…. they were unschooled, ordinary men …. they had been with Jesus …. the crippled man healed standing with them – Acts 4:13,14

Effective Bible study group teaching & leading

In any single week in a year, tens of thousands of people attend bible study groups, in a quest to understand the Bible better … spawning a vast library of bible study guidebooks and online resources.

What’s a constructive approach for delivery?

Some years ago, for a brief period I joined a Bible study group program with an intensive methodology.  This involved:

  • Reading the passage
  • Prepare the answers to a series of questions
  • Meet to discuss these questions in a group
  • Listen to a lecture on the passage with other groups
  • Read a set of notes written on the passage, distributed after the session
  • A quick review in the following session.  Members share points they’ve learnt in the previous session.

Having attended various forms of Bible study groups previously (structured/unstructured, planned/unplanned formats)
the methodical approach taken by this program was helpful,i.e.

  • Systematic, strcutured book study from the beginning to the end of each book in the Bible.
    Verses are read with respect to the context and situation in which it was written.
  • Bible study is framed within a bible passage, which helps keep everyone focused on this passage during the week.
  • Preparation by everyone, not just the leader — at least a week of reading the text, meditating and answering the given discussion questions.   Reading and gaining familiarity with the Bible passage during the week helps one grasp the main points of the passage, and enhances discussion.
    Meaningful discussions require preparation from everyone, … else the discussions may get detoured, when answers are created ‘on the fly’.
  • The group leader facilitates and invites discussion of the questions.
  • The study is reinforced through multiple channels — questionaire, discussion, lecture, hardcopy notes are distributed at the end of session; that is – self-learning, peer-learning, teacher-led, and further explanatory notes.
  • A short feedback the following week on personal reflections/applications on what was learned in the previous week.

Thoroughly agree,
… no particular Bible study group method is perfect
… as none of us are perfect.

For this methodology described earlier, …

  • The Bible study discussion was ‘compass’ guided by the discussion questions, for the participants to prepare.  To some extent, the quality of the bible study depended on the quality of the questions.
  • As the questions directed the study … sometimes the Bible study may be framed by the questions, rather than the Bible passage.
  • Also, due to the limited time scheduled for discussions, … additional questions or alternate interpretations raised by others, … or sincere doubts posed by others were usually deferred.
    Undoubtedly, there are portions of scripture that are more challenging to grasp or obey, and … perhaps more time may be required.
  • Some books of the Bible was covered over a lengthy time (many weeks/months, 1 chapter a week), while others were covered in a very short time (a few chapters in one week) ;  i.e. the pace varied.
  • As with any group, especially when folks come from different types of churches (and some may be new believers), … its not easy for the leader and the study to cater to everyone’s needs.

Further observations & thoughts:

During our personal time with the Lord, generally, this is how the Bible is read.

* Pray for the Holy Spirit to teach us.
Begin with reading the whole Bible passage,

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes,
he will guide you into all the truth. ..
John 16:13 (NIV)

* Through further personal readings, gain an understanding of the passage  of what it meant to those present at that time (original hearers),

i.e. context, time/events in history, literary form, meaning of words in the original language, personalities in the story, little details in the text, etc.

Understanding this first,
before we form our views or
personal opinions or thoughts about the passage.

The best explanation of the Bible is the Bible itself.  Let scripture explain scripture.

“Its amazing how much light the Bible sheds on commentaries” 
— Howard Hendricks

Let God’s Word speak for itself.
Let understanding be reasoned out of God’s word by the Holy Spirit.

* What’s God’s view? How is the Lord revealed through this passage?

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Luke 24:44 (NIV)

* Then, based on that … understand what the passage means to us, personally.

* And, (finally) possible application/reflection of the text,
& prayer and praise response to God’s word.

“A text cannot mean what it could never have meant for its original readers/hearers” — Gordon Fee

When we read any book or watch any movie, we start at the beginning of a book/act and read/watch to the end.
Seldom do we just catch random tiny snippets from here and there, and over time, (hopefully?) understand the plot and the characters.
(a ‘movie trailer‘ method of reading or presenting the Bible)

Should the Bible be read or taught any differently, if we desire to understand and treasure it fully?

More on how to read and interprete the Bible confidently,
please click here.

Its preferable that bible study resources reinforce a structured approach, i.e.

Always start in the Bible,
… rather than start with the premise of an application in mind, … or some introductory notes/story, … or a video presentation,
and then later add snippets of Bible verses to  backup or ‘legitmize’ the point.

Topical Bible studies are useful.
However, sometimes, it seemed verses are cherry-picked from various places to fit the application;  causing the Bible to appear as disjointed snippets taken here and there, … and sometimes verses may be quoted without the context
or worse, out of context.

To draft a good topical Bible study also requires the writer or leader have a thorough and balanced grasp of the topic as presented in the Bible.

It would also be great … if both New and Old Testament passages are referred to or cross-referenced, so that we can see that both testaments are consistent and complement one another … i.e., the Bible is one book, and read as one book.

The best interpretation is when the Bible explains itself,
and reasoned out from bible verses,
not man’s thoughts.

As obvious as this may sound, its worthwhile saying,
a Bible study is … a study of the Bible,
(66 books in total)
not a study of a guide book or video series of some famous author or ministry.
The 66 books should not be replaced by the lens of another set of books or videos.

2 Timothy 2:15 (AMP)
Study and do your best to present yourself to God approved,
a workman [tested by trial] who has no reason to be ashamed,
accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.

Only His word has authority, life, power, and leads us to personally know Him and walk in His ways.

John 6:63,68 (NIV)
63 … The words I have spoken to you
—they are full of the Spirit and life.

68 Simon Peter answered him,
“Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
69 We have come to believe and
to know that
you are the Holy One of God.”

Whatever method we use, its good for us to bear in mind,
that at the end of His sermon on the mount,

Jesus said,
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine
and puts them into practice is like a wise man
who built his house on the rock.

The rain came down, the streams rose,
and the winds blew and beat against that house;
yet it did not fall,
because it had its foundation on the rock.
(Matthew 7:24,25 NIV)

 Jesus replied, Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.
My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
John 4:23 (NIV)

The house unwaveringly stood firm in challenging real-life circumstances built on the foundation of applying or living out God’s word daily in everyday life.
Knowing = Doing + Living inspired by His love.

Another aspect of applying or living out God’s word daily
Paul described the fruit of his discipling and mentoring ministry,

The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.
2 Corinthians 3:2,3 (NLT)

His disciples, like Paul, were also living, shining examples for Jesus in the community…
a letter from Christ …. everyone can read it and recognize
… written with the Spirit of the living God, carved on human hearts.

Jesus said,
A disciple is not above his teacher,
but everyone who is perfectly trained
will be like his teacher.
Luke 6:40 (NKJV)

Like his teacher, Jesus.


At a personal level, … sometimes, in the quest to know the Bible well, and due to limited time … groups may be activity oriented and lose sight of sharing one’s life, knowing, supporting, encouraging one another personally;

praying for one another,
a loving supportive community
at the meeting and outside the meeting;
… instead of preferring to just only interact ‘spiritually’ in the quest for the right answers to the study guide.

Yes its true,… some folks are private; uncomfortable in opening up & share one’s life, walk.
Should we remain this way?

.. everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another
John 13:35 (NIV)

We thank God for you always. And that’s what we should do, because you give us good reason to be thankful:
Your faith is growing more and more.
And the love that every one of you has for each other is also growing.
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (ERV)

A bible study of God’s word speaks beyond our mind,
by His Spirit, illumines, inspires our soul,
and moves our heart,
to love the Lord and love others.


Consider the fruit of the early believers

Acts 2:42-45 (ESV)
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The teaching of God’s word or discipling/mentoring, …

43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.

results in God’s presence and power manifested in their midst, …

44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

results in God’s love for one another,
through generous sharing and caring …

46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people.
And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

results in a daily worship lifestyle,
and others coming to know Jesus.

Growing in love for God, fellow believers, and others who have yet to know Jesus.


Back to the methodical Bible study program mentioned earlier.

Curious … I wondered which step or steps in the methodology were most useful or impactful to those who participated.  So, … I  asked some brethren who attended the program about their thoughts and insights.

Also, was wondering,
what’s beyond finding or knowing the right answers to the Bible study guide questions?

… what’s the goal, the objective ?

What does being ‘well-versed‘ with the Bible really mean?
Does .. Bible study group = discipling ?

Bible study group 2

Of all the answers shared … the most interesting one …  which I’ll never forget … came from a Chinese man.

He said, ” None of the steps !”

I was intrigued.

He continued, “For me, what’s most important is the Bible study group leader.”

“In the last 4-5 years of attending this program, I’ve had a different Bible study group leader each year.  Some leaders were more effective than others.”

Curious,  I asked why was the leader so crucial ?
What did the more effective leaders do that made the difference ?

He explained, “I grew up in a communist country, … I have never met a Christian before, … until I moved over to this country.”

“So, … I have no clue or idea what a Christian looks like. “

He continued, “Some Bible study group leaders just go through the Bible study process, … until we see them again … at the next Bible study group session.  Sometimes, during the week they’ll give a friendly call””

“Those whom I have benefited the most from, … are the ones who open up … and share their life with me … their ups and downs … at work,  … in their family  … and how the Bible and faith in Jesus helped them through.  These sharings helped me understand how the Bible and Jesus is real, relevant in real life .. in life’s situations.”

“These leaders were also interested about my life, … and they compassionately supported me, … prayed with me, …  through my walk with the Lord.”


Gleaning from my friend’s sharing, and some personal observations  …

One shared knowledge, … while the other shared life

One was friendly, … while the other, … a friend

One taught, facilitated, … while the other walked alongside … guide, coach, cared, prayed.

Mass one-size-fits-all approach… or personalised, contextualised ?

The Bible in a classroom, … or the Bible in everyday life.

A study, … or effective disciple making ?

Clay pot 2

Know the text/passage, and know the right answer,
… or know the Author ?

Analysis, reasoning, catchphrases,
right answers, spiritual jargon,
… or a living example ?

Information to the mind,
… or transformation of the heart?

Maybe …
that’s why,
… God did not just send us … a teaching manual to read,
or a workbook to fill with right answers,

… but a man, … an example to follow,
His Son,
the living Word  🙂
a living relationship, fellowship with Him.

And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, … (Matthew 4:19 NIV)

And may be, that’s why the Bible is filled with stories of people who personally experienced the Lord through their everyday lives and challenges.

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  (John 17:3 NIV)

Perhaps … the question is:
How real is Jesus in our lives?
Can others see Jesus in us?


Interestingly, my Chinese friend’s observation wisely echoes Paul’s

4:15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

11:1 Follow my example,
as I follow the example of Christ

1 Corinthians 4:15,16, 17, 11:1 (NIV)

The first leaders chosen in Acts were described as
men of good reputation,
full of the Spirit and of wisdom
… full of faith and of the Holy Spirit …  full of grace and power ..

Acts 6:3, 5, 8 (NASB)

Character, good deeds, service, … Holy Spirit, wisdom, faith, grace, power.

Is the quest for more and more knowledge ?
or more of what ?

Paul wrote:

 If I … know all mysteries and all knowledge;
… but do not have love,
I am nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:2 (NASB)

… knowledge puffs up while
love builds up.
1 Corinthians 8:1

and Peter wrote:

2 Peter 1:5-8 (NKJV)
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence,
add to your faith
virtue, to virtue knowledge,
to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance,
to perseverance godliness,
to godliness brotherly kindness,
and to
brotherly kindness love.

For if these things are yours and abound,
you will be neither barren nor unfruitful
in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

James wrote:

James 1:22 (NIV)
Do not merely listen to the word,

and so deceive yourselves.

Do what it says.

Jesus said:

.. everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another
John 13:35 (NIV)


In summary,

“Out of 100 men,
one will read the Bible,
the other 99 will read the Christian”
D. L Moody

You cannot impart what you do not possess.

The teacher has not taught
until the student has learned.

You can impress from a distance,
but you can only impact up close.

You teach what you know,
but you reproduce what you are.

The goal is not to make you a smarter sinner
but to make you like the Savior.

Jesus never asks people to memorise
and repeat answers back to Him.
He was content to trust the Holy Spirit
to guide them into all truth (John 16:13)

It’s a sin to bore people with the Bible.”
– Howard Hendricks

“Historically, the church has understood the nature of Scriptures much the same as it has understood the person of Christ
— the Bible is at the same time both human and divine”
— Gordon Fee

How about Jesus.  What method did He used ?

Jesus’ teaching method … inspiring, life changing, real (Click here)

(for the continuation of this article)

When folks of diverse background come together to Bible study, sometimes we get interesting observations,
here’ a post on How our social, cultural perspectives & values influence our Bible reading (click here)

Teaching |  Discipling | Serving Quietly

by 林弟兄, bro Lim
June 20, 2015

Copyright © 林弟兄 bro Lim, Laymanointing, 2014-2016 – All Rights Reserved
Creative Commons License



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