By Joy Allmond
Most small group leaders mean well and want the best for the people they lead, but sometimes the best intentions go awry.
Research shows that one indicator of an effective disciple is Bible engagement. Explore the Bible editor Dwayne McCrary recently joined Chris Surratt and Brian Daniel on the Group Answers podcast to talk about encouraging and empowering the people in our Bible study groups to engage Scripture on their own throughout the rest of the week.
Here are some methods—common mistakes—that well-meaning leaders employ, but stunt the growth of the people in the group.
1. Don’t allow the people in the group to discover truth for themselves.
“The way we teach gets in our way,” says McCrary. “We’ll come across something and it really just excites us. And instead of showing them how they can discover that too, we just come straight in and tell them what it says.”
McCrary added that over time, this short circuits the learning process because the people in a Bible study that operates this way will have expectations of merely listening to the leader, who does all the work for them.
“So they just come, sit, listen, and soak it up,” he says. “They don’t have to do anything else. Our teaching approach gets in the way of them doing any other Bible study.”
McCrary notes this isn’t good for the group’s leader, either.
“I view that as an unhealthy codependency in a Bible study group,” he says. “They’ll pat you on the back and tell you that you did a great job. It feeds our egos as teachers.”
2. Jump to the application too quickly.
McCrary says the temptation for group leaders is to ask application questions early because that seems to get the conversation going faster.
“They want to talk about themselves, and so I have a tendency to … get to the application because I know that’s where the conversation is going to happen.”
He offers an example of how that often plays out.
“Let’s suppose I’m teaching a lesson on Isaiah 6 and I say to the folks after we’ve looked at the passage, ‘How does your experience compare to what we see in Isaiah 6? How has God intersected your life? Has he called you into the line of work you do?’”
McCrary says a better approach is to take the time to read other passages in Scripture and identify similarities and differences.
“In this example, look at Gideon’s call in Judges 6 or the call of Jonah, or maybe Peter’s call,” he says.
“Whatever you want to do, pick one and have them compare what they found in Isaiah with these other calls. And ask: ‘What are the similarities and what are the differences? What are the norms that we can see?’”
Then, says McCrary, a leader can make an application.
“We can ask questions like, ‘How do these norms we see in these other people’s lives compare to the norms you have?’” he explains.
“That’s teaching them a Bible skill. It’s teaching them how to interpret Scripture. It’s not just, here’s what this passage says, although that’s important.
“Until we’ve compared it to the other experiences, we really don’t know what the norm is for us to move into our experience.”
McCrary says by helping people in our groups think about those Bible skills in the group time, leaders can show them how to do Bible study on their own.
3. Ask people, ‘What does that mean to you?’
“That is a dangerous question to ask, because you’re just getting people’s opinions on the Scripture and that’s not where we want to land,” says McCrary.
“I wouldn’t ask that question until after I’d gone through some other steps. Let’s say you’re examining one of Paul’s letters during your group time. It’s important to go through and point out that Paul used a particular word in one spot, and he’s going to use that same word in the verses below.’”
He says this is a tool to help the group see what’s actually being said rather than encouraging them to quickly jump to a conclusion.
“There’s still some teaching involved,” says McCrary, “Even though you’re not teaching a lesson. But that’s great, because then you’re showing them how to look at the context.”
4. Don’t encourage the use of Bible study tools.
There are other types of contextual information to encourage the people in your group to obtain, such as historical context.
And while commentaries and tools outside the Bible are no substitutes for studying Scripture, McCrary says these can be helpful for most who attempt to study the Bible on their own outside of group time.
“We use SmallGroup.com and every lesson on the website has commentary at the end of it,” says Surratt.
“And it’s helpful to me because it gives perspective and it’s basically a study Bible at the bottom. I also have a study Bible I refer to, but there are tools you can use as a group leader that can help you in a study.”
While each person is responsible for his or her own discipleship, McCrary says “a leader in a group can foster a greater sense of Bible engagement.”
Joy is the executive communications manager at Lifeway.