Rescuing “rabbits” – 2 ways to deal with tangents in a Bible study group

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 “Chasing rabbits” is an analogy describing the activity of participants who steer a discussion off course. They chase down a thread of discussion like it is a nose-twitching, rascally varmint that doesn’t run in a straight line. They zig and zag, bolt right, then left, making it difficult for even a sportsman the caliber of Elmer Fudd of Bugs Bunny cartoon fame to hit them with buckshot. When a member of your group darts after rabbits, the direction of the discussion gets derailed.

The word for this problem is “tangent,” defined as a deviation from the intended course. Any remark that digresses from the study slant or is irrelevant to the topic or Bible passage is a tangent. Here are two strategies for keeping your Bible study on track:

1.      Search for a Slant – From a single Bible lesson your group may glean numerous truths. But as you prepare, and while leading the discussion, don’t examine various points in isolation from the larger picture provided by the passage. Your observation and analysis of the text should help you identify an overarching, unifying theme. Clearly communicate the broad theme that governs the passage, and participants will be less likely to steer the conversation away from it. Connect the facts and principles to a comprehensive subject slant, and group members’ ideas or illustrations will usually mesh with it.

In Effective Bible Teaching, Jim Wilhoit and Leland Ryken salute the importance of a single focus for a Bible lesson.

Symptomatic of inability to deal adequately with a biblical text is the prevailing failure to identify the “big idea” of a biblical passage. The “big idea” is the thought that unifies a biblical passage and that ought to govern a class session. Ineffective teachers tend to focus on isolated facts and to present their audience with a stream of unrelated ideas in the dim hope that if they throw out enough ideas a few will stick.

Call it the big idea, theme statement, basic teaching, a thesis sentence, the proposition, the main thought – the concept is the same. Provide a general organizational framework that gives your lesson coherence and connects various parts of the passage.

2.      Build a Bridge Back – Imagine you’re smack dab in the middle of a Bible discussion. Someone inserts a personal illustration or comment that seems extraneous. Though the connection is unclear, something in the Bible text or prior conversation likely sparked the contribution. Why else would the participant utter it? How can you dignify the person’s remarks and still convey the importance of sticking to the subject matter?

Try asking the contributor to build a verbal bridge back to the passage slant or topic. Perhaps an explanation of what triggered the tangential material will reveal the connection to everyone. Here are some remarks to use when you need to get a group back to the topic.

·         Tom, what you said is interesting, but tell us how it relates to the topic (or Bible passage) we’re discussing. What connection do you see?

·         Betty, thanks for contributing. But I’m curious. What part of the Bible passage triggered your comment?

·         Sally, thanks for the transparent nature of your illustration. What made you think of it? Was it something one of us said or a verse we examined?

What tips for keeping discussion on track can you add?


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