Why a Home Study Fellowship?
There are many advantages of doing a Bible Study in a home. First of all, it is a much more relaxed and casual atmosphere. People feel that they are guests coming to a friends house. The intimate home atmosphere makes it easier for participants to share their ideas, their fears, and their problems. They will soon feel an important part of the church because they experience the love and fellowship of their Home Study group. Those who become part of a small group study get in the weekly habit of worshipping God, praying for one anothers needs, and studying Gods word. This will help them grow and mature in the Lord. It also provides a place for people to share their deepest needs, to ask questions without fear of ridicule, and to learn compassion for each other. Its a way for everyone to share in the ministry of the church by reaching out to others.
To successfully lead a Home Study Fellowship, you must believe in this ministry: you must be sold on it and consider it an important way for believers to grow in the word. I am excited about this form of ministry. I have seen people literally transformed by this ministry. New believers become grounded in the word. Old believers get a new excitement for serving God. And most importantly all participants become closer to the Lord as they spend more time learning from his word. If you can get new visitors plugged into a Home Study Fellowship, they will soon feel more comfortable with the church, and have a quicker understanding of the churchs philosophy of ministry. The love and fellowship from the small group will spill over into other areas of the church.
But as important as small groups are, no one should ever lead a Home Study Fellowship who hasnt participated in one. Many years ago, the standard format for a Bible Study was the teacher doing most of the talking in a lecture-type format. Occasionally, students were asked questions or asked to read scripture, but it was primarily a one-man show. For years I taught this way. Then for awhile I was the student in a Bible Study. It was then that I realized that, as a student, I learned more and received more from the study when I was an active participant, able to share and ask questions. And from that point on I abandoned the lecture format for a participation format where the group was encouraged to participate with their own thoughts and insights. I learned more about a small group Bible Study in a few months as a student than I had in years as a leader. You cannot truly understand the small group format until youve participated in one. Being a participant in a small group is a necessary requirement for being a small group leader. You will better understand and relate to your group when you know what its like to be on their end of the discussion. And to my way of thinking, if you dont believe in Home Study Groups enough to attend one, you shouldnt be leading one.
The Nuts and Bolts of a Bible Study
Format of the Bible Study
I believe every session of your Home Study Fellowship should contain the following six elements:
The order of some of these elements and the time spent on each activity will differ according to the emphasis of the group leader and the desire of the group, but each should be included. Heres a description and suggestions for each activity.
There needs to be a time when people can freely talk to one another and get to know each other. This can begin when people start arriving before the Bible Study "officially" starts. This will also occur during the snack break. As the leader, its best not to spend this time answering a persons question by turning it into a mini-teaching session, although there will be times when this is necessary. Its best to hear what others have to say. The most successful time of fellowship, in my view, is when all the participants are engaged in talking with each other, even if the leader is left out of all these private discussions. Its OK to just sit there in silence. Dont feel you have to be part of every conversation. As people get to know each other better, they will feel more relaxed, and feel more at ease about discussing their personal struggles in the group. If the group is new or shy, you can help initiate a time of sharing by asking people questions. You may remember a prayer request they had the previous week, and ask how everything turned out. Dont only have a conversation with one person, but be sure to include as many people as possible.
Ten to fifteen minutes of singing and worshipping is a good way to get everyones focus on the Lord instead of on their own problems. If you have musicians or singers in the group, get them involved in helping with worship. If not, then its up to the leader to prepare ahead of time a list of songs to sing. I like to type the words to all the songs on a sheet of paper to be handed out to each participant. This way you can go from one song to the next fluidly. Or you can use a words-only praise book. If you do this, its better to have all the songs within a few pages of each other. This way peoples attention is on worship instead of turning pages to find the songs! New songs are fun to sing, but each time of worship should have some songs that everyone knows. I usually do five songs that take about 12 minutes. I sing one or two uptempo songs, and the last two songs are slow and worshipful which are either well-known or easy to sing. If you know nothing about music, dont worry. Just pick out songs that you enjoy singing. No one expects the group leader to be an accomplished musician or singer. For those who do have some understanding of music, here are some additional suggestions. If you have limited musical accompaniment, you will find that if all the songs are in the same key, it will be easier to find the beginning note of the next song, unless all the songs are very well known and easy to sing. Also if you are singing acapella, songs in minor keys are more difficult to sing on pitch than songs in major keys.
One of the advantages of a small-group atmosphere is the opportunity to share our needs and pray for one another. Some will be very willing to share their prayer requests, others will be hesitant. After all the requests are made known, its good to tell everyone to feel free to pray for any of these requests they have heard, then you open the prayer. Allow others to pray, and then you close the prayer. After the group has been together for awhile, this will become easier. At first you may have many who are too shy to pray out loud, and many groups are very hesitant about sharing their prayer requests and need the leaders encouragement to learn how to make their prayer requests known. Some will never open up. Always respect each participants individuality. There may be times when someone has a very serious need, and you will want everyone to gather around the individual to pray for them. Dont be afraid to do something different. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you in your time of prayer. One potential problem in a small group is someone taking up a lot of time with their prayer request. The prayer time is an area which can easily take up a huge amount of time if the leader does not take control of the situation. Dont ever forget that the reason we have a Bible Study is to spend time together studying Gods word. Prayer is important, but long, rambling accounts of a prayer need is not. God already knows the need. If your group is spending 45 minutes in prayer requests and leaving only 15 minutes for Bible study, you need to step in and encourage everyone to keep it brief. But you dont want to do this until you really have a problem.
This may seem frivolous to you, but drinks and some snack are an important part of a Home Study Fellowship. Peoples throats do get dry, but besides the practical aspect, by serving snacks you are saying, "Welcome to my home; we are doing something special because you came." Snacks add to the homey atmosphere of a Bible Study and make people feel welcome. We hold our Bible Study in the living room, but have the snacks in the kitchen. This way when we break for snacks, people have to get up and mingle. Its also gives them a natural break when they can use the bathroom. It facilitates conversation among people as they are standing around the snack table pouring their drink and getting their piece of cake.
This is why we meet: to learn something from Gods word. The successful Home Study Fellowship will be a time when everyone enters in, sharing their ideas and insights. Some teaching by the leader is essential, but people tend to remember better what they learn when they are involved in the teaching process. The way I do this is I ask how those in the Study answered Question # 1, or I ask what they think this verse means, or some other question to get the groups input. Then I dont respond to their answers with my own thoughts until all who wish have answered. Only then do I reveal what I have learned from the passage under discussion. Even if its already been said by someone else, I think its good for the leader to confirm the main ideas of the scripture, what it means to him. Although we want to encourage others to share, I believe it is essential for the leader to do some teaching. He should not dominate the time, but neither should he just sit back and moderate the discussion. The leader must spend some time in preparation and be prepared to teach something. When people ask questions, its sometimes good to see if anyone else has an answer before the leader jumps in with his answer. Some of the best times in our Bible studies have been when someone asked how to handle a certain situation in their life and someone else shared what they did when they went through the very same thing. All I did was sit back and watch the Holy Spirit minister.
When people take home the study questions and answer them on their own, there will be times when they will come up with some far-out answers. I have learned that the way the leader responds to these "wrong" answers can determine whether they will be frustrated with their self-study or encouraged to continue doing it. I try not to contradict a students answer, but add to it, unless of course their statement violates one of the essentials of the Christian faith. Or I say something like, "Thats a possible interpretation," or, "Thats an interesting point." I try to speak in such a way that even though I may disagree, they sense I respect their opinion and admire the time they spent in study. How you respond in tone of voice, expression of face, and body language is much more important than the actual words you say.
There will be times when the group will go off onto a different subject. Sometimes this can be very helpful and instructive, but generally you need to steer the group back to the subject at hand. Although there have been times when someone asked a question, and I felt the discussion was so relevant to the group that I allowed it to take up the whole time because I felt the Holy Spirit was doing something worthwhile. But these times should be the exception, not the rule. If we have spent a long time in group discussion and its almost time to quit, I like to bring the group back to the verse under consideration and conclude with some teaching from my own study. This way the group will always leave with some new thing they can take with them that week. I dont like to end a Bible Study without at least some teaching from the word.
I always close in prayer. I like to have a definite closing, and I believe it is essential to end on time or very close to on-time. People have obligations. They have to get to work early the next day or get their children to bed. No one likes to be rude and interrupt, but they will feel uncomfortable if they never know how late you might go. If they know you will always end on time, they will be more likely to keep coming to the Bible Study. Our Bible studies end at 8:30. I almost always close in prayer no later than 8:33, and I usually do it at 8:30. Of course, even though you are officially dismissed, you need to let people know they are welcome to stay and talk if they dont need to rush off.
Suggested Time Schedule for 1 1/2 Hour Bible Study
Notes: The biggest variable is the prayer time. In an hour and a half study you have to be sure that some dont take up all the time sharing their requests. It can easily become a time when everyone is sharing more than just prayer requests. At the beginning of the study I believe its important that at least one of the leaders of the study is free to greet and spend time talking with those who arrive early at 6:45. This helps people feel welcome and aids in starting on time. I try to dismiss exactly at 8:30. This way those who have to get up early or those with young children will not feel uncomfortable about leaving too late.
Suggested Time Schedule for 2 Hour Bible Study
What to Teach and How to Teach
SELECTING THE STUDY
Before you begin, it is essential that you spend time in prayer finding what God wants you to teach. Don't make the mistake of getting ahead of God. Wait on Him and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you. It may save you much time and confusion.
The number of possible studies that you could do is almost endless. The type and form of a Home Study Fellowship will vary according to the leader and the group. You could study a book of the Bible, part of a book on a specific theme, or a topical study. Any book of the Bible will make a good Bible Study, but its better to start off with a shorter book at first. You can study a book in minute detail examining every phrase and word of each verse in depth. Or you can do an overview of a book examining the verses and how they fit together to give the main message of the chapter or paragraph.
The best way to start the selection process is to read through some of your favorite books of the Bible that are possible candidates for your Home Study Fellowship. Another good way is to examine the studies available at the Bible Book Store and see if any appeal to you. Remember, you must be excited about the study, and completely convinced of its benefits. In order for this to happen, you may have to spend some time doing research before you are ready to choose.
FORM OF TEACHING
As the group leader, you will have to spend time each week preparing the study. How much time you have each week to devote to study will help to determine the form of teaching that you will want to choose. Not only time, but also your personal preference for a Home Study Fellowship will enter into this decision. Basically, there are three ways to conduct the study. The first (and the one requiring the most time) is where both you and the other members of the group do all your own analysis and share the conclusions of your own studies of the passage with each other. You will probably have to prepare ahead of time study questions for the group to take home and research. The second form of teaching (and the one requiring the least amount of time) is where you closely adhere to a Study Guide purchased from the bookstore. The third form is a combination of these two. You use a prepared study guide, but then you add your own independent research to the authors. For many years I taught solely out of purchased study guides. It was only after gaining confidence in this area that I added my own analysis and eventually branched out to do my own research for the whole study. But this was an evolution, and determined by increased available time after my two boys grew up and moved out of the house. When you start off in a small group study, there are many things to learn besides how to study. So it really is best to start with a purchased Study Guide and adhere closely to it. This will give you time to learn new study habits, learn how to answer difficult questions, learn about group dynamics (how to get everyone involved), and learn how to handle problems and special needs that will arise. But if you are the kind that enjoys doing personal Bible study, you may want to do the exercises in Section VI How to Make Up Your Own Study to see if you would enjoy adding your own research to the study materials.
SUGGESTED STUDIES AND STUDY MATERIALS
Here is a list of possible studies:
Shorter Books of the Bible:
Longer Books of the Bible:
Part of a Book Study:
Heres a list of excellent study guides:
WHERE TO FIND GOOD STUDY QUESTIONS
To have a successful Bible Study with lots of participation its essential to have good study questions for the students to take home and research for themselves. But how can you find them? Good questions can be found in three areas. First, there are many single-book resources that cover the whole Bible. One of the best sources for study questions is the Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. It has a long list of questions for each section of scripture. Some are very good, others you will want to overlook, but overall its the best single-book resource. Other single-book sources are Search the Scriptures and The Quest Study Bible. An excellent source of questions on the New Testament is the New Testament Lesson Maker.
Second, you will want to go to your local Bible bookstore and look at all the study guides available for the book of the Bible that you are studying. Be selective. Some have very good questions, but many are shallow and hardly worth the price of the book.
Third, you can make up your own study questions. If you enjoy doing it, this is the best approach since you can customize your questions to the teaching. This is the approach I use. Over the years Ive found that even the best study guides will sometimes give brief treatment to the areas that I feel necessary to study in depth. And other times they will give a slant to the study which is in a different direction than where the group is going with it. By writing your own study questions, you can come up with discussion questions that you know are pertinent to the group: where they are in their walk with the Lord; common problems unique to the age, family situations, work environment, or emotional make-up of the group; and practical questions that hit them where they live. For all these reasons, I do my own study questions. But even then, I still consult other sources. When you are creating your own study questions, it is important that you base them on the text, and not just on general practical-living considerations. Of course, its always good when you can come up with questions that apply the text of scripture to our everyday life problems, but be sure thats what the verse is really talking about!
PREPARING THE STUDY
I cant stress enough the importance of proper preparation. Time spent in prayer with God and in study of his word is essential to the success of any Home Study Fellowship. The leader who has not spent enough time in preliminary study will come across as disorganized and confused. Soon the group will start wandering off the main point, and each individual will have their own pet subject, and the session will end in total disarray. The more time spent in preparation, the smoother the Bible Study will go. Everything should be prepared ahead of time. First the house should be organized and set up, ready to go, and the snacks and drinks should be set out. Everything you do gives the group a message of what kind of Bible Study this will be. Second the song service should be prepared. You should know what youre going to sing, and have song sheets or song books for everyone. This may seem minor, but you should know what your order of doing things will be. You should have it prepared in your mind: after singing we pray, after prayer its snack time, after snacks its study time. All these little things will help the study to go smoothly.
But the most important thing is your own preparation in prayer and study. Your group will reflect whats important to you. Maybe not at first, but after awhile you will see more and more following your leading. Is in-depth study important to you? Then it will be important to the group. Is researching the study questions important to you? Then it will be important to the group. Do you find that Gods word is alive and exciting? Then your group will also discover this. But do you consider Bible study a chore? So will your group. And do you only have enough time to just barely do enough study to get by each week. Then thats what your group will also do: barely enough to get by.
In order to be properly prepared, and also be able to answer some of the questions your group will come up with, each leader should have a basic study library. Now to start off, you can successfully lead a Bible Study with only your Bible and a Study Guide. But a basic library will help you immensely as you study and prepare.
A REFERENCE LIBRARY
Here are two lists of study materials: the first for the beginning group leader, the second for someone who has been teaching for awhile or who wants to get into more in-depth research and study.
A Bible: either King James Version, New King James Version, New American Standard Bible, or New International Version
An Exhaustive Concordance: Strongs Exhaustive Concordance (King James Version) or NIV Exhaustive Concordance
Either the Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible or at least one commentary on the book you are studying besides the students book: Both Wiersbe and McGee have brief, practical, down to earth commentaries which are sold separately for each book of the Bible. Good one-volume commentaries on the whole Bible are the Believers Bible Commentary by MacDonald and The Wycliffe Bible Commentary.
A study Bible: such as NIV Study Bible, Ryrie Study Bible, or Life Application Bible
A topical reference: such as Naves Topical Bible or Torreys Topical Textbook (sometimes called The New Topical Textbook)
A resource for references: such as The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge or the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, or simply use the references given in your study Bible.
A Bible dictionary: such as The New Bible Dictionary or the New Ungers Bible Dictionary.
Word Study: Vines Complete Expository Dictionary (also sold as The Expanded Vines)
A Commentary Set: Two good 3-volume commentaries written in the nineteenth century (and therefore cheap) are Matthew Pooles Commentary on the Whole Bible and Jamison-Fausset-Brown Commentary. A modern inexpensive multi-volume set is the Tyndale Commentaries (sold as the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries and Tyndale New Testament Commentaries).
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE INDUCTIVE METHOD OF STUDY
All of these suggestions are simply that: suggestions. There may be times when you will use a different approach, or change the order of doing things, but these suggestions can prove to help you understand scripture as you study on your own.
There are four stages in our proposed method of study.
Pray. Before beginning any study of Gods word, be sure to pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal Gods truth to you. This is an essential step and should not be skipped!
Read the passage of scripture and write down your thoughts using the Inductive Method of study. You should only use your Bible and a notebook or lined paper. A plain Bible with no comments is best, but use whatever the Lord has provided you. The Inductive Method of study is done in three areas.
First, you observe the text,
Next you interpret the text,
And then you apply the text.
You observe the text to find out what the words of this portion of scripture actually say. You interpret the text by looking at what you think this scripture meant to the writer and his readers. You apply the text by asking yourself, what is this portion of the Bible teaching me! As you do the study, write down your own thoughts in a notebook before consulting any outside materials.
Look up scripture references and do any word studies. You may find scripture references in your Study Bible or Concordance, or the passage may remind you of another scripture that you will want to look up. You can do a word study of important words by consulting Strongs Exhaustive Concordance, a lexicon, or a Bible dictionary for significant words.
After you are convinced you know what the passage is talking about, then consult other reference materials such as commentaries or Bible handbooks. Use these to confirm your thinking, expand upon your ideas, or even change your thinking. Dont hesitate to re-evaluate your own conclusions.
The Inductive Method of Bible Study
Heres an example of the Inductive Method of Bible study from Psalm 103:1.
Using the King James Version there are four phrases in this verse: Bless the Lord, O my soul, all that is within me, bless his holy name. Notice that it is the soul that David is exhorting to bless the Lord. In addition he wishes all that is within him to bless the Lord. And not only bless the Lord, but also bless his holy name. Also observe that Gods name is holy. We may make a note to do a word study on "bless" since it is mentioned twice in this verse.
It seems David is earnest in his exhortation to himself to bless the Lord. He calls on all his faculties: his intellect, his emotions, his spirit. As he is kneeling before the Lord, he is escaping some danger or illness which is threatening him and focusing himself entirely on God. Perhaps this was the time when Absalom overthrew his throne and he had to flee for his life, or maybe he wrote this during some illness in his old age. He comes to the Lord because he is holy and all that implies: just, true, righteous, abundant in mercy. Because of these attributes of God, David knows he can place all his problems in the Lords hands.
Do I spend enough time alone with God? Do I only give him half-hearted worship, or do I bless him with all that is within me? Do I allow the Lord to take my problems or do I hold back because I want to be in control? I need to gain a better understanding of Gods holiness and what that means. I need to spend some quiet time blessing the Lord.
How To Do a Word Study
In the example of Psalm 103:1 a word study of "bless" was suggested. If you cannot read Hebrew or Greek, there are lexicons available which are keyed to Strongs numbers and important Biblical words can also be found in most Bible dictionaries. For example, I found "bless" (blessed, blessing) in six of the seven Bible dictionaries I own. But most new Bible students will use Strongs Exhaustive Concordance for their word studies. By looking up "bless" in Strongs Concordance, other examples of its use will be found for instance in the very next psalm, Psalm 104:1.
By looking up many scriptures where "bless" is found, its true meaning in context can be determined if you are willing to spend the time necessary to do the research. All words in Strongs Concordance have a number to the far right of the verse. In the example of "bless" Strongs number is 1288. In the back of the Concordance, Strong has two dictionaries, one Hebrew and one Greek. By looking up #1288 in the Hebrew dictionary (The Old Testament is written in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek), Strongs brief definition of the word can be discovered. The NIV Exhaustive Concordance is set up similarly, but instead of a definition, there is a listing of the English words used in the NIV for that particular Hebrew or Greek word. In this case, you would be looking up "praise" #1385.
A NOTE ON COMMENTARIES
Something should be said about the role that reference books and commentaries should play in Bible Study. You should start studying the portion of scripture on your own. Allow God to minister to you directly through his word. We learn better when we learn it from the Bible instead of from a commentary. What G. Campbell Morgan advised to preachers is true for all Bible teachers (How to Study and How to Teach the Bible pg. 697-698), "...the first work of the preacher is that of Bible study.... The idea that expository preaching can be done without work is entirely false. On the other hand, that is not Biblical preaching which finds a text, and then reads all available books to see what other men have said about it, finally arranging these thoughts into a sermon." Morgan ably illustrated the wrong way to use commentaries. We should not use them as our primary source of learning.
However, I believe all Bible study should include consulting commentaries. They will help you with things you may have missed. More importantly, in many cases, as you begin studying a portion of scripture, you will realize you are traveling into the wilderness for the first time. After the Lord has taught you from his word, its good to read what God has taught other Godly men who have traveled the same path you are undertaking. Reading commentaries is like being able to travel the globe and time to hear some of the great Bible teachers. Their sermons and teachings are still ministering to others. Allow them to minister to you.
This is what Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote (Commenting and Commentaries pg. 9), "...you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have labored before you in the field of exposition. ... It seems odd that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to them, should think so little of what he has revealed to others."
Another advantage of commentaries is they can help check your conclusions and interpretations. I always feel nervous when I come up with an interpretation of scripture that no one in the past has thought of. Am I so special that God has only revealed to me this truth? Or maybe Im seeing something thats really not there! When I know my interpretation is going against the mainstream of thinking in some area, I like to find one or two evangelical commentators that have arrived at the same conclusion. There was one time when I was so convinced that God was teaching a certain thing in Psalm 22 that I went ahead and taught in anyway, but it did make me feel uneasy. A few months later I found two other commentators who also argued my position, so then I was able to relax a little bit. Lets face it, its unlikely that God has only revealed something to you and no one else. After I had written these words, I did research on what others had to say about small group study. How delighted I was to find Kay Arthur, the author of the Precepts Studies, make this statement (How to Study Your Bible pg. 65), "In fact, teachers and commentaries can be a safeguard for you in your own interpretation. Be very wary if in your study you find something that no one else has ever seen before. God probably would not blind godly men to truth for almost 2,000 years and suddenly reveal it to you."
Some find commentaries difficult to read. They think they are "too technical" or "too boring" and "they spend too much space talking about things Im not interested in." The more you study, the more you will appreciate commentaries. The "technical matters" that they spend a lot of time on are usually foundational to proper understanding of what the verse really means. But you have to spend time wrestling with these difficult passages first before you can appreciate the commentators technical assistance. The more you read commentaries, the more you will come to appreciate and, yes, love them. When I was starting out studying with commentaries, I made a point of writing down at least one quote from each commentator on the chapter or psalm in the Bible I was studying. I figured that even though I may not be seeing it, each author must have at least one thing to say important enough to write down. If you will do this, you will discover new insights from Godly teachers from the decades and centuries past.
How to Get the Group Started
How To Get People To Come
STARTING THE NEW GROUP
The best way to get people to come when you are first starting up your Bible Study is to personally ask them. Some people feel uncomfortable doing this. You need to ask yourself why do you want people to come to your Bible Study? Is it because you want them to grow in the word and mature in the Lord? Then you should want to invite everyone you know to come. Of course, if you are leading a Home Study Fellowship to build up your own ego or so that people will think youre wonderful, or worse, that people will think youre super spiritual, then you should feel uncomfortable asking people to come because you are doing it for the wrong reason! But if you are doing it for the right reasons, you should be excited about seeing others grow in grace as they learn from the Bible. Personally, I am so sold on small group ministry that I want to see everyone in the church in a Home Study Fellowship. I know it will be one of the best things that will ever happen to them. I know God will minister to them. I know they will gain so much as they spend time fellowshipping with other believers, and fellowshipping in his word. I strongly feel that if every believer in America were involved in a small group study, it would have a profound impact on Christianity in our nation. If you really are sold on Home Study Fellowships, you will want to get everyone involved. There are other ways to get people to come. You can send out flyers in the mail. You can put an announcement in the bulletin. You can phone them. If you are really the shy-type, ask someone who is more outgoing to make the contacts for you. People love to help a new ministry get started off right.
Sometimes it is easier to get people to come the first few times than to keep them coming. We are a very busy society. Everyone has many obligations and activities in which they are involved. Every small group will have its core that is very faithful, but others will come sometimes and then miss for awhile. In order to keep them coming back, you must be tireless in your efforts. When people miss a few times, its easy for them to get out of the habit of going. A phone call from the leader will encourage them to continue. You can also send brief notes or postcards to those that miss. Periodical mailings to remind everyone of a new part of the study that may be really interesting to them can also help. Occasionally, people in our group have volunteered to make a simple dinner for the Study. When this happens, I am on the phone to everyone that week to remind them that they dont have to eat dinner before the study. Of course this also reminds them to come to the study. We have also had pot luck dinners. The group enjoys these times of eating together. You could also plan some special event: perhaps an outreach event, or the study held in someone elses home. Use your imagination, and you can probably come up with many more good ideas.
Now some may think that all this phoning and mailing will make you seem like a pest. But I have to tell you about Beverly. After her family was grown, her husband decided to leave her. Depressed, she left the church where he was still attending and came to ours. We encouraged her to become involved in small groups. She would come faithfully for awhile, then she would start missing. Every time she started missing I was on the phone with her telling her how we missed her. Then she would come back, and then start missing again. This went on for some time until you could sense she had renewed her commitment to the Lord. When she moved away to Texas, she sent us a letter saying, "Thank you for being persistent with me, and not giving up on me, and helping me to rediscover the joy of the Lord." When I read that, I just felt so overwhelmed that God had given us the privilege of being part of his work in her life. It made all those hours of study, all the time in preparation, all the time cleaning the house, all the effort we put into every weeks study seem like such a small price to pay for someone to rediscover the joy of the Lord. How wonderful God is that he uses such weak and imperfect vessels as us. But looking back at all those times I had to contact Beverly, frankly, there were times I was afraid I was being a pest. But its that very thing that she thanked us for the most. All those phone calls had been the catalyst for her new-found joy. Dont be afraid of being a pest. It may rescue someone from destruction.
HOW TO GET NEW PEOPLE
Once your group is going, you must continue to try to get new people. Your group will constantly be changing as some move away, others have their work schedule changed, and others have new family obligations. The best way to get new people into the Bible Study is for the members of the group to invite their friends. Some people will come to a home, but would never dream of coming to church. Many ways to get new people to come will be unique to your group. Each group is different. They have different personalities and different approaches to talking to people. Find out from your group what they think will work. You could hold some event such as a family picnic to facilitate your group members in inviting their friends so they could become familiar with the Bible Study group. There are probably countless ways to find new people. Use your imagination and encourage your group to invite others.
Another good way is to invite those who are new to the church. People who are looking for a church home can float indecisively from church to church waiting for God to strike them with lightening. I often tell visitors that are searching that if they really want to understand how our church works and how our people think, come to a Home Study Fellowship. They will learn a lot about us quickly and easily. Every week, get a list of the new visitors and give them a phone call or send them a flyer. If there are many Home Study Fellowships in the church, you could do a mailing which would include all the groups. But this church mailing should be in addition to the personal contact or individual flyer. Theres a big difference between being invited to some church Bible Study, or to being invited to my specific Bible Study. People respond best to personal invitations.
The third way to get new people is to keep letting everyone in the church know what your group is studying or doing. Once every six months its a good idea to send out a mailing to everyone in the church who are not already going to a Home Study Fellowship and tell them where you are in your study. We even had people from another church who came to our Bible Study because they heard about it from one of our friends that attends their church! So dont hesitate to let everyone know.
A fourth way is to invite your neighbors and those with whom you work or have business dealings throughout the week.
Whichever ways you use, be consistent in inviting new people. If your group gets too large, someone could always start another group. But that new group will never be started if you stop inviting new people. Never feel that you are too full for any more.
Adjusting To the Group
No matter how well-prepared you are and how much you think you know the people that will be attending your Home Study Fellowship, each group has its own character and dynamics. Until the people actually get together and start interacting, you cant be sure what kind of group you will really have. And after a period of time if the group changes, the dynamics will also be different. Its up to the leader to adjust the study and the format to the group as it evolves. A group can start with new believers and those who have never studied the Bible seriously before, but after awhile you may find the group participating more and have a greater interest in doing their own study. As a group changes, the leader must also adapt the approach to the study. At the beginning the leader may have to do more guiding and have more input to keep the study on target. But as the group grows and reveals its personality, the study must adjust to the group dynamics.
If you have a Home Study Fellowship that enjoys sharing their personal experiences, problems, and blessings with each other, then the group leader could ask penetrating questions as to how the study might personally affect each believer and hear their response. On the other hand, if you have a very shy group of students that hesitate to reveal their feelings, you may want to temper the life application questions to more general considerations such as: how do you think most Christians would respond to this? Ill give you an example of one thing I have done. When our group first started meeting, few had done much in-depth study of the Bible. So on many occasions I would have a list of scriptures for the students to look up so they could better understand what some word would mean in the particular verse we were studying. This was done in our Bible Study time at our regular meeting. But after the members of the group became more excited about studying Gods word (and in fact some began purchasing reference books), then I would have the students try to find their own verses at home by looking up in their Strongs Concordance or Study Bible scriptures that deal with the particular word or idea we were studying. Now, if I had started the group off with the more difficult assignment, they would have probably been discouraged and some may even have dropped out of the study. On the other hand, if I had not changed the format when the group was ready for more independent study, then I would have hindered their progress in their home study skills. The leader must always be prepared to adjust the study since the group will constantly be changing and growing.
Many times how you respond to a particular area of interest to the other members of the group will determine how the group responds. For example, if every time someone shares something personal, you or someone else indicates discomfort with discussing personal matters, the group will tend to not be very open in these matters.
In the same way, if you are faithful in your preparation, and come ready to discuss the study questions or ideas from the verses or chapter you are studying, you are encouraging the group to take this study seriously even if your ideas are not that in-depth and sometimes may even turn out to be wrong. But no matter how much preparation you put into the study, you need to realize there will always be some people who really are not studiers and probably will never do the homework. But as the group learns to take the study seriously, most people will at least try to do some of the study materials. You can include the shy non-studiers by occasionally asking them what they think of the passage. Just be sure the passage at hand will be comfortable for them to comment on not too obscure or too deep theologically.
The biggest difficulty that I have encountered is with people taking up too much time with long discussions in areas that have nothing to do with the study. This will be discussed further under How to Handle Problems, but its important to note here that if you squelch discussion too much, even for good reasons, your group will tend to not want to share. This is why a husband-wife team is very good. If the spouse is sharing his or her thoughts, it gives the group permission to also jump in with their own ideas. It is important for the group to understand that they are free to enter in with their own thoughts even if they are off the subject. Then its up to the group leader to try to gently guide the discussion back to the text. Of course there will be times when you will want to allow these "off the road" discussions to take over the meeting as you see people being ministered to. But most of your times together as a group should be focused on the study at hand. A group that consistently gets together and has a free-flowing discussion on whatever topics of the moment they feel like discussing is not a Bible Study. Your group may feel good and get to know each other better by doing this, but you will not learn much from the scripture. This will also discourage people from doing any homework or preparation at home, since they will rarely have a chance to share it. A good Bible Study will encourage people to read their Bible at home and to do their own study of the scripture.
How to Handle Problems
HOW TO GET PARTICIPATION IN THE DISCUSSION
This is a potential problem anytime you start up a new group, but especially if its composed of new believers or those who dont know each other very well. What do you do when they just sit there and wont share? Every group, and the emphasis of each study, is different, so its hard to give a set of iron-clad rules. But these suggestions may prove helpful.
1. You may simply have a shy group. They will need to get to know you and each other better before they are ready to open up. Be patient. At the beginning of every study, its good to have some general discussion questions to see if your group is ready to participate. Here are three questions that we used at the beginning of our study of Philippians with its emphasis on being full of joy: Are Christians supposed to be joyful all the time? What are some of the things that cause us to lose our joy during the day? What are some of the things you do to try to make yourself happy, but they never seem to work? After you ask the question, if your group hesitates to share much, then you answer the question with an example from your own life how you had to struggle, in this case, with maintaining a joyful attitude. Be as specific and open as possible. Then ask if anyone else has something they want to share. As they see you being honest and open, they will feel more comfortable with sharing. If they dont open up right away, dont make a big deal about it. Give them the time they need to adjust to the Bible Study format.
2. Include many life-application questions. This gives a point of discussion to which everyone can relate. You dont want to skip over questions about what the verse really means or how this verse fits in with the whole teaching of the Bible, but by sprinkling in life-application questions, your group will be able to relate the scripture to their everyday life.
3. Especially at first, allow people to talk even when they are far from the subject at hand. If they are new to a Home Study Fellowship, they dont understand how to relate the discussion to the portion of scripture yet. But if you cut off any discussion early in the groups existence, it will promote silence from your participants. Even after the group has been in existence for awhile, sometimes long discussion in an area that concerns some of the members can prove very beneficial even if it leads you far astray from the prepared study. In these cases, I like to see the leader conclude the discussion (even if it goes all the way to the end of the meeting) with a tie-in to the study at hand. Even if its only a brief summary of what you have been studying up to the point the discussion departed from the text, it will leave the students with the teaching from scripture in their minds as they leave.
4. Once your group is participating in the discussion every week, its a good idea for the leader not to insert his opinion on the discussion or study question until everyone else has had their say. Many group members will feel that the leaders answer is the correct one, so if their answer disagrees with it, they will be very reluctant to share at all. Also, some participants may not have had much time to prepare, so they realize their remarks are off-the-top-of-their-head and may feel intimidated from sharing after hearing the leaders (hopefully) well-prepared answer or comment.
5. Unlike some authors who have written about Home Study Fellowships, I feel it is essential for the leader to also participate, and not simply be a moderator who steers the group in their own discussion. If you are sold on the idea of Home Bible Studies, you will want to study the material. You will probably spend more time studying than any other member. The more we study Gods word, the more we learn from Him. It would be a shame not to share what the Holy Spirit has taught you. Also, when the leader takes the study seriously, and obviously has spent much time in preparation, it is emphasizing to the group the importance of this study. This will encourage others to become deeply involved in their own study. I have been teaching Bible Studies for 30 years. The more preparation I did, the more home study the group did. When I spent little time in preparation, I was lucky if anyone read the material beforehand.
6. There will be many times when people ask you questions. Sometimes its a matter of doctrine, sometimes something in their life they are struggling with. When this happens, I have learned to hesitate before replying and see if anyone else would like to answer the question. Sometimes I even ask if anyone else has had experience in this area especially for questions about our everyday struggles in this Christian walk. Some of the best times in our Bible studies have been when someone asked how to handle a certain situation in their life and someone else shared what they did when they went through the very same thing. All I did was sit back and watch the Holy Spirit minister.
7. Most groups will have at least one person who is very shy and hardly ever participates. If the rest of the group is sharing, it is usually an easy task to get the shy person to share also. There are usually some questions on which everyone would have an opinion, or there may be some questions where almost any answer could be right. When I get to these questions, I periodically try to include the quieter members of our group. This way they feel part of the group without feeling intimidated by a difficult question. It is easy to overlook the shy member. But encouraging their participation every now and then will help them gain confidence.
Remember, they are naturally shy, so dont expect them to all of a sudden become very talkative.
HOW TO RESPOND TO THE SHARING OF PRIVATE OR PERSONAL MATTERS
Sharing private matters in a Home Study Fellowship is like sharing with your family. You will continue to share as long as you feel secure that the personal matters will stay within the group. It is essential that the group maintain the confidence of anything shared. It is even more important that the leader maintains that confidence at all costs. Once a group has bonded and trusts each other, there will be sharing of sometimes very deep and personal areas of their lives. In my experience most of this has been very positive. In almost all cases it has been a springboard to spiritual growth, but every now and then something inappropriate may be shared.
I try to look at where the person is coming from. Is this from humility where they are admitting they have a problem and need to change, or is it pity-me-time to gain attention and sympathy? The latter attitude should not be encouraged especially if it involves putting down other family members. In my experience, the bad attitude is the exception. Most of the time group members are sincere and open. But when it does happen, I like to say something like, "Well make a point of praying for your family member, but we should also pray for you that God will help you two get along." I know of one Womens Study where one of the women started complaining about her husband, and the group leaders cut her off with, "Were here to encourage and help one another. We dont feel its productive to say bad things about our husbands."
Most of the time when someone has shared something personal in our group it was along the lines that "I really havent been the kind of family member I should be. Im trying to change, but its difficult." Or it has been when someone has a legitimate problem with another family member and is genuinely seeking what God wants them to do. In all these cases, if the group acts with love and encouragement, it will help the person get through their difficult time. Many times someone else has gone through a similar situation and can speak words of comfort and perhaps offer some new insight.
People will generally share private matters for two reasons: 1. They want an answer, or 2. They want people to sympathize with them and uphold them in prayer. The first type of person is looking for advice; the second type is only wanting to know others care. When someone is genuinely seeking an answer to their problem, if you or another member of the group has been through something similar or have some insight into the situation, by all means share it. There may be times when you dont have a ready answer, but often you can think of sections of scripture which, although they dont specifically answer the problem, point to how others have found the answer from God through prayer, circumstances, repentance, teaching, studying Gods word, or being ministered to by the Lord. As the leader, dont feel you must offer an answer. Allow your group to respond. Someone may have only recently gone through a similar problem.
When people are sharing to receive encouragement, they are not really looking for advice. They may listen to it, but they really just want the members to say, "We care about your problem, and we will be praying for you." How do you tell the difference between these two approaches? Sometimes its not easy, but usually the person who really wants advice makes it very apparent that help is what they are seeking.
Many group leaders start to feel uncomfortable when group members start offering advice. After all, what do you do when its bad advice? Frankly, this seldom happens. And when it does, the person asking can usually determine the difference without your help. But if it is really awful, I will try to gently say something either during the meeting, or sometimes afterwards in private. It has been my experience that the benefits far outweigh the risks. I have seen lives transformed because students were willing to open up to their Home Study group and not afraid to listen to what others had to say.
HOW THE GROUP LEADER SHOULD HANDLE QUESTIONS
If you have a successful group, you will have people from time to time asking you questions. Generally they fall in four categories: 1. How can I solve this personal problem in my life? 2. What does the Bible or the church teach on this subject? 3. What do you think of this (false or way-out) teaching? or 4. Questions that you simply have no answer for. Many times these question-askers will put you on the spot. I believe it is the group leaders obligation to be prepared for questions, although you may not be prepared with answers. Lets take a look at each of these four areas.
1. How can I solve this personal problem in my life? Dont feel frustrated if your answer seems weak. You cannot be prepared for every conceivable situation a person may go through, but you can point them to the One who has the answers. Also, as mentioned previously, sometimes other group members have gone through similar difficulties and may be able to offer insight. I like to ask if others have something theyd like to share even when I have something I could say. In this way, you get the whole group involved in ministering to each other.
2. What does the Bible or the church teach on this subject? Usually this is an answer for the leader to answer since he should have a better doctrinal grasp than other members of the group. But again, you certainly can get others input. When someone asks this question, it is usually sparked from the Bible Study, and means the person is getting more interested in what the Bible really teaches. This is very positive, and needs to be encouraged. Keep it brief. But if you shut off this kind of question with something like, "We dont want to bore you with doctrine," you have squelched someones natural learning process for the things of God. One thing, when you are answering this kind of question, you dont need to discuss all the different views that Bible scholars have debated over the past 20 centuries. Simply state your churchs or your personal opinion (hopefully they both agree).
3. What do you think of this (false or way-out) teaching? When people ask me questions about a far-out or controversial teaching, I try to determine why they are asking before I give them an answer. Have they had experience with this teaching? Is someone at work talking to them about this teaching? Where did they hear about it? You may have someone who was born and raised with the teaching under discussion, and I like to know that before I begin. No matter how way-out the teaching may be, if it does not subvert the essentials of the Christian faith, it is best to deal with it sympathetically. For example, you could say, "Ive known people that believe that way, but our church doesnt believe that this teaching is correct because.... Of course, this is not one of the essentials of the Christian faith, and so honest believers can disagree over areas like this." On the other hand, it they are asking about some false teaching, its best to answer it with scripture and identify it as false so your Bible Study member wont be led astray. If a person wants to debate the point with you, dont allow it. Instead offer to do some research this week that you will make available to all the members of the study next week, and be sure to do it!
4. Questions that you have no answer for. So you were stumped! Big deal. Readily admit when you dont have an answer. There is no way you can be prepared for every possibility. When someone comes up with a question that cannot be satisfactorily answered, I dont like to leave it at that. I believe the group leader has an obligation to do some research and come up with an answer. If he can get it to the group the following week, thats great. But even if it takes a few weeks, thats OK. Just dont delay it too long.
How to Handle the Long-winded
There is a country plaque that we have seen in the stores with a picture of a person with their mouth wide open and the caption, "Im talking and I cant stop." Every group leader will experience members like this from time to time. In order for a group to be successful, there should be much sharing. Nothing can put a damper on a study than when one person dominates the discussion, especially if its off the subject and mostly about himself. But before we get into how to handle the gabby, its necessary to distinguish between the chronic big-talkers and the occasional ones. There was one lady in our Home Study Fellowship who would ordinarily participate in a limited fashion and usually had insightful things to add. One Bible Study night she went off on a tangent which had nothing to do with the study and also was diametrically opposed to what our church believed. She wouldnt let us go on; she was so adamant in her position. I tried to gently point out our churchs position with the additional statement that obviously Christians could disagree over interpretation in some of these areas, but this just made her even more strident. This was so out of character with her that I honestly did not know what to do. I felt if I really cut her off, it might discourage her from future participation, and we might lose her from the Bible Study. On the other hand, she was being very disruptive. I let her speak. At the end of the meeting I really wondered if I had done the right thing. After she had left, others in the group came up to me, sympathizing with my plight, and mentioned that they heard that she was on medication for manic-depression. They suggested that perhaps she was in her manic stage that night. This was good to know. We never had any problems with her after that night, and she continued to come to the study and participate in her usual insightful manner. If I had stepped in, I could have done real damage to her spiritual walk. I was afraid that she was disrupting the group, but it was the group that understood her better than I. Even though they agreed it was a terrible disruption, they sympathized with her. Every time you are forced to cut someone off, you are in danger of not only offending the big talker, but you are also in danger of stifling free-flowing conversation from other members of the group. They may fear that if you cut someone else off, then you might really not want to hear any dissenting views. This could cause them to hesitate to share anything. So, be careful how you do it. Do it gently and with love.
Most people know when they are talking too much, so a gentle statement by the leader can often correct the problem. Here are some ways I have learned, and Im sure you can come up with your own ideas too.
DURING FELLOWSHIP TIME
At the beginning of the meeting, there may be times when someone takes up a long time telling a personal story. This may happen when someone is new to the group and wants to share his life story. Simply saying, "You know Dan, we want to hear your story, but right now we have to get started with the Bible Study. Perhaps you can share with us more after the meeting." Dont say it if you dont mean it. You will have spared the group his verbosity, but you havent spared yourself. Thats why you are the group leader. Be sure to ask him before he leaves to share with you what he was telling the group before and be prepared to listen for awhile. He may be boring, but he is someone who God loves and who Jesus died for.
DURING PRAYER TIME
The time that you take prayer requests can cause the greatest problems of long stories being disguised as prayer needs. Many times I have seen students use this time to try to tell their life story. Not all long prayer requests are bad, but most of the time they can be shortened. God already knows the need. Prayer time is important, but the purpose of the Home Study Fellowship is to study the Bible. If people are very talkative with their prayer requests, you will have little time left for studying Gods word. One way to gently cut someone short is by summarizing what they have said and then moving on into another area. For example, if they are giving a long prayer request, you could say, "So then we need to pray for you to get a better-paying position, and for your wife to have more peace in your financial struggles." Then turn to another person in the group who isnt so loquacious and say something like, "OK, who else has a prayer request? John, do we still need to pray for your son and his muscle strain?" If the original person jumps back in with more about his situation, saying something like, "We will pray for all your concerns. The Lord knows what they all are, but we need to hear the needs of the others too."
I have no problem with cutting short someones prayer request, but I hesitate to try to cut short someones prayer. Prayer is a personal thing between the person and God, and my feeling is that when someone is praying to God, it is God who must shorten the prayer if He so desires. If God wont do it, I feel uncomfortable stepping in for Him. However, if some people have taken an inordinate amount of time praying, I have no problem after they are done to conclude the prayer time even though not everyone had a chance to share in prayer. There can be no iron-clad rules given here. Allow the Holy Spirit to minister to you at the time. There are times when we have had very long prayer times that were ordered by God, and there have been other times when I felt led to end the prayer time. I suppose if you have someone who consistently takes up a huge amount of time praying each time, and you feel its not ordered by God, then it would be all right to speak to that person in private afterwards and ask them to keep it shorter. But this needs to be done gently and with wisdom.
DURING BIBLE STUDY TIME
Sometimes people are so enamored with their opinions that they will take a long time expressing their interpretation of the scripture, and then feel they have to respond to everyone elses interpretation if it disagrees in any way with theirs. If you are doing study questions, I find a good way to cut someone off like this is to ask, "Who else answered that question?" If the person persists in jumping in, a gentle, "I appreciate your opinion here, but I want to give others a chance to comment," will usually silence the big talker. I need to re-emphasize here that as a general rule, cutting short someones comment on the study is counter-productive to the open, sharing atmosphere that you want to maintain in any group study. So be very careful that you only do it when absolutely necessary. The whole purpose of a Home Study Fellowship is to get people to share their ideas about the scriptures. Often people are very shy to do this, and perhaps afraid that their ideas will be considered stupid or somehow inferior. If they see the leader cutting short others comments, it may cause them to hold back their comments too.
Duties of the Leader
In order to have a successful Home Study Fellowship the group leader must take on certain responsibilities. Some of these have already been mentioned and others may seem obvious, but I think they all are very important.
FORMING GROUPS IN CHURCH
The second pitfall can be our behavior. We all have a tendency to talk to the same people at church each Sunday. We get comfortable with them, and people may perceive that there is an elite church group. If some members of the Bible Study are part of this group, and others are not, it could make some feel unwanted and unwelcome. As a group leader you have an obligation to "make the rounds." Talk with different people of the church each Sunday. Make a point of including everyone. My wife is very shy about going up to people. But during the greeting time at church each Sunday, she looks around to see who is being ignored and then forces herself to go talk to them even though this is the opposite of her personality.
The other problem is ignoring group members at church because of your other obligations. You must be careful that people dont get the impression that the only time you are friendly to them is when you see them at your Bible Study. People will understand if you are busy during church time, but a simple recognition and a few words of welcome go a long way.
AGREEMENT WITH PASTOR AND CHURCH
LETTING OTHERS KNOW ABOUT GROUP MEMBERS NEEDS
Sometimes you are the first and only one in the church to find out about a group members medical emergency or family troubles. It is your obligation to pass this news on to the pastor or others who would like to help out if they knew there was a problem. You dont want to be breaking confidences, but many times there were people in our home group going in for surgery that no one else in the church knew about. By alerting others, it helps the person get through their difficult times a little easier.
Although I recommend that the new Bible Study leader start by using a prepared study, I have decided to include these study exercises for those who may want to try to add to the study their own materials and study questions. It is not that difficult to make up your own study, and you may be able to use some of these ideas in your purchased study. Some may hesitate to do their own research until they realize how fun and painless it really is.
3 STEPS TO DOING YOUR OWN STUDY
There are 3 main things to do when making up your own study.
1. Select the study. You are the one who must ultimately decide what to study and how your group will tackle it.
2. Make up Study Questions. If you are using a purchased Study Guide, you can add to the questions already in the book.
3. Have comments prepared for each verse, or section, to share with the group.
Before we get into specifics on what to look for, and how to analyze a specific portion of scripture, I want you to do some work on your own first. I want you to spend some time with the 103rd Psalm. I am going to give you as few directions as possible because I think its important for each person to approach any study their own way, the way they will feel most comfortable. That is the way you will get the most out of it. We will start with an overview of the whole psalm, and then do detailed study of the first 5 verses. Of course, you can go on and do the whole psalm if you wish.
There are only five things I would like to see you do
First, write down the main messages (or teachings or sections) of the psalm.
Second, make notes to yourself on verses 1-5, or do the whole psalm.
Third, write out what you think the psalm is teaching you, especially in verses 1-5.
Fourth, make up questions you think would be good for others to think about for the whole psalm generally and specifically verses 1-5.
Fifth, do any additional study ideas that you enjoy doing. Make this study your own.
Before any study of Gods word, be sure to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you. Take your time with this study. You can use your own version of the Bible, but all my examples on the following pages are keyed to the King James Version and the New International Version, so it really is preferable to use one of these translations. As you study, dont try to be like me or anyone else. In analyzing scripture there can be a wide range of interpretation. Every time we look at scripture we discover something new, so dont feel you have to match my comments or my method. Do your own thing. If you find you enjoy doing this kind of study of scripture, you may be the kind of individual that will want to make up your own Bible Study.
Heres the 103rd Psalm for your study
How I Analyzed Psalm 103
Please notice my title for this section of the study. I did not title it, "The correct way to analyze Psalm 103." Analysis varies with the individual. There really is no right or wrong way. Obviously you and I will probably agree on many things about this psalm, but each of us will bring our unique interpretation based on what God has revealed to us about his word. It is astonishing to think that men have been writing commentaries on the Bible for over 2000 years, and everything possible has not been written yet!
I will try to explain how I arrived at my conclusions by setting down a few general rules for Bible Study. Whole books have been written on how to study the Bible so were just going to give a brief overview here.
This is usually the first thing you should do: make a simple outline. Notice that I didnt even call it that. My instruction was, "write down the main messages of the psalm." Thats all an outline is. This was my original outline of Psalm 103:
verses 1-5: God takes care of us
verses 6-10: Gods mercy toward us
verses 11-18: Mans insignificance compared to Gods care for us
verses 19-22: God is in control of everything
Nothing fancy here. It doesnt have to be. On the other hand, you can get as detailed as you want to. Later, my outline did get more detailed, but it doesnt have to. An outline is a very personal thing in my opinion. Its simply an aid to help you sort out the material youre studying.
MAKE LIGHT NOTES ON THE WHOLE PSALM (OR THE WHOLE CHAPTER, OR PARAGRAPH, OR BOOK)
I like to make little notes to myself as I read over a portion I am studying. Some things you can look for are:
Favorite verses two of mine are verses 11 and 12.
Reference verses verses in other parts of the Bible that I am reminded of as I read the scripture. Here I was impressed with the New Testament understanding of Gods mercy and I thought of 1 John 1:9.
Key words these are words unique to this portion of scripture. I thought the key words were KJV- "bless" (NIV- "praise") in verses 1, 2, 20, 21, and 22 (twice), and NIV-"love" (KJV- "mercy") in verses 4, 8, 11. Dont get carried away with key words. They need to be genuinely unique to the portion of the Bible which you are studying. For example in Philippians, the key words would be "joy" and "rejoicing" which occur 19 times, a large number of times compared to Pauls other writings. But J. Vernon McGee notes that the words "Jesus" and "Christ" occur 40 times in Philippians so he considers this the main teaching of Philippians and discounts the emphasis on joy. Although his point is well-taken that there is no joy without Jesus, you could apply this same argument to almost all of Pauls writings. In all his other writings he uses the words "Jesus" and "Christ" just as much as in Philippians. So this use in Philippians isnt unique to that book
Problem passages As youre reading through scripture, you may spot problem passages which you know are going to require some research on your part. Psalm 103:5 is one of those areas where you notice the King James Version says, "Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things," but the New International Version words it, "who satisfies your desires with good things." So you know youre going to have to do some work on this one to find out what the true meaning is.
Finding lists Throughout scripture there are all kinds of lists that the Holy Spirit has caused the writers to include for our benefit. They can be very instructive. For example in verses 3-5 there is a list of the 6 main benefits bestowed upon us by God. There are many other benefits either mentioned or alluded to in the psalm. In fact Dake listed no fewer than 30 benefits he thought were mentioned in Psalm 103. By carefully examining the list of 6 main benefits in verses 3-5, you get a real lesson in Gods plan of redemption and care for us.
WHAT DID THE SCRIPTURE TEACH YOU?
Making up your own study is simply this: conveying to others what the psalm has taught you. Of course the best way to do this is by helping your group discover these truths for themselves through study questions, group discussion, and then you sharing your insights. Here are some things I learned from studying these first 5 verses.
Verse 1 I need to spend more quiet time alone with God just blessing him: not asking him for anything, just worshipping him.
Verse 2 I need to spend time counting Gods blessings to me: all his many benefits that he has bestowed upon me.
Verse 3 The most important thing is listed first: forgiveness of my sins. If thats all I ever received from God, it would be enough.
Verse 4 He crowns me with mercy and compassion. He gives me mercy and compassion not as a friend to a friend, or even as a father to a son, but rather as a king at the coronation of the crown prince.
Verse 5 Even when my body is weak, he has promised to renew my strength. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
HOW TO WRITE STUDY QUESTIONS
Generally, Study Questions fall into three categories:
Questions that I have when I first read the scripture This could be almost anything. It certainly would include the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. For Psalm 103 you may ask, who wrote the psalm? (The title says David did, but liberal scholars will debate this point.) You may also ask when and why. Some commentators think David wrote this during a time of illness or time of trouble. Thats a possibility, but maybe there was no special occasion which prompted his writing. You may run across questions in the text. For example, what is verse 4 talking about anyway "who redeems your life from the pit" (KJV "destruction")?
Questions about what the verse means For example in verse 1 what does the phrase mean "all that is within me" (NIV "all my inmost being")? And verse 5, what does it mean to have our youth renewed like the eagles?
Questions about how the verse applies to my life If you want to keep the interest of the group, you need to have a lot of life-application questions. Guess what the largest selling Study Bible is today in America? Its the Life Application Bible. There is a reason for that. People want to study scripture, but they especially want to know how it applies to them. There are all kinds of questions like that in these first five verses. For example, here are two questions from the phrase in verse 2, "forget not all his benefits." Are you sometimes guilty of forgetting Gods benefits? What can you do to help yourself from forgetting all of Gods benefits to you?
Heres a sampling of some of the questions that I used in our study of Psalm 103.
General questions these first questions were done at the beginning of the study as an overview.
Specific questions from verses 1-2 and 3-5 These questions get much more detailed
Its important to realize that the more you study the Bible and the more practice you get making up Study Questions, the easier it will be. Remember, if you have a question about something, probably others in the group do too. If you have learned something from your personal study, then others will be just as excited as you are to discover the same lesson themselves. And you can help them by your questions. Dont be afraid to insert teaching from your own study. Not only will it benefit your Home Study Fellowship, but as you learn from Gods word, you will also grow in his grace. One final note: you are not doing this alone. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be there to guide you in all truth. The more time you spend in personal study, the more you will sense that God is right there with you, and you will feel Gods complete presence. You will not only be spending time in Gods word; you will also be spending time with God: with the Father, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit.
This 31 page Training Manual for the Bible Study Group Leader © 1996 by David Humpal. All Rights Reserved.