MINISTRY SKILL BUILDING
How to Choose a Great Study
(adapted from “How to Ask Great Questions” by Karen Lee-Thorp, NavPress, 1998)
Be aware of…
1. The Power of a Good Question
Jesus understood the power of a well-timed, well-phrased question:
“Who do the crowds say I am?”
“Who do you say I am?”
Jesus’ questions were simple, clear, never condescending , and always provocative.
In a small group, the question is the main tool to:
· Build relationships between people
· Help people study a passage
· Draw out people’s thoughts (values/attitudes)
· Guide people to applying the Bible to their unique situations
TIP: Ask, does this study have a good supply of questions that will do the above four points?
There is one particular type of question a great small group study will have…
2. Storytelling Questions
The Bible says, “Jesus knew what was in the heart of man” but we don’t. We’re not omniscient. We have to talk, and ask questions. And often people in our group don’t even know their own thoughts! It may have been that way with Peter. Jesus’ personal question may have led him to add up a bunch of previously random thoughts: “You are the Christ!” Jesus used a storytelling question.
Storytelling questions are a part of everyday life :
Diagnosis - When you go to the doctor he asks, “So tell me what’s going on?” Then you tell him your symptoms. You tell him your medical story so he can guide you apply the right treatment.
Q: Who else in “real life” do we routinely share a piece of our story in order to get help?
(Financial advisors, realtors, trusted friend, parent, counselor, pastor, expert in a certain field, auto mechanic, etc.).
It’s tempting to “cut to the chase,” but building relationships builds trust . And that leads to greater depth.
EXAMPLE: If you are in Romans 1 and ask, “Where are you tempted to “worship the creature” rather than the Creator?” you’ll get superficial responses, or silence, if the group members haven’t built trust.
How to Spot a Good “Storytelling” Question in a Study
A good story telling question should:
1. be one sentence,
2. get people sharing a small piece of their story (less than a minute),
3. have the appropriate level of self-disclosure .
· What did you think God was like when you were a child?
· Ten years from now, what are three words that you hope people would use to describe you?
Be Aware of The “Disclosure Scale”
Lyman Coleman talks about moving across the “disclosure scale” with a group over time.
Storytelling questions come in all strengths:
People move across the disclosure scale, week by week. And even during the course of a meeting.
TIP: Choose a study that starts “safer” but moves to more personal
Model What You Want
As leader, you can help model appropriate transparency by going first in answering a storytelling type question.
You can also model an appropriate length of response.
3. Three main types of questions to look for in a great Study:
a. Observation questions—just the facts (what do you see?)
b. Interpretation questions (what does it mean?)
c. Application questions (what should we do?)
Any good group study uses these three types of questions in this order, more or less.
A great study can be very simple! This simple lesson below literally changed the course of a young university professors’ life in the middle of an adult Sunday School class. I was a last minute sub on that day. I include it to show you how simple things can have the most impact:
Philippians 3:12-4:1—Eye on the Prize
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
4 :1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
1. What past award or accomplishment (in sports, music, school, work, etc.) do you value the most?
2. What goal have you recently achieved? What goal is still in process?
3. Using the imagery of a track race, where does Paul picture himself in his spiritual life? What prize is he after (see notes on 3:14)?
4. What are you passionate about? In what area of your life do you strive the most for excellence?
5. Why is it necessary to forget the past and look to the future in our Christian lives? When it comes to moving on and letting go of the past, what grade would you give yourself?
6. If a person isn’t sure what proper priorities in life should be, what does Paul advise (3:17)? Who do you look up to as a model for your life?
7. What kind of balance is there in your life between “earthly things” and spiritual or “heavenly” things (3:19-20)?
8. If you compared your Christian life to a track race, where would you be right now: Sitting on the sidelines? Warming up? At the starting block? Giving it your all? Gutting it out? Giving up?
9. What change in priorities do you need in order to “press on toward the goal” which God has called you? How can this group hold you accountable for that?
(From Assessment: Personal Audit, Serendipity House Publishers, c1998.)
The young professor answered question 9 above saying something like, “Up to now I’ve been living for my own ambitions. But I can now see I need to change all that, and put God and family ahead of career.” And I had had only 5 minutes to preview this study at the last minute before I substituted that day. Simple can be powerful!
TIP: Look for a Study that is simple in its approach, yet powerful in what it says or asks.
More on Observation Questions
Most problems in Bible interpretation and application come from not observing what the Bible actually says—and what it doesn’t say—in a passage. Like Watson, we fail to notice important clues.
CAUTION, not all observation questions are created equal. Some may be too simplistic. Compare:
Q: “Look up Galatians 5:22-23 and fill in the blanks with the nine fruits of the Spirit.”
Q: “Paul lists nine fruits of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22-23. Do you see any pattern in them, or are they just random?”
The first question is so pedantic it’s almost insulting. Are we working on penmanship?
The second question is awesome! It easily gets people engaged in careful observation, thought and discussion. It leads to important insight naturally. And, yes, there is a clear pattern. And that affects how we interpret and apply this verse.
Also beware the “dead end ” fact question. The writer just moves on to the next point!
TIP: Look for a study with thought provoking observation questions that lead to important application.
4. Look for “Mirror ” Studies
Look for heart-driven studies that hold up the “mirror” of God’s word to us and challenge us to change. It is human nature to become quite comfortable merely hearing the Word…
“Always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim. 3:7)
“Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe [in prison]. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.” (Mark 6:20)
“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:23-24)
Herod actually “enjoyed” listening to John the Baptist, then executed him!
It is possible that millions of church goers are mere hearers of God’s word? They “enjoy” hearing it, but their life is unchanged. This problem has mostly to do with the “hearer,” but the one speaking God’s word can also be the accomplice by steering away from real issues and keeping things general, third person, or theoretical in Bible study.
TIP: Here are three questions to ask yourself as leader when you choose a study:
1. Where is my group the weakest in their Christian life?
2. What important heart issues does this study address, and will the questions hold the mirror of God’s word up to the group members?
3. Have I taught them the disciple habits (prayer, daily time with God, service, evangelism) or dealing with developing a Christ like character (love, loyalty, integrity, faithfulness, honesty, wisdom, etc.)?
REVIEW the FOLLOWING ON YOUR OWN for MORE ON THE SUBJECT…
Six Principles for Asking Great Questions:
(adapted from “How to Ask Great Questions” by Karen Lee-Thorp, NavPress, 1998)
1. This is a discussion, not a tes
A test is a situation in which the person asking the questions already knows the answer. It’s fine for high school algebra: algebra class wasn’t trying to change anyone’s life or heart. And test questions don’t generate discussion. Example:
“Does anyone know how many New Testament Greek words are there for love?”
If this were a review question from last week it might be OK, but don’t ask for information they are not likely to have. Just tell them briefly if it’s important: “there are three Greek words…”
Discussion questions usually look for information members of the group have but the leader may not have:
“With what person do you identify most in this passage?”
“What contrasts do you notice in this story?”
“Have you ever been in a similar situation? When?
That’s how questions work in normal conversations. I ask because I don’t know
Fact questions do have a place when drawing out the important details of a passage, as a preparation for discussion:
“How did the jailer respond at first to the earthquake?
“How does that contrast to his response when he saw Paul?”
“Have you ever had a time when you hit bottom, only to see God’s hand at work?”
2. Avoid leading the “witness” or mind-reading questions
You’ve seen the clever lawyer on TV try to put words in a defendant’s mouth with a leading question (When did you stop beating your wife?). Sometimes a small group leader may want the group to grasp some point of information he thinks is important. Being committed to a question-and-answer approach, instead of just telling the group something, he tries to get them to say it by using a leading question:
· In what ways are you like the Pharisees in this passage?
· Do you see the 5 principles for giving in 2 Corinthians 9?
The first question above assumes everyone in the group resembles the Pharisees. Perhaps so, but most of us prefer to confess our own sins rather than having others do it for us. The second question asks them to read your mind, unless Paul gave a specific list.
3. Ask one question at a time (break up compound questions)
“How does the lack of forgiveness affect the one who has done harm, the one who has been harmed, and each person’s relationship with God?”
Huh? Try breaking that up, one question at a time.
4. Make your questions accessible to everyone
“In 1 Corinthians 7, how does Paul apply an eschatological hermeneutic to our process of decision-making about relationships?”
“In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 Paul says “the time is short” for this present world. How should this affect our relationships (vv. 32-40)?”
Jesus’ questions were always simple. Even so, nobody ever felt like He was asking a question beneath their intelligence.
5. Ask open-ended questions to get conversation.
Q: “Do you identify with the disciples in this passage?”
A: “Not really.”
Yes and no questions are not great conversation starters. Instead, ask…
“In what ways, if any, do you identify with the disciples here?”
6. Help people talk to each other (not just to the leader)
It’s easy for a guided discussion to focus on the leader. The leader asks a question, and one person answers. He asks another, and another person answers, and so on. Everyone looks at the leader and talks to the leader.
In a healthy group, people talk to each other. The leader asks a question, someone responds, and someone else responds to what the previous person said.