so long among Protestants that it was even called “the Protestant view” at one point.  However this view is more commonly held by the Catholic Church today, which holds that many of the prophecies in the book are being worked out through the True Church, ie, the Roman Catholic one.  We won’t be studying this one much since the Dispensational view has pretty much supplanted it as the popular Protestant view.

Reformation:  This refers to classic Reformed Theology and its main proponents, men like Luther, Leadership Bible Study,Bible, Bible StudyCalvin, Zwingli, et al.  The book of Revelation played a much larger role in the formation of Protestantism than most people realize (even though Luther wanted to exclude it form the Bible and Calvin died before finishing his commentary on the book).  Just about everyone who’s not Catholic or Eastern Othodox is a Protestant, whether you know you are or not, so this should be helpful in understanding our own views. The Reformers and their followers tend to spiritualize the symbolism in Revelation to make it relevant to the church of their day, and are more likely to see doctrinal issues than is popular now

 

Really, whatever your view, you’re going to read it into everything in the book.  The bad thing about symbolism is that you can more or less get it to mean what you want it to mean if you’re willing to be a little selective.  Therefore, I don’t want to get too bogged down in the meaning of the symbols, but rather give you a framework for understanding their origin and some of the most important interpretations.

Read vv. 1-3

According to v. 1, who is the book written for?  v. 1, the servants of Jesus Christ.  Is that you? According to v. 3, what does it promise?  v. 3, a blessing to those who read and obey.

As hard to understand as it can be, this book is addressed to us and there is a special promise of blessing attached to reading it.  Is this book written to just the wise?  Just to those with seminary degrees?  Just to those with special knowledge or years of experience?  Who then can expect to receive the blessing this book promises?  One of the nice things about studying Revelation is that even really wise people don’t really understand much more than you do for sure ;).

Read v. 1 again.  Who’s this book about?  John wrote it down, but it’s called “the revelation of Jesus Christ” so this is His book even if John did the writing, right?  It’s His story, His “revelation.”

History of Interpretation:

Let’s look at another phrase from verse 1 as an example of those different ways of reading this book I mentioned at the beginning of the class: “things which must shortly take place.”

Let’s take a look at a few different translations:

NRS Revelation 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place

YLT Revelation 1:1 A revelation of Jesus Christ, that God gave to him, to show to his servants what things it behoveth to come to pass quickly;

NAS Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place;

What do you think this phrase, “must soon take place,” means?

Modern:  Obviously if you think that Revelation refers mostly to events that happened in the past, you’re going to be really happy about this verse.  Modern/liberal folks might say that this refers to events that were about to happen in short order in John’s day, either the fall of Jerusalem or Rome, depending on when you think the book was written.  This actually makes more sense than some Dispensational views, since obviously these words were originally written to Christians of the late first century, not to the present day church.  It makes more sense that Jesus is showing John things which must take place in the next 15 years and calling that shortly than it does to assume he said “shortly” but meant 2000 years or more later.

Dispensational:  Again, obviously if you think that the end times are just around the corner, you read this and say “ah ha, I knew it!”  Of course most serious dispensational scholars are aware of the difficulties outlined above, and would therefore point out that the word translated here as “shortly” can also mean “quickly” or “suddenly.”  So Jesus could be referring to events that are going to take place in a relatively short period of time instead of ones that will happen soon.  Most dispensationalist theologians would put this time at around 7 years (time, times, and half a time, or 3 and ½ years, times two).  This runs afoul of v. 3, however, which states, “the time is near.”

Reformed:  The classic Reformed position on this dilemma is that in a sense the time is always near.  Since there is application for the entire church in this book, it’s true in some sense for every age of the church that “the time is near.”  There’s always a crisis or the risk of judgment for us, and yet always a Word from the Lord of concern.

Read vv4-8.

NLT Revelation 1:4 This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia. Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne;

NIV Revelation 1:4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,

Who sends their grace and peace in v 4?  What on earth does that mean?  Let’s read Is. 11:1-2

 

NRS Isaiah 11:1-2 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

How many spirits does this verse mention? (7) Who are they resting on?  The “Root of Jesse”, aka Jesus.

What does this tell us about the passage we are reading?  There are a lot of different directions to go here depending on what you want to teach.  Besides telling us about the character of Christ, (and therefore of mature Christians) this also reveals to us for the first time an interpretive key to the book of revelation.  We think of Rev as being the most “NT” of the NT books, because it’s far out.  In actual fact, no other NT book is as rooted in the OT’s imagery and references.

One thing I should probably note: there are tons of questions I’m not asking, mostly because they don’t fit with what I’m trying to present.  Because this is a complex book, there just isn’t time to cover it all, so I had to make choices.

Read 9-20

Who was the one who spoke to John (v. 13)?  The Son of Man.

What significance does that phrase have?  Who is this, and what does this say about him?  What does that mean for us?

Daniel 7:9   “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.

Daniel 7:13-14  13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

What do you think the significance of the “double edged sword” is? (v. 16)  What does that tell us about what we’re about to read?

Hebrews 4:12  12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

What do you think this means: I have the keys of Death and of Hades? (v 18)  What does it mean to have the key to something?  If you have the key to your car, what does that mean?  You have control over it, right?

What does this mean for us? We’re set.

Discussion point: expect symbolism.  How much of the first chapter is symbolic and how much is literal?  (literal in the sense that it refers to a specific future event, etc)  You’ll notice that we’re not even past the first chapter, and yet we’ve already encountered plenty of symbolism and colorful imagery.  What do you think that this says about what we can expect in the rest of the book?  (so don’t take things too literally). Presbyterian Church, Hyde park also arranging effective and heart touching bible studies at a regular time interval.

 

Leadership Bible Study: How to Mentor People and Handle Problems

Part of the challenge of leading a Bible study is learning how to read the Bible, preparing the material, and feeling comfortable praying in public.  However, dealing with the participants of a Bible study can be an Leadership Bible Studyentirely different, but equally difficult, part of the equation.  We have all been in Bible studies as I am also in St. Petersberg Woodlawn Presbyterian Church bible studies where the main thing that we remember is the actions or statements of the people in the group instead of the leader.  The person who monopolizes the conversation¸ who takes the group off topic time and again with questions or anecdotes , or who expresses a view of the Bible that does not agree with our faith tradition can be quite challenging for the Bible study leader.  And while it’s wonderful to have a new Christian or someone who is exploring the faith  in your group, that definitely increases the stress level of the leader!  The following Bible study gives you some great ideas of how to deal with the people part of the Bible study.

 

Intro: Over the past few sessions we’ve talked in detail about the different ways of preparing a Bible Study, as well as what tools to use to make life easier while you do prepare.  The reason we’ve spent so much time in these areas is that the Biblical side is very important to get right, and for some it’s the most intimidating part of leading a study.  However, it’s not the only aspect of having a successful Bible study.  In fact, it’s probably not too far over 50%.  The social aspects of leading a study are also vital for the growth of the people in the study.

The purpose of leading a Bible study is to help people grow in their faith.  This ultimate goal is achieved not just through studying the Bible, but though the formation of relationships in the small group and the conversations that take place there.  There are many problems that can pop up to derail this process or the process of the actual Bible study, and there are many “little things” that help tremendously that may not be intuitive for everyone to do.  We’re going to talk about both how to best encourage positive social interactions as well as how to handle problems when they crop up in this lesson.

Encouraging Positive Social Interactions

First, I think it’s important to know what you can be doing to encourage people to talk during the group time and to form friendships in a small group.  The extent to which you can do this depends on several factors, notably the length of the study, the type of study and the subject matter.  Much of this is stuff that we’ve already talked about, but there are a few other things to cover that may or may not be common sense.

In a short term study, realistically, there’s only so much of this that you can do.  It more or less is taking time to answer questions (or let others in the group answer questions) that come up during the bible study, sending them reminders and praying for them.  In a longer term study, there’s more that you can do, but it boils down to shepherding them.  Activities that promote positive social interactions include:

Send Email Reminders

It’s a very good idea to check in with the group members during the week, either with a short phone call reminding them of the study and saying hi, or an email or text.  This keeps folks connected to the study and also gives people extra motivation to come.  Obviously calling is best, but realistically email is easiest.

Pray for Everyone

We talked about this in an earlier session, but it helps quite a bit if you pray for everyone in your group, individually, once a week.

Start with Social Time or a Game

Starting with a check in time, whether formal or informal, is a good way to loosen people up and also help them feel connected to the group.  Other good ways to get people comfortable are with a game or icebreaker exercise.  You can find a ton of these online at youth pastor sites.

Moderating the Conversation

It’s important to correctly control the flow of the conversation.  Usually this isn’t a problem; you just let others do most of the talking and interject when needed.  However, sometimes this means politely cutting off people who are going on too long, keeping the study moving forward so that you can get to the application parts, or encouraging everyone to participate.

In general, the more other people are doing the talking in a Bible study, the better you are doing your job.  What I mean is, the more good, productive, edifying conversation that is going on, the better you’re doing.  So view your role as a conversation starter and moderator; you don’t have to anchor the whole thing or answer every question.  The lecture format works well in a class of 15 to 20, but in a smaller group, it makes more sense to encourage others to talk than to do the talking yourself (unless it’s a training group or one that requires a lot of set up by the leader).

Let People Ask Questions

One of the main advantages to a Bible study over a lecture style of teaching is that people get to ask questions, and work out things in real time.  If they were listening to a sermon and didn’t get a point, then tough luck, but in a Bible study, people have the option of asking questions if they don’t understand or if they disagree.  For the purposes of personal growth, this is huge.  You can work out things about faith that just won’t be worked out in other ways.

The implication of this is that occasionally, people are going to ask questions.  So long as they’re honest and not disruptive or too distracting, you should let them.  Sometimes rabbit trails can be beneficial.  Remember what the real point of the Bible study is, to help others grow in their faith.  It’s ok if you don’t finish everything you prepared; God might have other plans than you do!

Extra Attention

If you see someone struggling with something or can tell that they need extra attention, it’s entirely appropriate to ask them to lunch or to talk to them after the study.  Again, keep the goal in mind, to help others grow.  This also applies when folks obviously need a little extra attention, say if they’re injured or if a family member is in the hospital.

Extra-curricular Activities

Encourage folks to do things outside of the group with each other.  If folks are becoming closer friends outside of the study, then chances are good that the study itself will be more productive and meaningful.  An easy way to do this is to appoint a social coordinator for the group, or if that’s not something the group is ready for, just remember that there are certain events that can be celebrated together, like a 1 year anniversary or someone getting a new job, etc.

How to Overcome Problems:

Another topic that I’m sure everyone would be interested in is how to overcome the various problems that we’re faced with in the course of leading a Bible study.  We’re going to look at the 3 most common problems today: silence after asking a question, avoiding rabbit trails, and problem personalities.

How to Avoid Silence

First, I want to say that silence after you ask a question is not always bad.  Sometimes it’s good for people to think about something for a little bit before answering.  That’s ok.  After a certain amount of time, however, it gets awkward, and you need to know how to deal with it.

The first strategy I’d use is good planning.  If you’ve loosened folks up with a check in time and with some softball “observation” type questions, chances are they’ll be willing to share their insights.  Sometimes, though, if it’s a hard question, people may have a tough time responding even if they’re warmed up.  If you think that this might be the case with one of your questions, what you should do (assuming you can’t reword the question) is prepare a back up question or two that you can ask following this question if there’s nothing but blank stares.

Here’s what I mean: Let’s say that you ask your group, “What do you think Paul means when he says, “why then are people baptized for the dead?””  That’s going to elicit some blank stares, more than likely (since we don’t know what he meant ), so you might have some questions prepared that help break the harder question down, for instance, “Do you think that he was trying to argue for the idea that the Resurrection had already taken place, or against it?”

Another tactic is to include the answer to your question, or a hint to it, in the question itself.  For instance, if the answer to your question is in verse 12, let people know that.  It’s not a test, we’re trying to help people think through and come to the conclusions themselves.  Another example of this is to make the question a leading question; “What do you think Paul’s exasperation with the Galatians is leading him to this conclusion?”

How to Avoid Rabbit Trails:

On the other hand, sometimes the problem is the opposite: instead of silence, you get a group who wants to talk too much about something that just isn’t the most productive thing to talk about.  This isn’t uncommon with controversial subjects or certain personalities.  But what do you do about them?  How do you politely escape?

Usually you can just halt the conversation by saying, “Guys, I think we’re off topic.  Let’s try to stay focused on what the text says,” or something similar.  Sometimes a rabbit trail will just peter out on its own if you leave it alone for a little while, and often it’s best to either nip it in the bud immediately or just let it go for a minute or two to see if it’s profitable or not.  Rabbit trails that are a distraction from the Lord or that in your opinion aren’t worthwhile should be stopped though.  Usually many of the people in the group would like to get back to the topic at hand, not just you.

Another popular form of rabbit trails is being asked a question you don’t know the answer to and taking the bait.  This is one of the most anxiety producing problems that a small group leader faces: What if I’m asked a question in my study that I don’t know the answer to?  Not necessarily about the material that you’re planning to cover, because obviously you can prepare for that, but one of the big ones, like “Why does a good God allow evil and suffering?” or “What about miracles?”  It’s usually better to say, “I don’t know” or throw it back to the group.  You can also just give it your best shot (while being upfront about not being sure) or pass it off to a pastor.

Handling Different Personalities in a Small Group Setting

Being 100% honest with you, the biggest problem that you are likely to face in your small group is going to be the personalities involved.  There are certain personality types that can make leading your group quite a challenge.  Then there are other folks that aren’t so much of a problem as they are folks who need to be treated a little differently.

“talky” folks

I know you’re all scared of silence, but the most difficult to deal with folks are the ones who don’t know how to be quiet.  You guys all know people like this, I’m going to assume.  Certain personality types just never let anyone else get a word in edgewise.  This is poison for a group, because if left unchecked this will cause frustration and resentment.  Folks will simply stop coming rather than deal with this individual.

How do you handle someone who talks too much?  How do you keep the group from being frustrated with them while at the same time keep them from feeling stifled or insulted?  This can be quite a challenge, but it’s doable.  I don’t necessarily recommend directly commenting on their lack of basic social mores; folks with this problem are frequently unaware of it and may be deeply offended by a conversation like this (not that they don’t need someone in their life to tell them this).  (obviously folks like this are frequently socially unaware in general, although sweet folks)

The better way to handle this situation is to learn to cut in on them when they’re taking a breath ;).  I’m only half joking; the best way to deal with these folks is to cut in and restate what they said or cut in, thank them for their opinion and ask the rest of the group for theirs.  In other words, this requires keeping a reign on the person’s tongue for them.

Quiet Folks

Waaay on the other side of the spectrum is the person who needs to be drawn out of their shell.  In any group, you’re likely to have one or two who don’t interact as much or who prefer to listen.  This isn’t necessarily bad; it doesn’t mean that they aren’t learning something or getting things out of the lesson, but if it’s because they’re uncomfortable or disengaged, then you need to do something to draw them out.

There are a few ways to draw someone out.  First, you can just ask them a question.  “X, you look like you’ve got an opinion; what do you think?”  Second, these are folks that you can talk to after the class.  Sometimes there’s a reason they’re being quiet, and sometimes they just need a little longer to warm up than other folks.  “I notice you haven’t been speaking up much; is everything ok?”

Conclusion:

Next week we’re going to go through a sample Bible study, and hopefully bring all of the things we’ve learned about over the past few weeks together.  I’ll probably have us cover the first chapter of Revelation or perhaps a topical study.  Any preferences?

Leadership Bible Study—How to Prepare a Bible Study on Any Topic

Sometimes, we get a select any topic for a Bible study.  Perhaps a regular leader is asking you to fill in for Bible Study, Leadershipher, and says you can pick any topic you want.  Or maybe there is a one week gap between your summer study and your fall study, and you just need something for that week.  If you can pick any topic, you could select your favorite Bible passage, a topic you just read a book on, or one that you participated in a really good study on in the past.  That’s not too overwhelming of a task.

However, other times the topic is selected for you.  Perhaps your Sunday School class goes by the lectionary  or the Bible study leader you are filling in for wants you to continue based on the study that they are leading.  In either of these cases, preparing the Bible study can be much more intimidating for the new Bible study leader.

In this Bible study lead by the pastor at a very nice St Pete church, you can learn how to prepare a Bible study on any topic.  This is a great resource for prepping for that Bible study you have to lead!

Intro: I promised I’d talk about the different aspects of a successful Bible study (3 goals), and I think that is a good place to start this week.

Different Kinds of Bible Studies
First, there are different kinds of Bible studies, mostly differentiated by which of the 3 main goals of a small group they focus on the most.  So the 3 broad kinds of small group bible study are, fellowship oriented, study oriented, and prayer oriented.  Within each type of study there are more specific types of group.  For instance, different ways of doing a fellowship group might be dinner with each other, sports, movies, classes, hanging out at a bar, or parent/child play dates.  Different ways of doing a prayer group might be praying for each other, praying for the church, or praying for a specific social or community issue (for the High School students, local abortion clinic, etc).  Bible study groups are also diverse: possibilities include going through a book of the Bible, topical studies, studies based on last week’s sermon, studies from a book or pre-printed series, or in depth study of one passage or topic.

Each of these different kinds of classes would probably still have components of fellowship, prayer, and Bible study.  For example, a dinner group might focus mostly on fellowship, but would probably still have a 10 minute meditation and end with prayer, and likewise, even the most Bible focused Sunday School class still has time before the class starts to catch up or get to know each other, and probably opens and closes with prayer.  It’s important to remember that each of these three components is important when leading a small group, and not to ignore any of them (while of course some will get less time than others, depending on the group).

Covenants
Each group is unique, and it’s important to have some understanding of what the group wants to be when it starts up.  So it’s a good idea to have a talk with the group on your first meeting to see how much time people want to spend in fellowship (do they want an icebreaker, to spend 20 minutes chatting and catching up, or just get to studying the Bible), how much time in prayer (2 minutes to open and close, or 25 minutes at the end to do a circle prayer), and how much time in actual study (and even what kind they prefer… more interaction or more lecture, more topical or more by the book, etc).  Some of these decisions may already have been made, eg, if it’s a study based on a book that the church hands out.

Topical Bible Studies
I promised that today we’d learn how to do a Bible study on any topic, so of course we’re going to talk about how to do a topical Bible study.  Previously, we’ve been talking about how to do studies based on one chapter or passage from the Bible.  Topical studies are a bit different.  They cover way more ground, going to and fro in the Bible rapidly, which potentially means extra preparation.  On the other, they’re much easier to fill time with, because A, you can just give everyone a verse to read and discuss, B, it’s so much easier to make a point and to formulate questions when you can just go to the verse that answers the question, and C, studying 4 or 5 main passages means you don’t have to go as deep in each one.  It’s also almost guaranteed relevant to your group, assuming that you pick a good topic (you’re not going to get bogged down in Lev. Or something).  They’re also easier to advertise.  Additionally, it’s kind of fun to go through the Bible and see what it has to say on a particular topic, but challenging.

Regular studies are profitable, and are a little easier to prepare for (don’t have to pick a new topic every week, don’t has as much material to learn), but sometimes get rote.  They go in depth in one area, but run the risk of missing the larger picture of the Bible, although topical studies run the opposite risk of failing to understand the content.

Basically, I like topical studies, but they can be a little more work.  You tend to learn more, and making the Leadership Bible Studypieces fit is the good kind of hard that grows you (eg, study on judgment or judging; how do we fit all of the various verses on this together?).  Studying the Bible topically is also very useful for personal study; it’s one of the ways that I think I’ve grown the most as I’ve gained more and more knowledge.

How to Write a Bible Study on Any Topic
So how do you actually prepare a topical Bible study?  The first step is obviously choosing a topic.  The easy way to do this is just to keep it simple: love, judgment, spiritual gifts, grace vs. works, any one of the fruit of the spirit, marriage, etc.  There are probably 30 great topics that we can come up with at the drop of a hat.  The topic you start out with might not be the one you end up with, however.  Let’s say you start out wanting to study love in the Bible, but in your research you find out that there are several different types, so you narrow that down to friendship love in the Bible, or God’s love for us.

One of the most important ways to select a topic is by looking at the people who are in your Bible study.  What are their interests?  What are their struggles?  Do you suspect one of them doesn’t understand grace, or has trouble forgiving?  You can also just ask them what they’d like to study, and you’ve got a topic.  This is a very important way to select topics because it has the advantage of being automatically relevant, and therefore interesting and more likely to result in spiritual growth.

There are two other great ways to pick a topic.  First, you can use a topical index like Nave’s on Bible gateway.  Halley’s Topical Index is also useful.  These are great because they give you a bunch of verses to check out and in Halley’s case, even a sort lesson plan for a potential study.  In Nave’s, you’d basically just browse.  Second, you can use Amazon’s Christian Living books section (or any book store’s) to look for books that are about certain topics and just steal the idea about the topic.

Read Everything the Bible Has to Say
So you’ve got a topic, now what?  This is actually the easy part, in my opinion.  Basically you just read everything that the Bible has to say about that topic and take notes.  Patterns will appear.  The questions you need to ask and the verses you need to cover will frequently become obvious as you do this reading, and if your initial premise was false, you’ll have a chance to figure that out and adjust.

But how do you find everything that the Bible has to say about a particular subject?  A concordance (or Biblegateway) is your best friend.  There are times when this is easier than others.  Let’s say you want to do a study on love.  Well, that word appears 500 times in the NIV.  Too many to read by far.  But there are ways to narrow this.  First, you might limit your reading to just the New Testament.  That knocks it down to 200.  What you need to do is add some words related to your topic, for instance, love + friends, love + friend or love + brotherly.  You can also pick related words, like companion or brother, and look under those.  Be creative.

What if there are no results at all, for instance if you wanted to do a study on the rapture?  Try changing the version search, and try to figure out related concepts or passages.  Realistically though, if you wanted to study something like the rapture, a word that isn’t in the Bible, then you’d probably have to go to a topical book like Naves, or more likely, an actual book about the rapture to find the verses (unless you’re like me and just sort of know most of them… in which case you can pray and usually enough of them will come back to you to find them with a search).  You can also just do a google search and find a list of passages, but I’d be cautious about taking at face value everything I found about the Bible on the internet.  Don’t let Google do the work for you, in other words, but help with the research.

Noticing Patterns:
Now that we’re reading all of these verses, certain patterns should start appearing.  What are some of the common themes you’re seeing (that are of interest)?  What new insights about the topic are you coming up with?  Group the verses and write down these insights.  They’ll form the basis of your study.  You might have one group of 3 to 10 verses all buttressing a single point, or (commonly) you might find a few groups of verses that each go into an insight you want the group to examine.

Checking the Context:
Once you have found what appear to be a good group of verses (or several groups), before you go any further, you probably should make sure they say what you think they say.  The easiest way to do this is simply to read them in context.  That means read a few verses ahead and a few verses behind to see that everything makes sense.  This doesn’t have to be as in depth as other context checks, just read the area around the verse and is something doesn’t fit or makes you think you’re wrong about that verse, either do more research or simply stick to your other verses.

Finding the Questions to ask:
The questions you come up with might be slightly different from the observation, interpretation, application questions we discussed earlier, as we might spend less time on each verse.  For instance, if your goal is to cover 10 verses, you probably shouldn’t ask observation, interpretation and application questions about all 10 verses.  That would take forever, and probably be redundant.

You probably had questions going into the topical study, like “What does it mean to have Christ-like love?” or as simple as “What does the Bible say about love?”  These questions probably guided the insights you had and the way you grouped the verses.  In other words, the questions that you have to ask are much more apparent with a topical study:  What does verse A mean in light of verse B?  How are passage 1 and passage 2 alike and how are they different?  What do they say about how we should live our lives?

You’ll be able to ask the observe/interpret/apply questions if you have any longer passages of scripture, but many of the questions you ask if you’ve got many verses you want to cover will be of the nature, “What do you think that says about our topic?”

Organizing the Verses:
If you have 3 or 4 longer passages or 10 or so shorter ones, you’re going to want to organize them in a way that makes sense, and builds towards a conclusion or an interesting discussion (it’s ok not to have all the answers if there’s an interesting discussion to be had).  The way I usually organize my verses is to take a pair of conflicting passages, or start with a passage that seems to say one thing but probably don’t in the light of other passages.  So if the conventional wisdom seems to be espoused in verse A, I’ll start there, but then move to verse B, which is related to the insight I had about this topic while studying it.  This either provides for an excellent opportunity for discussion (where the wiser folks will hopefully argue for the point that is less obvious), or a chance for you to lead the group to the insight you wanted to share with them.  For example, if I were going to do a study titled “What is Love?”, I might start with a verse that implies love is an emotion, but move towards the conclusion that perhaps it is more of an action with each verse.

Example:
I also promised a more hands on experience this time, and so we’re going to try to do that.  Since we talked about love above, let’s use that as an example.

Love of course is way too broad a topic; we’re going to have to limit it.  How might we do that?  One way is to talk just about the love of Christ.  This is still a pretty broad topic, but easy enough to research without a PhD, too.  What are the possible questions that we’ve got about the love of Christ?  At first glance, a few I might have are “are we really supposed to love like Christ loved?  Is that even possible?”  “what proves that Christ loves us?” “how did Christ love others?” “How can we show the love of Christ for others in our lives?”  That doesn’t mean that we’d use all of these questions in our study, but those are just some questions that we’ll have in the back of our head as we study, because they’re pretty interesting ones that a Christian might struggle with.

First do a topical search on Biblegateway.org (link on the homepage).  This results in a ton of possible topics.  Picking “Love of Christ, The” we go on to see a page that includes various insights about the love of Christ (many that we hadn’t previously considered).  A few interesting ones include:
To be imitated ( John 13:34;15:12; Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 3:16)
MANIFESTED IN HIS » Dying for us ( John 15:13; 1 John 3:16)
MANIFESTED IN HIS » Washing away our sins (Revelation 1:5)
MANIFESTED IN HIS » Interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25;9:24)
TO SAINTS, IS » Unquenchable (Song of Solomon 8:7)
TO SAINTS, IS » Constraining (2 Corinthians 5:14)
TO SAINTS, IS » Unchangeable ( John 13:1)
TO SAINTS, IS » Indissoluble (Romans 8:35)

Then we would simply read all of these verses and take notes on what excites or interests us, and any questions that come to mind, then try to organize it.

In reading the topic “To be imitated” the answer to one of our questions pops up to me.  How do we actually love with the love Christ had?

1 John 3:16 16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

We’re able to love like Christ did only when we remember what he’s done for us; just as we’re able to forgive when we remember what Christ has forgiven us, or sacrifice for others when we remember what Christ gave up for us.  I’d definitely use this in the study.

The way I might combine all of this info is to show how Christ treated his friends, and then so that we should imitate this love ourselves.  You would probably want to end with a question that is application and discussion oriented, like, “easier said than done; what are some practical ways that we actually can imitate Christ’s love?”

Leadership Bible Study: How to Pray

Praying in public is something that makes many people, including longtime church attenders, nervous.  What do I say?  What if it doesn’t come out right?  Will people judge me based on how the prayer sounds?  Leadership Bible Study: How to PrayWhat if it makes me sound unintelligent?  There is a reason that the pastor or group leader often ends up leading the prayer in a group after no one volunteers to do so.   Equipping people so that they feel comfortable praying in public is important if you’re going to be asking them to lead a Bible study.  This is another one of those barriers that needs to be overcome so that someone will say yes to your request that they lead a Bible study.

Intro: Last week we went over how to read the Bible as it relates to preparing for a Bible Study at the Port Richey Presbyterian Church.  One of the things that we discovered is that most of the people here haven’t spent a ton of time studying the Bible themselves, so I decided that it would be a good idea to spend a little bit more time on how to read the Bible.  Last week was more the middle of the road stuff, this week we’re going to cover some more basic material, then some more advanced material.  After that we’re going to talk a little about prayer.

More basic basics on how to read the scripture:
Prayer: These are habits that you should be in, and should come naturally, but be sure to pray for help and spend time meditating and reflecting on what you’ve read.  What do I mean by this?  I mean, every time before you begin to study, especially if it’s to prepare, ask the Lord to help you understand what you’re reading, and especially to help you present what he wants you to present to the Study.  God is the inspirer of Scripture, so ought to be able to help you understand it.

Reflection:  Reflecting and meditating is also useful, since it gives God a chance to organize and sort all of this material in your heart and give you a better understanding of what’s going on.  I recommend that you spend some time praying about what you’ve studied and just thinking through the meaning before you try to write your questions.  This is where you really grow, and this is where you really come to insights that are useful.

Reading Comprehension:  The most fundamental step is basic reading comprehension.  Read it like you’re going to have to write an essay, or take a final exam.  What exactly does the text say?  Does it really mean what I think it means?  What important details does it seem to be leaving out?  What are the unanswered questions?  A lot of the time, we take liberties with things without even realizing it.  This is one of the reasons we should read our passage in more than one translation.

Parallel Passages: if it’s in the gospel, you want to read parallel passages.  This is also true of Kings and Chronicles, and also certain of Paul’s letters (namely Gal and Rom) where you can look for parallel teaching.

A few more words about metaphors:  Frequently the Bible uses agricultural or natural metaphors.  It’s important to understand that when you run across these and they don’t seem to make any sense, you should consult a commentary or study bible.  For instance, an ox or even a horn is a symbol for strength or power (like us talking about horsepower I guess).  There are many such examples, too many to remember from a short intro course like this one, but just keep in mind if things (particularly something in prophecy or the OT) don’t seem to make sense, consult a commentary.

Interpretive Keys:   There are several interpretive keys to understanding the Bible.  These are overarching themes and ways of understanding that clarify what it is we’re reading.  Some examples include the struggle between grace and works, or the promise of redemption.

I feel like mentioning an interpretive key to understanding a lot of the OT.  Many of the old laws weren’t really about what they on their surface claimed to be about.  For instance, what do you think that the “no two threads next to each other” rule was really about?  (not getting too close to people with foreign gods)  More broadly, there are tons of laws about being “clean” before we can enter into the presence of God.  These laws ultimately are all about the same thing, the impossibility of ever being “good enough” on our own to enter into God’s presence.  We need Jesus Christ for that.  Then there are all of the “sacrifice” laws.  Again, these point towards our inability to be OK with God without a payment of some sort, ultimately Christ on the cross.  Jesus, after he was raised, explained to his disciples from the entire Bible why he had to suffer, die and be raised, so we can frequently use Jesus and the larger story of redemption as a way of understanding what it is we’re reading.

Advanced Study – Logical Fallacies:
I want to cover very quickly a few mistakes that are possible to make when doing a Bible study.  These are also possible mistakes that people in your study can make, which is one of the reasons I’m mentioning them.

Selective Evidence: ex, the bible says that women should keep silent in church, and some say that clearly means women should not speak at all in church.  But that passage is countermanded by a passage 3 chapters earlier where Paul explicitly lets women pray and prophecy in church (1 Cor 14:33-36 and 1 Cor 11:2-15).

Worldview confusion:
Most common one I can think of is slavery.  Folks read our modern version of slavery into the passages where Paul talks about slaves.  It’s not the same thing.  “Take up our cross” ex: to us, that means just anything we’re hurting from, but to the first century reader, it meant a painful humiliating and slow death.

Emotional Appeals:
Homosexuality, gender issues; folks seem to think that because there’s an emotional component that this is a replacement for what the text actually says.  Try not to get drawn into that sort of argument, but stick to what the text says.

Working outside of the system:
using assumptions about reality that aren’t the Bible’s assumptions to try to understand the Bible.  This is pretty common when discussing miracles or philosophy (for instance, introducing a naturalistic bias to a priori eliminate the possibility of miracles).

Prayer
I also want to talk about prayer today, particularly how it relates to preparing for a Bible Study.

First I want to generally cover just a few points about prayer.  Prayer is a two way conversation.  How would  image41your spouse feel if you only talked to them and never listened?  Or your parents?  In order to pray effectively, you need to be open to the Lord speaking back.  If this isn’t something you’re comfortable with or sure of how to do, ask for God to teach you, and spend some time in prayer in silence learning how to listen.  And keep in mind, I’m not talking about audible voices here, but impressions and guidance coming from your heart.  Second, prayer need not be rote; prayer is a conversation with someone you personally know, or at least someone you’re trying to know, so it can be free.  It’s not magic.

Role of Prayer as a leader:
There are 3 major areas of prayer relating to being a Bible Study leader: praying for guidance in preparation, praying for your students, praying for the study time.  The one we’re going to talk about today is praying for guidance in preparation.

Praying while you’re preparing is primarily about 2 things: praying to understand and praying to know what you’re supposed to include and exclude.  The first is very easy, and we already covered it.  Just pray for understanding and for God to expose any hidden truths to you as you study, guide you to the right resources etc.  The second is more difficult.  That’s why I spent the time above talking about listening to God.  The only way to really grow in this is to take risks.  God knows what everyone in your group is going through and will guide you in a way that incorporates that if you’ll let him. 

Prayer time at the Bible Study:
Obviously you should begin and end with prayer, and it’s fine to let others do this if they’re comfortable.  But there are a lot of different options for prayer in a Bible Study.  Part of this depends on what your emphasis of the study is.  Not all Bible Studies are primarily about studying the Bible, believe it or not.

3 Purposes of Small Groups
There are basically 3 major purposes of small groups, fellowship, study and prayer.  All three are necessary to some extent in any Bible Study, but their exact composition varies.  A fellowship heavy group might be one where the primary part of the group time is spent in a meal (or in Hebrews case, at a bar).  A study heavy group would be a group like this one or like a Sunday School class.  A prayer heavy group might be a support group or prayer circle where the bulk of the time is spent sharing prayer requests.

Every small group is free to set its own focus.  The best time to do this is at the first or second group meeting.  Typically a good group meeting will last about 1.5 hours and consist of fellowship in the beginning, study in the middle and prayer at the end, although it’s perfectly ok to mix those up any which way and still have a productive group.

Different Options for Prayer
I’m going to talk more about this division of a group’s time in a later meeting, but for now I want to discuss the options for how to handle prayer time.

Prayer for others: circle prayer, popcorn prayer, just leader praying.  I prefer circle prayer because it A, insures that each person’s concerns are prayed for, B, that it builds bonds in the group, and C, takes the pressure off the leader to remember everything.  (it sort of combines fellowship).  Leader praying has its advantages too , as does popcorn.

Conclusion:
Next week we’re going to talk about how to prepare a Bible study on any topic, and hopefully be a little more interactive.  We’ll also talk more about these 3 purposes of a study.

Leadership Bible Study: How to Read the Bible

Have you been teaching a Bible study for years?  Are you ready for a break, but no one is willing to replace Leadership Bible Study: How to Read the Bibleyou?  I know many people feel like they’re stuck leading the same group they have been leading for years, even though they really need a year or two off, because no one will agree to teach the class/group.  However, if you haven’t trained other members so that they feel comfortable leading a Bible study, the answer is probably going to continue to be no.

Instead, you need to try a different approach.  Offer a Bible study leadership group, or simply use this and the following few studies in your regular Bible study group like Danville First Presbyterian Church.  Invite everyone to come, without any obligation to teach a group.  Once you’ve trained people on the basics of how to lead a Bible study group, they’ll realize it’s not so scary…and hopefully say yes.  Here’s the first study in the series—how to read the Bible.

 

Intro, what we’re trying to accomplish, what our goal is. 

  • Learning to read the Bible as well as possible and to be prepared for a Bible Study
  • The ultimate goal of this course is for you to be able to do a Bible Study on any topic and do it well.  This includes taking care of the people you’re teaching and learning to lead, pray for those you’re teaching, and handle problem people.
  • It would be awesome if at the end of this series any of you wanted to start a bible study.  (I should also let you know that I’m going to be recording it for those who couldn’t make it and for future leaders).
  • Where do you guys think you are?  What would you like to get out of it?

How to read the Bible better:
1, Best strategies:
Context: A text without a context is a pretext.  In other words, if you don’t have at least some idea of what’s going on, you’re almost certain to misinterpret; like overhearing part of a conversation, you just don’t know what’s going on without the context, and any conclusions you draw from it are suspect.

Reading for genre: Another important thing to note about reading the Bible is that it’s not just one book, but 66 of them.  This means that some of them are written with vastly different purposes in mind, and to some extent this needs to be taken into account when we read the Bible.  After all, you don’t read history the same way you do fiction, right?  In the same way, the historical Gospel accounts should be read differently than the poetry of the Psalms, or the (frequently conditional) prophecies of the OT.

Using the Bible to interpret the Bible: A final strategy that is very important is using the Scripture to interpret the Scripture.  Basically what this implies is that any particular verse you’re studying doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and even though it may seem to say getting vengeance on your enemies is AOK, we know from the rest of the Bible that, well, you’re wrong about that.

Shellfish example: Paul where he talks about the law no longer applying to us as Christians (Gal 5:18)…  thus exposing the fairly annoying arguments about how hypocritical Christians are to apply the Bible in sexual ethics but not in the eating of shellfish.

Mistakes to avoid:
Reading present culture into past circumstances: example, in Gal 4, “son” isn’t a sexist term, but quite the opposite, a sign that “in Christ there is no male or female”.  Only sons got an inheritance, you see.
Misunderstanding idioms (gaze on their nakedness, uncover the feet – Ham, Ruth)

How to prepare for a Bible Study:
Preparation:
We’ll talk about how to select a text later, and for now just focus on how to prepare once already know what you’re studying.  Obviously, pray for the Holy Spirit’s help in understanding the text before you get started.  He’s the author (by inspiration) of the Bible, so presumably he’s in a good position to help you understand it.

Get the Context Locked Down
First, be sure to read up on the context of the text.  Most good study Bibles will have an intro to a book that will give you a good idea of the particular author’s intentions or what was going on in the community at the time of the writing.  It’s important to have some familiarity with this to guide you in writing your questions and allow you to help yourself and your folks from making mistakes about the meaning of the text.  Knowing the context is going to help inform every angle of your understanding of the text.

Second, if you’re studying a single chapter, read the chapter before and the chapter after your text.  What I mean is read through 3 chapters at once to get a good feel for the whole picture of what is going on.  Even if you’re studying a particular Gospel parable for instance, this is still useful, as these things often go in groups (3 parables in a row about heaven, one random one about something else, then another parable about heaven?  Maybe you should rethink the supposedly “random” one, for example.).

What we’re trying to do here is answer questions like, “Who is the audience?”  and “What is the major goal of the speaker/writer here?  What do they want?”  Once we have a handle on the big picture, we can go small.

Other translations:
Now that we’re ready to start digging deeper, the first thing to do is to read the text in multiple translations.  However, it’s really not enough to read the text in just any 2 or 3 translations.  It’s important to pick translations that are different enough to really get a sense of what’s going on with the different possible interpretations.

Different translations have different philosophies of how to translate.  They fall basically into 3 groups: 1st, the inflexible translation, that is pretty darn close to the Greek, but sometimes so much so that you get lost or misunderstand because they use artificial language for English.  The NASB and KJV are examples of this type.  2nd, the Functional Translations are Bibles like the TNIV and NRSV that try their best to replace Greek and Hebrew idioms with English ones, and are more focused on transmitting meaning than just the words.  3rd are the Paraphrases which are almost entirely focused on getting the meaning across in understandable ways, and isn’t very concerned about adding extra words that aren’t in the text or flat rewriting stuff.  These can be a good way to help you interpret what the text is saying and include translations like the TLB and the Message.

The translations I recommend are … TNIV, NRSV, NASB, TLB or Message.

Read the Footnotes:
This is sort of a footnote to reading other translations, but you definitely want to not skip the footnotes.  It’s important to know a couple of terms for this and what they mean (in other words, there are different kinds of footnotes).  Sometimes a footnote is just because the way it’s stated in Greek could be taken more than one way, for instance, Jesus’ reply to Pilot could either mean, “You said so” or “Yes, I am” (approx.).  That was probably deliberate wordplay, and either is acceptable.

The second type of footnote is when the original text is actually in question.  The way this works is that the Bible we have today isn’t just one book that’s been passed down exactly as it currently is for 2000 years, but a combination of all of the knowledge we have, including 1000s of complete and partial ancient manuscripts.  The OT is mainly based on something called the Masoretic Text, which dates from around the 11th century.  It’s a Jewish text copied and handed down for generations.  The older books were seen as less valuable, because the scribes were that confident in their ability to perfectly copy the text.  So when you see that term in a foot note, that’s what it’s referring to. Two other major translations we have of the OT are the Syriac and the Septuagint.  The Septuagint was the daily Bible of the people in the NT (those living outside of Palistine).  We have copies of it many hundreds of years older than that of the Masoretic, but its translation was somewhat spotty, done by 70 scholars, some of whom were more NLT, and some more NASB.  In cases where the Septuagint makes more sense or the Masoretic is missing information you’ll usually have a footnote saying that.

The third type of footnote is when something changed in the text over time.  Ex of Jesus saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”  In these cases, the translators are simply making their best call as to what’s going on from the available evidence, but really, there’s a question about which way it might go.

The final type of footnote is quiet easy; usually referencing a related passage or quoted passage in the Bible. In the NT, you’ll note that frequently the quoted passage and the original passage don’t line up.  That’s because these passages are usually quoted from the common language OT of the day, the Sept.

Commentaries/wise friends:
In preparing for a Bible study, I would only use commentaries in some cases, not all.  Most of the time a good study Bible and your common sense will help considerably.  Sometimes a commentary can really illuminate what is going on, however, or shed light on some cultural idioms that are just difficult to grasp.  My general rule is that after 15 minutes of struggling with it, I still have no clue as to what’s going on, it’s to the commentaries I go.  Good free online commentaries: Calvin’s and IVP on Bible Gateway.

Writing Questions:
3 Questions:
The questions you ask, if they’re not provided for you, most easily follow these 3 steps.

First, what is going on in the story?  What does Jesus say to the lepers?  Who is Paul talking about when he says, “I wish they would emasculate themselves?”  These questions serve 2 purposes; they should be relatively easy to answer so you can “warm up” people and get them used to answering questions, but at the same time they should also set up your upcoming questions or make sure that everyone understands what’s going on if there’s something easy to miss you want them to see.  Closed ended questions are ok here.

Second, what is the meaning of the text in its context?  Why does Paul want someone to, um, harm themselves?  What’s the big deal?  What significance is there that the lepers who turned around to thank Jesus were Samaritans?  These questions are intended to get people to engage with the text on a more complex level, and should be open ended.  You’re of course setting up the final set of questions, the application questions.

Lastly, what do these texts, now that we understand them, mean for us today?  How should we treat How to Read The Bibleoutsiders?  How do we as church people treat God for all of his blessings?  Do we turn away and forget to thank him?  (for Paul) What are some ways that we rely on works over grace in modern days?  If trying to save yourself by works is worse than being maimed where it counts, what steps can we take to make sure that we’re relying solely on grace and not works for salvation?  These questions are where the real “meaty” discussions can take place, and it’s good to ask opinion questions, set up hypothetical scenarios, or just ask simple, open ended questions like, “What are the implications of that for our lives today?”

How to make it interesting:
As you develop questions, you’ll also want to consider keeping people awake ;).  Controversial or counterintuitive questions can result in lively discussions!

  • Look for things that are “common understandings” (eg, heaven is whatever you want it to be) that you can bust.  There are usually no shortage of these.
  • Look for apparent or true conflicts within the text.  Conflicts are inherently interesting.  (eg, Matt 7:1-6)

Look for places where you can teach something interesting learned in your research that helps to explain what’s going on from a cultural, historical, or contextual basis