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How Not to Prepare a Bible Study
June '04

One Tuesday in May, I was leading a Bible study at our Weekly Worship Meeting — it was a bit last-minute, but I thought I could get it done. I studied the passage that morning for about an hour, and then squeezed in some more study and question-writing time in between student appointments. Well, we did study the Bible, but it was a bit messier than I had hoped. Here are my top five tips if you're aiming to prepare a sloppy Bible study:

1. Don’t begin studying the passage until the day of the study. This way, you’ll be sure to come up with all kinds of questions about the text, but you won’t have time to answer them. The key to leading a messy Bible study is to have lots of questions but without having them lead to a main point.

2. Try to write Bible study questions in five-minute spurts. This will enable you to lose your train of thought between question-writing sessions. I used this technique and came up with a truly unclear question: “What’s all this life stuff about?”

3. Don’t leave enough time to study your questions in a biblical-reference book. Using reference materials will only encourage creative thinking and logical connections. To achieve real unpreparedness, you need to avoid these tools at all costs.

4. Avoid investigating the context of the passage. Studying the context will only heighten your sense of clarity about the passage. Be sure to choose the passage randomly, without reading any of the surrounding Scripture.

5. Make sure you don’t have any time to wrestle with the passage personally before the Bible study. Taking time to understand this passage and apply it to your own life will only inhibit your ability to lead a sloppy Bible study. What little time you spend preparing should be spent in information-gathering alone, and not in absorbing the text into your own life situation.

All satire aside, God spoke through the text despite my stumbles and lack of preparation. I’m especially glad for the DePaul students — they have such good Bible study instincts now that they were able to pick up my slack. And, no matter how much time one spends in preparation, nothing absorbs Scripture like a person eager to hear from God.

I have a new-found appreciation for a small handout I wrote up for my students to have as they prepare for Bible studies. While it is a bit of a lengthy process, it gives adequate time to let the passage linger in one’s mind and seep into one’s life. So, if you are one who would rather avoid sloppy Bible studies, here are the tips for you:

(Exhaustive) Tips on preparing for your Bible study

Your personal study (20-40 minutes)

  • Pray and ask God to enlighten your understanding of this text
  • Sit down with some colored pencils or markers, and a regular pencil or pen
  • Read the passage 2-3 times
  • Circle or mark places where you see repetition, contrast
  • Write down questions you have about the passage. Look especially for places that are just confusing to you, and places where you see something and think, “is there some significance to this [word or image]?”
  • Write down a few of your main impressions from this passage

Research (20-40 minutes)

  • Look questions or historical context issues up in a Bible Dictionary
  • Possibly discuss the questions you have with a friend
  • Figure out what the main point is. Write 1-2 sentences that state what you hope the group will understand from the passage.
  • Personal application: what is God saying to you through this text? write out some of your thoughts on this

Study questions (20-40 minutes)

  • Write a first draft of some Bible study questions. Be sure to include some questions in each category: observation (what’s going on?) , interpretation (why does this happen?) , application (what does this mean for my life?).
  • Look at the LifeGuide Bible study guide. Read through their questions, look at their notes. Use this guide to lead your revision of your questions. There may be some questions that you wrote that are better than theirs! There may be some questions of theirs that you would like to use.
  • Write out all of the questions you are going to use in your own words. Write out your responses to the questions too.
    group preparation (20-40 minutes)
  • Think through the flow of your meeting. Would you like to have an icebreaker question? Where would prayer fit in your meeting? Would you like to include worship? Plan out the flow of your meeting.
  • Pray for your members, and for the meeting. pray in the room where you will meet, if possible.
  • Call your members 4-12 hours before the meeting to remind them to attend (or ask someone else to call them).
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