After you’ve done the work of biblical interpretation and shared your insights with your group, the rubber meets the road in the form of group discussion. Your group members ask questions, share ideas, and compare experiences. When they disagree with you or with each other—which will happen—remind yourself this is how real learning works. They could listen to you lecture for a couple of hours and leave feeling enlightened; but when they begin to engage the Scriptures themselves, it becomes much easier to see how God’s Word fits into their messy, seven-days-a-week lives. And that’s how people grow and change.
The best Bible study leaders understand that different people learn in different ways. Here’s a quick overview of the three major learning styles and some practical suggestions for involving all kinds of learners in your discussion:
• Visual learners appreciate pictures, images, and spatial understanding. They learn best via visual aids, such as illustrations and diagrams, or even video clips. If they’re available, make use of handouts and Power Point presentations for the benefit of the visual learners in your class.
• Auditory learners do their best learning with their ears, rather than their eyes, so they will pay close attention to your voice. They’ll hear not only the words you say, but also the subtle messages in the tone of your voice. They tend to actively participate in discussion, so make sure you ask plenty of questions and give them a chance to chime in. They may pick up on the underlying tone of Scripture better than other learners, because they are more familiar with the nuances of language and communication.
• Kinesthetic (physical) learners need to physically engage in something to fully understand it. Often driven by emotions, they want to actually get involved in what they’re learning. Call on them when you need volunteers for role-playing or other physical tasks. For example, if you’re leading a discussion about anger, ask a couple of kinesthetic learners to act out a situation that would normally cause someone to lose their temper and come up with ways to defuse their anger.
You may have heard the old saying, “You shouldn’t discuss politics or religion in polite company.” To some extent, the effects of that mindset are still being felt—even in the church. When we do dare to talk about what we believe, we tend to defend our positions with passion. And the more passionately we believe something, the more upset we become when someone disagrees with us. If we’re not careful, the discussion becomes an argument. A wise Bible study leader will prepare herself by mastering the art of conflict resolution. Here are some tips:
1. Be aware of potential conflicts before the discussion begins. Certain hot topics can cause tempers to flare more quickly than usual, and the wise leader will be prepared. If you plan to discuss one of these hot topics, be up–front with your group. You could say, “I realize this subject often causes conflict, but I hope we can discuss it with respect and maturity. Let’s not say anything we might regret later.” Remind your group of the instructions about taming the tongue found in James 3. You could also read Psalm 141:3, which says, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips,” and Proverbs 21:23, which says, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.”
2. Listen carefully. Do you ever catch yourself planning your response to someone before they even finish speaking? Consciously strive to listen to the members of your group and encourage them to do the same. As James says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (1:19,20).
3. Give everyone a voice. Don’t let a few outspoken people monopolize the discussion, but use your position as moderator to offer everyone a chance to speak.
4. Promote love and humility. Rather than allowing both sides of the conflict to become stubbornly entrenched in their positions, remind them that we are one in Christ. Paul writes, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
5. Pray. Sometimes the best thing to do is take each side’s focus away from the other side and direct everyone’s attention back to God. Simply stop the discussion and pray together that God will bring peace and unity to the group.
William A. Ward once said, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” As Bible study leader, you have the awesome responsibility of inspiring a group of people to become more spiritually mature—together. Remember James’ warning: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (3:1). And keep close to your heart the words Jesus prayed for us: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).
How can you inspire different types of learners to work together?
As moderator of the discussion, should you ally yourself with one side or the other when conflict arises? How might your involvement affect the outcome?
In what ways do the benefits of group discussion outweigh the risks?
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society®.
“Leading a Bible Study, part two” is published by National Women’s Ministries, www.women.ag.org, ©2020. Permission to reproduce is limited to personal use or within a teaching setting. All other forms of use are prohibited.