Leading Effective Small Group Discussions
Communicating God’s Word
I love communicating God’s Word. And God has given me a great opportunity to travel and speak to many audiences through Quiet Time Ministries. But if I could choose between speaking in front of a large audience or leading a discussion in a small group, I would choose leading a discussion of the Word of God. As much as I love presenting God’s Word through messages at large venue retreats and conferences – and I do love it – I feel an intimacy and vibrancy in a small group discussion that is unsurpassed for me. There is just no greater excitement than to be involved in a small group that has studied God’s Word and is now sharing what they have learned.
What is the Lord teaching you?
I want to commend and encourage you as a discussion leader in the pursuit of this most exciting and life changing experience! If you are a first‑time discussion leader, I want to reassure you that once you taste the joy of leading, if you have any fears, they will soon disappear. I was once a first‑time leader. And I remember being so scared that I would arrive hours before the class just to calm myself down. I would get down on my knees and pray that God would give me boldness to make it through the day. Little by little, I forgot about my fears, and I began to lose myself in the powerful discussions of God’s Word. I began to look at these discussions as conversations. I would simply ask questions as if I were sitting at a table and talking one‑on‑one with each person. And before long, I could not wait to get to class to hear what everyone had to say. The favorite question I like to ask of my friends and in my Bible study classes has always been, “What is the Lord teaching you?” That single and seemingly innocuous question has prompted more great discussions than I could have ever hoped or asked. And so, I would like to share with you now just a few of my own thoughts on leading discussions.
Scripture – Quotes – Biblical Principles
In the course of your group discussion, I believe it is essential to have your group members focus their thoughts and comments on three distinct areas — Scripture, devotional quotes, and the biblical principles contained in each lesson. This will begin to crystallize these truths in their own minds. Because they have not only studied these truths, but now have said them out loud, they will begin to see the Word of God making an impression on their thoughts as they go about their daily life. That is the great value of a discussion. In addition, hearing the insights of their friends will motivate them to study God’s Word even more diligently and spend quality time with it. I have discovered time and time again that when those who do not study God’s Word hear the insights of others, they become highly motivated to experience the same thing for themselves.
Be a facilitator – catalyst – friend!
Leaders, thank you for being the facilitator of such an incredible learning experience. The Holy Spirit will be your guide you as you ask questions that bring out what each group member has learned from their study of God’s Word. What questions should you ask? When I begin putting together a discussion, I look at the week’s quiet times or lesson, then outline the main themes or topics. Next, I write out questions that seem fun and exciting to me — something I would want to talk about with a friend that brings out what I have seen in my own study. Each week, if you are using my Quiet Time Studies, you will find leaders discussion questions already prepared for you. But, be inventive; don’t hesitate to ask questions that have come to your mind as you have studied alone. You might read over the questions that I have suggested, then add or delete questions, inserting some questions of your own. You might jot down notes to answer each of the questions yourself as a preparation for your class. Personalize your discussion. Be prepared with your answers, but be flexible in your response.
Timing is everything – and nothing.
Keep in mind how much time you have allotted for the discussion, then adjust the number of questions accordingly. Do your best to choose the right number of questions. Some questions will prompt more discussion than others; sometimes a very simple question will stimulate a great and lengthy discussion. Remember that it takes time and experience to know how much your group loves to talk before you can be more accurate in your choices of questions. As you put your questions before the group, you will discover the discussion becomes an interactive conversation between you and the members of your group. The discussion takes on a life of its own led by the Holy Spirit. If you think of it that way, you will even find that questions will come to your mind in the midst of a discussion. This is exciting when it happens, because often that is the Holy Spirit stepping in and truly leading the discussion. And sometimes it is that simple question that comes to your mind that becomes the impetus for a profound discussion of God’s truth. This is far more important than all the planned questions and answers combined — and conforming to the schedule.
Speak softly and carry a big Bible.
I want to encourage you not to be afraid of the difficult questions. Even if you are not certain of the answer, you have God’s Word as the ultimate source of truth! Chances are everyone else in your group is wondering the same thing. This makes for a lively discussion and a frequently powerful one at that. Trust in advance of your session that the Holy Spirit will guide you. Your group must understand that the Word of God is the final authority for what you believe. It is the origin of the discussion and the source of all the answers to questions. And as the leader, you should feel free to share from your heart and from what you are learning when it seems appropriate. Be careful, however, to give those in your class the opportunity to share their insights as well. As the leader, if you share your own answers too much or monopolize the conversation, your class will become reticent to share at all. Don’t worry if you are unable to cover every single point in the lesson. The discussion led by the Holy Spirit should take precedence over our written structural outline for the day.
Be ye not a leading leader.
It has been said there are three levels of conversation — things, people, and ideas. Strive for the ideas end of the spectrum. The best questions are not questions that result in a yes or no answer, but those that probe the deeper level of our ideas, thoughts, and emotions. In addition, leading questions – those that force an obvious answer – are not really good for effective discussions, but they can be appropriate to make a graceful transition in the course of your discussion. A leading question is one that has a simplistic answer such as “What body of water did Moses and the Israelites cross?” Well, there is only one answer, and while that answer has been debated by some scholars, your group is not going to know about the textual criticism in the academic literature. And so, the better question would be, “What did the people of Israel learn when they stepped into the water?”, or “What was the value of this obstacle in the life of the God’s people?”, or even, “How can obstacles become a blessing in our lives?” Strive to make people think! While it is important to bring out the facts with your questions, it is much more important to give your group time to think and share. Good questions begin with Why?, How?, What did you think about — ?, What was your most significant insight about — ?, What did you notice or observe in this verse or in the character of this biblical person?
Segue and Freeway
To transition from one topic to the next, you might use a personal illustration or a quote from someone like Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Tozer, or Amy Carmichael. If you are using a quiet time study such as those offered by Quiet Time Ministries, suggested transitions are often included. Whatever your source, feel free to say what is comfortable and meaningful for you and your class using the Word of God as your authority and the Holy Spirit as your guide. How should you respond as members of your group answer questions? As stated before, consider talking with your group as though you are in a conversation with them. Respond the way you would if you were all sitting at the table having coffee and discussing the subject without the feeling of being on stage. Often I will just respond by saying, “Does anyone else want to share on that?”, “That’s good!”, “Great!”, “Thank you.”, or “Does someone else want to add to that?” Often, I do like to use one person’s answer as a springboard for my next point or as a springboard for something I think they need to think about. I’ll often say, “That makes me think about —’ (a verse or biblical truth or something else in the study). Sometimes someone in the class will interject a question. I will give it right back to the class if I think they can handle it. I’ll say, “What do you think about that?” or “Does anyone have something to say about that?” If I do not know the answer to the question, and no one else in the class does either, then I just say that “We will all have to research that question.” or “That’s an excellent question — maybe someone will do further research in that area and share next week.” Paul encourages us to be a ‘workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth’ [2 Timothy 2:15]. If you are biblically unsure, do not feel compelled to make up an answer just to have an answer. And then, when I’m ready to move on to the next point, I say “Okay, let’s move on” or “Now, with that in mind, what did you learn about —?”
Keep your class engaged in the conversation. You may choose to use a visual aid such as a blackboard or a whiteboard in your discussion, outlining the questions and answers. While a visual aid can be of great help in a discussion, you can have just as powerful a discussion without one. Do not let the visual aid become a distraction away from the discussion itself. And I almost always give the page number that we are discussing unless it is obvious that the group knows know where we are. You may want to introduce your discussion with an illustration or a prayer from a book such as The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions published by Banner Of Truth, or even a devotional quote. You may want to provide an illustration from a pertinent devotional book at a crucial point in the discussion. Or you may choose to close your discussion by playing a favorite worship song. Feel free to personalize the structure of the discussion in any way that comes to your mind through the leading of the Holy Spirit. God has brought you into leadership for your class. Lead ‘diligently’ [Romans 12:8].
Answers not yet seen.
And do not be afraid to have fun with your group; do not be afraid to laugh, even at yourself! I remember in one particular discussion that I led on the eternal perspective in the book of Revelation. I had what I thought was a great idea for the discussion. But for some reason, the group did not catch on to where I was headed at first. There was a lot of silence when I asked the questions and waited for responses. I mean a lot of silence! By the way, do not be afraid of silence as it is often the evidence of answers not yet seen. It means they’re thinking and God is working! But in this particular case, the silence was not golden. Finally, at one point, one of the group members sitting near the front stood up and asked right out loud what in the world I was talking about (my classes are never afraid to say what they think). I started laughing, mostly at myself, because it was not turning out as I had planned. The laughing became contagious until the whole room was in an uproar. When the laughing stopped, I started over. I explained my idea for the discussion. And as we went onward, the discussion become one of the best I have had the great privilege to lead. I just gave it to the Lord.
Failure is just the beginning of success!
Some discussions work and some do not. Do not be afraid to fail; the Lord is always at work. And though I mention this at the end of these thoughts on leading effective discussions, it is perhaps the most important. Always ‘Pray First’ as you prepare your discussion and ask the Lord to guide you. Paul in Romans 12:3-8 speaks to the humility of leadership as a gift of grace. ‘Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.’ Romans 12:8 [NIV] The word ‘diligently’ in the Greek comes from spoude, meaning earnestness or zeal. As Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary On The Whole Bible states, “let us try to employ ourselves humbly, diligently, cheerfully, and in simplicity.” Be the kind of leader in Hebrews 13:7 [NASB] whose conduct is worth considering and whose faith is worth imitating!
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” [Hebrews 13:7]
God bless you as you lead others in a study of His Word. I will be praying for you as a leader. ‘Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him and He will do it.’ [Psalm 37:5]
Copyright © 2017 Catherine Martin — Quiet Time Ministries. All Rights Reserved.
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