Leading Dynamic Discussions:
How to Keep Your Group on the Edge of Their Seats 5
Four Types of Questions
Most of the time, you’ll get your questions from your study guide unless you’re writing your own. A good study guide has four types of questions. If yours doesn’t, you’ll need to add or adapt. As you’re evaluating study guides or developing your lesson plan, remember these global caveats. They will stop a discussion dead in its tracks.
- Avoid questions with one-word answers.
- Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or no.
- Avoid questions that have already been taught either in the text or in the lecture.
Icebreaker – Focusing
In many study guides, the first question or two in a chapter are known as Icebreakers. These serve two purposes.
First, they focus the participant’s thinking toward the topic and create a need for the lesson in the mind of the reader. It draws their attention away from the hundred other distractions they face and to the topic at hand in a casual, non-threatening way. And it gives them a present-day, real-life reason to continue the study. it gets people used to hearing their own voices and the voices of others in this setting today.
Second, it’s useful to you as the leader, especially when your group is new. An icebreaker question helps draw your group’s attention to the lesson. If the group is still a bit uncomfortable with one another, it gives you a non-threatening question to ask that has no right or wrong answer.
Because of this, look for study guides with icebreakers that are related to the lesson, but that are not too personal or probing, especially early in the life of the group. Good icebreakers can be answered in various ways, from flippantly to seriously. They allow a lot of room for personal interpretation. And the responses can give you as the leader a lot of insight into the hearts and minds of your group members.
After your group has jelled, you may decide to ignore the icebreaker during your discussion and jump right into the heart of the study. That’s fine. The icebreaker already served its purpose when the members did their homework. However, even in a cohesive group, don’t ignore the need to focus on the subject of the day.
Here’s an example of an icebreaker from my study, Kingdom Now: Pursuing Unity in the Body of Christ to Change the World.
“How do you know when someone really loves you?”
One person, rolling her eyes romantically, may say, “When he brings me flowers!”
Another may smile and say, “When she scratches my back.”
Still another, a more serious member, may say, “Joe showed me his love when he gave up watching the game to install my new garbage disposal.”
And your super-spiritual member will go right to the theology and quote 1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Regardless of the answer, the icebreaker has directed everyone’s attention to love and specific ways to identify it.
Observation – What does it say?
The Observation question simply asks, “What does the text say?” It usually has a single right answer that is clear from the passage. Observation questions are the stuff of which most Bible study guides are made. Over 90 percent of the questions in many published studies are observation questions. Here’s the problem. They’ll bore your group to mutiny unless they’re carefully and cleverly written.
Look for study guides that ask observation questions without always saying, “What does verse 14 say?” Ugh! Such questions insult the intelligence of your group.
A study needs observation questions because they direct the participant’s attention to the Bible text and move the study in a definite direction. They clarify what the passage says and what it doesn’t say. But like white bread, they get boring if that’s all there is.
So look for a study that uses observation questions sparingly (no more than one-third of most lessons) and words them creatively. Here’s a well-written observation question: “Read Matthew 22:34-40, Deuteronomy 6:5, and Leviticus 19:18. Summarize the two greatest commandments.”
Note there is one right answer that is clear from the three texts. But it’s vastly superior to, “What do Matthew 22:34-40, Deuteronomy 6:5, and Leviticus 19:18 say?” That’s boring and insulting to the intelligence of the reader.
Here’s another good observation question: “On the night before He was to suffer and die on the cross, Jesus explained and clarified the second of these commandments. Read John 13:34. How does this new commandment differ from the old commandment?”
Again, this calls the reader to observe, and then make a comparison between two knowns. There is a right answer. Readers are smart enough to find it. And this observation question leads naturally to the next kind of question.
Interpretation – What does it mean?
The interpretation question asks, “What does the text mean?” Although each passage has only one meaning, that meaning is not necessarily obvious from the text. Interpretation questions may require some additional digging. You may need to understand the passage within the context of the book or the whole of Scripture. You may need to do a word study on a specific Greek or Hebrew expression. You may need to use a Bible dictionary or other resources to understand the cultural setting. Or you may need to synthesize the answers from two or three preceding observation questions to draw the true meaning from the text.
Interpretation questions often ask “how?” “why?” or “what do you think?” Observation questions, by contrast, usually ask, “what?” or “when?” Interpretation questions add a bit of meat to that white bread. They should make up about one-third of the study.
Here’s an example of an interpretation question: “How does fulfilling this new commandment fulfill the first and greatest commandment?”
Although the answer is pretty easy, it does take some understanding to bridge the gap between the two. And the text doesn’t give the answer.
Here’s a follow-up Interpretive question: “With this new command, was Jesus raising or lowering the standard for believers? Explain.” This is a “what do you think?” type of question. It stretches the reader by requiring an explanation.
Interpretation questions are the meat of a good Bible study. They draw you into the text in new, creative ways. They make you think. And they’re the bridge between observation and application.
Application – Who cares?
The Application question asks, “Who cares?” or “What I must do about it?” The answer may be implied from the text, but it requires the participant to get personal.
Application questions are, in my mind, the key to a good Bible study. And they’re usually the weakest element of most studies. Too many Bible study guides spend 95 percent of their time on observation and interpretation, leaving only the last question or two for “Putting it to Work” or “Summing Up.” The problem is, most groups don’t get to the last question, leaving the members with a boring, meaningless, academic study
Such studies don’t bear fruit; they don’t result in changed lives. I prefer to see application woven throughout the study. Look for studies that ask a couple of observation questions, a couple of interpretation questions, and then a couple of penetrating application questions.
In effect, such a study says, “Here’s what the Bible says, this is what it means, and here is how I will apply that lesson to my life.”
Don’t be afraid of application questions that get personal. Many studies list such questions as “personal” and warn the leader not to ask them in the group setting. That approach short-changes your group. People today are looking for meaning in life, so go ahead and ask the tough questions. Go ahead and probe a bit after your group has developed some trust. Go ahead and follow up on trite answers. Gently and lovingly prod your group members to growth-oriented application and accountability.
Here is an example of some good application questions: “What are some practical ways you can show love to one another? Which of these is easy for you? Which involve sacrifices? What are some obstacles you find in loving others?”
These questions are direct. They’re personal. They ask for a commitment. They probe feelings, motivations, and obstacles. They’re pretty tough to ignore. And they result in people looking deeply enough to allow the Holy Spirit to call them to repentance and change.
The reason I began writing Bible studies was to make them meaningful to people. The reason I continue is because I’ve seen the lives that have been changed when people get serious about applying the Word of God to the common, everyday parts of their lives. If your study guide is short on application, you may as well stay home and watch TV. If you follow these guidelines, you will find that your groups become known for their dynamic discussions. These will lead to growth and will keep people coming back for more.