Are pre-written Bible studies the microwave dinners of growth group ministry? For busy leaders it sometimes feels that way. No preparation required: the study is ready to go in the time it takes to hand out the booklets, and all the good stuff within is the result of someone else’s hard work.
Now that approach to using pre-written studies might be familiar to us, but is it good? Haven’t our consciences protested against our laziness in those times? Have we really been “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15)?
Pre-written studies have a place in growth group leading, but they work best when we use them to teach the Bible well rather than just to save time. Whether they are the work of your own pastor or an off-the-shelf product, the following guidelines will help you use them faithfully and effectively.
Begin by setting aside some time a few days or a week before you lead the study. This will allow you to ruminate on the study and come up with improvements or creative ideas. Take a moment to pray for your group members and for God’s help in preparing the study.
For exegetical studies (i.e. studies based on a Bible passage) open your Bible and have a close look at the passage before you even look at the study. Ask yourself the following questions:
For topical studies (i.e. studies that focus on a doctrine or theme in the Bible) your approach needs to be a bit different. Take a blank piece of paper and your Bible and have a think about these questions:
You’ll find answering some of these questions pretty hard (you can be sure the study writer found them hard too) but the process will get you thinking and lead to a more engaging study in the end. Don’t stress if you can’t think of answers to the questions in the time you have—the whole idea of a pre-written study is for it to be a help for you!
The next step in preparing a pre-written study (whether exegetical or topical) is to do the study yourself. Try not to be too critical at this point; think of the process as a spiritual exercise and apply what you learn to your own life. As you learn and grow you’ll find yourself looking forward to sharing the same experience with your group.
After running through the study yourself, have a look at the leader’s notes (if provided). This step will help you with two things. Firstly, you will learn more and find things you missed on your initial run through. Secondly, you can assess how well the study works. Are the questions written so that they draw out the hoped-for answers? Would extra questions be helpful? If you have time, and you still have questions about a passage, this would be when you would look up verses in a commentary.
The final step is, in a sense, to make the study your own. Think about the group and look at the study again. How long should you plan for each question? Are there any questions you need to rephrase? Which questions might you skip if you are short on time? Are there extra questions that would help draw out the teaching goals or applications? Is there a tangent you should go down that is particularly relevant for your group? Is there something creative you could bring to the study? Write down all the changes and notes you need. This is now yourstudy. You are ready to go, and hopefully looking forward to the gathering!
Does that process sound as easy as cooking a microwave dinner? Obviously, no! But will the hard work benefit your group? Emphatically, yes. Under God, your prayerful and thoughtful preparation will help people grow and change in response to his Word. Why not commit to making your next pre-written study your best yet?