My office phone rang one afternoon. It was Jeff, a church leader I knew in a good-sized church. I can still quote verbatim what he asked. “Hey, Lynn, can you come to my church and train my teachers on how to prepare their study on Saturday night?”
“Jeff, I’m happy to come train your leaders, but do you want me to show them how to prepare on Saturday night or how to prepare a really good Bible study?”
“Well … uh … a good Bible study.”
Anything worth doing is worth doing well. A good painter knows you need to spend more time prepping the room than actually painting. An experienced woodworker knows you get far better results if you spend the time prepping and sharpening your tools. We have the privilege of leading others to encounter God’s Word and encourage life transformation that can have eternal impact, so why would we think preparation is any less important?
But how much time should you set aside to prepare well? If you’re looking for a specific number, sorry. There are a lot of factors that come into play. It takes more time if you’re creating a Bible study from scratch. It depends on what type of resources (and how many) are provided with the curriculum you use. And it takes some of us more time to read and/or comprehend the content.
I’ve done an informal survey with friends and acquaintances who teach, and the average time spent is between 90 minutes and three hours. With the Bible study resources Lifeway provides, we know you lead busy lives. You have a job, you have family responsibilities, you may do other things in your church, you have chores around the house, and you need your sleep! And somewhere in there you need to squeeze in time to prepare your Bible study. Our goal with Bible study curriculum is to provide you good tools to use in preparation, so that you’re not starting from scratch. We want to put just the right things at your fingertips, so that the time you invest in preparation is well spent.
Strive for this: spend the time you need to be familiar with the Bible passage, choosing a handful of questions that will help your group understand, engage with, and apply the passage to their lives. Being familiar with the text does not mean you need to understand every jot and tittle of the biblical text. I try to anticipate any questions someone in my group might ask, but my primary focus is communicating the main point of the study.
You don’t have to be the Bible expert to lead well. I learned this early in my teaching ministry. I was leading a group of young adults through the book of Romans. At one point, one woman asked a question. I paused, then said, “I don’t know the answer.” She responded, “Thank you! So many teachers try to give the appearance they know it all. When you say, ‘I don’t know,’ it actually encourages me to listen and trust when you are teaching.”
Let me offer three tips that will help you make good use of your time.
- Follow the group plan. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Others have put a lot of time and energy in crafting good plans; consequently, when you use their questions, activities, and illustrations, it only makes you a better leader. Don’t react as some do, “But I don’t want to teach the curriculum; I want to teach the Bible!” With curriculum you’re still teaching the Bible, but the curriculum is a tool that helps you do that.
- Go electronic. Lifeway offers curriculum three ways: print, digital files (PDFs), and eBooks. The electronic formats are great, because anytime you’ve got some “dead time”—waiting for a meeting to start, sitting in a long line at school waiting to pick up a child, or sitting in a doctor’s waiting room—you can pull out your phone and read the commentary or review the group plan.
- Listen to podcasts. Each of the ongoing curriculums from Lifeway offers a weekly podcast. During a drive-time commute or workout, you can hear from the curriculum team and hear an overview of the upcoming session. The podcast doesn’t teach the session, but it gives highpoints and generate some ideas on ways to approach the study with your group.
You do not have to give up all your free time to prepare a good study for your group, but you will need to invest some time. Just ensure you’re using your time well, because the time you spend in preparation can have an incredible impact on the kingdom of God.
Lynn Pryor is a publishing team leader at Lifeway and has been involved in creating Bible studies for over 30 years. You can read more from him at lynnhpryor.com.