If you’ve spent even a short amount of time leading or participating in a small group Bible study, then you know the anxiety a bad question can produce. Ask a question that’s too challenging to answer or too off topic, and one of the most unbearably awkward times of silence will descend upon your group and sit there like a lead weight. The leader breaks out into a cold sweat. The participants laugh uncomfortably and refuse to make eye contact with anyone. We’ve all experienced it. And none of us like it.
Such moments remind us of the value of good questions. While you can’t guarantee how a Bible study question will be received until you’re in your group setting, a good framework for your discussion will help put you on the right track. The most common model for Bible study questions is the inductive method, which groups questions into three main categories: (1) Observation questions (“What does the text say?”), (2) Interpretation questions (“What does the text mean?”), and (3) Application questions (“How do I obey the text?”).
- Ask: What does the text say?
You’re leading a Bible study, so we can presume you’re studying the Bible, correct? In that case, observation questions are a great place to start, because they highlight the main idea and important details of the passage or topics from Scripture that you will be discussing. In the book Creative Bible Teaching, authors Lawrence Richards and Gary Bredfeldt say the following about observation questions: “The goal of this stage is simply to identify what the author actually said to the original recipients of the text. Remember, the Bible was written in a historic timeframe to real people… To understand the message of the text, we must understand the world and the events that surround the text then and there so that we do not misapply the text here and now” (Creative Bible Teaching, Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1998, p. 65). Before applying any passage of Scripture to your life, it’s critical that you first understand what you’re reading. Observation questions include things like, “Who is the author or speaker?” or “Who was the audience and why was it written?”
- Ask: What does the text mean?
One of the problems people often run into in Bible study is taking the leap from observation to application without first pausing to evaluate what a passage of Scripture really means. In his book Field Guide for Small Group Leaders, Sam O’Neal describes interpretation questions as questions that “give group members an opportunity to dig below the surface and think about why the Holy Spirit inspired a certain passage to be written—to identify the themes, ideals, principles, and commands it contains. Interpretation questions also provide an opportunity to explore things like textual context, historical context, word definitions, and so on” (p. 107). Examples include “What did the writer mean when he said such and such?” or “What is the main idea?” or “What does this passage reveal about the character of God?”
- Ask: How do I obey the text?
Second Timothy 3:16-17 teaches us that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This means that it’s not a stretch for us to say that, from any given text, we should be able to walk away having learned something about God and something about our relationship with Him. That’s why application questions are so important. “Application questions explore how the text is relevant to my life—and how I can respond to it,” writes O’Neal. “These questions are personal and targeted, which means they often begin with something like ‘How can you …’ or ‘What will we …’ Their goal is to challenge group members to make a commitment or take some kind of action in their regular lives outside of the group” (p. 107).
When you strike a good balance between these three types of questions, then you’ve set yourself and your Bible study group up for successful discussion. But if crafting good questions is as important as we’re led to believe, then it will require time and energy, too—something that a lot of Bible study leaders lack. One tool that can help you get the questions you need quickly is smallgroup.com. The question creation legwork has been done for you. Each study in the tool contains an abundance of observation, interpretation, and application questions to set any group Bible study on the road to success.