I am lousy with math. I have trouble counting along with Big Bird. My extended family assumes that is why I married an accountant. I avoid numbers. Consequently, high school algebra frustrated me. I just wanted to know if my answer was right, but instead, the teacher would ask, “So, Lynn, why do you think that answer is right?” Sigh. I would have to reason through the steps to justify my answer.
In the process I learned something.
What my teacher did was nothing new. Socrates, one seriously old Greek philosopher, was known for teaching by asking questions. We often think the quickest way to learn is to read a book or sit through a lecture, but Socrates would ask his pupils questions. The questions forced them to think critically and come up with their own insights.
What Socrates did with his students is a great approach we should take with those who sit in our Bible study groups. Teach by asking.
Asking a good question that doesn’t have a readily obvious answer requires group members to think. And when they think, they process and internalize the truth of Scripture. Let’s admit it: we’ve all set through a Bible study lecture that we heard but didn’t really think about. Questions will challenge your group to think … and get them talking about what they’re thinking.
Consider these questions from a recent study of Hebrews 11:1-16 in Bible Studies for Life
- How would you describe faith?
- What are some things that have helped your faith grow?
- When have you been encouraged by someone else’s faith?
- What are some practices that strengthen your faith?
- What are some promises of God you hold tight to?
Note some traits of these questions:
- They don’t call for a single right answer. Questions with only one correct answer will feel like a school test question.
- They don’t have an obvious answer. Group members may need to ponder it for a moment before they answer.
- They don’t call for a short answer. In other words, the questions are designed to spark a conversation.
- They call for a personal response or answer. I love questions that begin “What do you think …?” Even if you ask, “What do you think Paul meant when he said …,” you’re not asking for one right answer; you’re asking what they think.
(You are not seeing these questions in the context of the study, but they are interwoven with the reading and studying of Hebrews 11:1-16.) The group plan in the Leader Guide directs the facilitator in when and how to use these questions.)
Open-ended questions might make some leaders nervous. “Isn’t that dangerous? What happens if their discussion and conclusions move away from biblical teaching?” Your role as the group leader is to keep them tuned to what the Scripture says. Give the group the passage’s context and background as necessary, and guide them to think through the Scripture. But never tell them something they can discover on their own. Which brings me to my last point.
We remember best what we discover on our own. You’ve had this experience. In your own Bible reading, you read a passage that you’ve read and heard preached a dozen times before. But on this particular morning, it’s like you’re reading it for the first time. The light comes on. You have a fresh insight, one that you discovered on your own. Ah, I get it. It’s an “aha” moment, and those are the things we remember best.
When we tell our group what the Bible says or how to apply it, we rob them of their own “aha” moments. On the other hand, a good question makes them think the passage through, and we lead them to create their own “aha” moments.
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