During 45 years of teaching and leading group Bible studies, I’ve discovered the value of these skills to facilitate effective interaction:
1. Qualifying My Questions
A good discussion leader keeps the focus on God’s Word rather than human opinion. When you formulate your own study questions—or adapt those from curriculum—here’s how to prevent discussion from degenerating into a pooling of ignorance. Keep your participants focused on the Bible text, not their preconceived notions, by qualifying the wording of your questions.
The verb “qualify” means “to reduce from a general to a particular or restricted form.” Applied to questioning, it means to narrow the scope of possible answers by wording probes in a way that directs learners’ attention to God’s wording in the text. The following examples allow the text, not subjective opinion, to sit on the throne of authority. The questions come from an adult Bible study on King Uzziah from 2 Chronicles 26. Notice how the wording shown in italics keeps the spotlight on what is said in the passage.
*From verses 1-15, what words/phrases in the text show that King Uzziah was a success?
*What reasons for his success can you find in the text?
*What verse shows how Uzziah reacted to his success and fame?
*In this chapter, how did his pride show?
*What consequences of a proud spirit does this passage cite?
*What timeless insights about pride does this biblical case study offer?
2. Asking Follow-Up Questions
When you ask Bible study questions, the answers you get aren’t always fully developed. Maybe a participant is onto something, but the comment needs elaboration or clarification. That’s where follow-up probes come in.
Follow-up questions aren’t ones you prepare in advance. They require sensitivity to the moment and a desire to have a participant expand his answer. Use them when you want a group member to modify the initial answer, to beef up its support, to illustrate it or to think more critically about it. OR the reply may be an excellent one, but for the benefit of other group members you want the respondent to explain how she came up with it.
Let the following examples of follow-up probes serve as a catalyst for your thinking.
*Why did you say that?
*Can you be more specific?
*What else did you notice in the text?
*That term “discipleship” connotes different things to different people. What do you mean by it?
*Can you illustrate the point you’re making?
*“Do you mean…?
*Can you rephrase your comment? I want to make sure I’m tracking with you.
*How does that apply to…?
*How does your answer relate to what Brad said earlier?
*That’s a sound answer. Tell us how you gleaned it from today’s passage.
What other discussion-leading skills do you consider vital to group success?
Next time I’ll explain two additional skills that facilitate lively Bible discussions. (These tips are adapted from my 2007 book, Now That’s A Good Question! It’s out of print, but used copies may be available online.)