August 23, 2020

You are a Bible Teacher: The Role of a Bible Study Leader

Tim Nicholls

8 Minute Read
The Role of a Bible Study Leader

We’ve all been there… you’re sitting in your small group Bible Study on a Friday night. One by one, the leader goes around the circle asking each person to share their opinions. One person says, “I think God is saying this…”. Then another says, “Well I think God is saying this…”. And then a third says, “Well I like to think of it in this way”. And on goes the Bible study, with each person sharing their opinions until finally at the end of an hour, the leader interjects, “Well that was a good discussion. I think we should close in prayer”.

As you drive home, you realize that you are more confused about God’s word, than before you came. You heard lots of opinions, but there was no conclusion. You’re no closer to understanding the right way to read and apply the passage than you were. In fact, you begin to wonder if there is a ‘right’ interpretation at all. And given you’re so unsure of the passages’ meaning, how to apply the passage seems cloudy too. You wonder whether you should have come?

Such ‘Bible studies’ reflect a number of worrying trends in churches.

  1. The Bible Study leader sees themselves as a facilitator, not a teacher.
  2. Bible interpretation is thought to be about expressing subjective experience rather than understanding objective truth.
  3. An inclusive discussing of viewpoints is valued above understanding the original author’s intended meaning (and thus the way God intends the passage to be understood).
  4. Rapid multiplication of groups is prioritized over the training of faithful Bible teachers.

It is important that the Bible Study leader is clear on their role. If we want Bible study groups to be conducted in a way that is faithful to the Scriptures, edifying to the members, and glorifying to the Lord, it is crucial that their leaders see themselves as Bible Teachers and not just facilitators.

1. Have the Right Goal

The main difference between a bible teacher and a facilitator is their goal. As bible teachers, our goal is not simply to have a good discussion or to help people share their opinions, but to understand what God is actually saying. We want to ensure our members come to a faithful understanding of the Bible and its application to their lives. Without this clear goal, a Bible study will quickly become either a free-for-all with no point,or worse, veer into heresy. Either way, confusion about the leader’s goal will have a devastating effect on the maturity and spiritual health of the members in the long term.

Of course, leading a Bible study always involves some degree of facilitation. Participation and discussion are to be actively encouraged and we should not break into long monologues just to make sure all the answers are correct. There is an important place for sermons within our Sunday gatherings. But in a Bible study our goal is to ask the right questions and guide the discussion, so that members come to the right conclusion themselves. Members should be free to explore, ask questions and suggest possibilities. But in all this, the leader must ensure that the discussion is headed somewhere, to a faithful understanding and application of the passage.

2. Make the Meaning Clear

As we lead a Bible study, it’s important to recognise that there are right answers and wrong answers, and better answers and worse answers. The answer that is right and best, is the answer that makes best sense of the details of the passage in its context.

Carefully reading the contents of the passage involves looking for repeated words and themes, linking words, and the structure or flow of the passage, until we are clear on its meaning. It’s always important to keep in mind the author’s intent. Bible writers are addressing real people in specific situations. Each passage is included for a specific purpose, so that the readers will make a specific response. This purpose often becomes clear as we consider the context of the passage. What happens before or after? How it is linked to the rest of the book? How does it fit in the Bible’s overall plan and message?

Thus, good leaders will keep pointing their members back to the Bible, asking questions like:

  • “Which verse did you get that from?”
  • “How does that fit with the preceding verses?”
  • “How does that fit with the author’s intention?”

What should you do when someone’s answer is clearly wrong? Saying “you’re wrong” is probably not the best approach! (they probably won’t speak again for the rest of the study). One of the above questions is often a good starting point to continue the discussion. Otherwise, simply asking, “What do other people think?” can help others in the group to interact with what has been said and hopefully make progress towards the correct answer. In the case where the group still does not reach the correct answer, it’s important that the leader shares what they think the passage means and why.

3. Summarize your conclusions

Another common mistake is to fail to draw the teaching together to a coherent conclusion at the end of the study. The exegesis of each individual verse may have been faithful enough, but we must ensure that members do not lose the forest for the trees.

It is crucial that people go away from the study:

  1. Knowing the central point and supporting truths
  2. Understanding the implications for their lives
  3. Praying about these things

You might get a group member to summarise, or you may summarise yourself. It doesn’t particularly matter. But summarising at the end helps to wind things up and give closure, clarity and a sense of accomplishment. If every question has not been resolved during the study, we do not need to steamroll people at this point, giving them all the answers. We can encourage people to keep thinking more about it during the week. But not everything should be left undone. The main point and application should be summarised clearly.

4. Prepare diligently

If we are Bible teachers, it almost goes without saying that preparation is essential. If we are to lead our members to a faithful understanding and application of the passage, it is crucial that we know what that right understanding is. Otherwise, it will be a case of “the blind leading the blind”. Paul writes to Timothy:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth”

~ 2 Timothy 2:15

“Doing our best” requires diligence, effort and perseverance. Preparation for a Bible study must not be left to the few hours before the group meets. We should be reading and thinking about the passage throughout the week, consulting commentaries, books, or other resources as necessary to give us further insight into the text.

We should also take our own long-term spiritual growth seriously, making the most of opportunities to receive training and feedback. As leaders we have a serious responsibility. Either we will lead our members towards salvation and spiritual maturity or away from it.That is why Paul commands Timothy to practice and immerse himself in understanding and teaching the Scriptures, and to keep watch that his life and teaching aligns with Scripture.

Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

~ 1 Timothy 4:15-16

Our progress and growth as leaders should be evident to others. As Bible teachers, we must not only lead our members, but be committed to leading ourselves. As we continue to grow in our own knowledge and love of Christ, not only will we better equipped to teach, but be a godly model to our group members.

If you’re not sure where to find further training, talk to your Pastor, or check out some of the training organisations suggested on the resource page.

5. Recruit appropriately

As Bible study leaders, we have an important role in training up the next generation of leaders who will lead and teach others (2 Timothy 2:2). If we see Bible study leaders only as facilitators, we will not hesitate to allow anyone who is willing to lead studies. But if we recognize that leaders are bible teachers, then we will apply the Bible’s criteria to recruit suitable people.

Passages such as 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, make it clear that convictions and character are far more important than competency. Leaders of God’s people need to be godly people who “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9). So, don’t be too fast to appoint someone to lead a group, just because they are eager. Train and recruit leaders who are godly and really know the Scriptures.

Conclusion

As bible study leaders, we must be clear on our goal: not simply to generate discussion, but to lead our members into a deeper understanding and application of God’s word. If we are not clear on our goal, there is a danger that our group members will be confused, discouraged, or worse, misled. Let us strive to be faithful workers, who correctly handle God’s word, and shepherd Christ’s flock.

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Originally from Australia, Tim came to know Christ as a child, before maturing in his faith during his university years. Tim now lives in Malaysia and serves as the Ministry Director of Equip Gospel Ministries and as a Pastor at St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral, KL. Tim is married to Siew Mun and they have three children. Tim loves Malaysian food, the hot tropical weather, and is learning to speak BM and Mandarin! But most of all he loves Jesus, and is passionate about seeing people from all nations and all stages of life come to know Christ as their Lord and Saviour and joyfully live for his glory.

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