“Reverse engineer” sermon-based small groups for more effective Bible study

Some churches have adopted the practice of using what is known as sermon-based small groups as the  education model for their  Sunday School or home group studies.  The pastor creates a series of questions that relate to his sermon, and they are sent to facilitators to use during a small-group Bible study experience.

Well-intentioned pastors adopt this model without thinking about the implications for the long-term spiritual health  of their small group members.  The scope and sequence of learning is completely dependent upon the pastor’s preaching series, not a well-defined menu of studies that have a plan for delivering God’s Word in a systematic, balanced, age-appropriate way.   Is there a better plan for pastors that still allows them to “lean into” a small-group Bible study through their sermon?  The answer is “yes.”

Rather than beginning with the pastor’s sermon, “reverse engineer” the process and start with a Bible study curriculum like ETB (LifeWay’s Explore The Bible series) that has a long-term scope and sequence for delivering excellent Bible studies in way that encompasses the entire Bible, alternates between Old and New Testament studies each quarter, and is done one Bible book at a time.

A pastor can download the scope and sequence for ETB (follow this link to the  ETB study plan 2010-2011 ) and then base his sermons on that scope and sequence.  He can provide learner books and teacher resources from LifeWay that will equip teachers and help adult learners have meaningful conversations and encounters with both the lesson and the sermon…they dovetail together and compliment one another.  Now he will have the best of both worlds…a sermon that is based on focal passages in a systematic study plan that has a well-defined scope and sequence for years to come.  Adult members will have learner guides to aid their personal study and preparation, teachers will have resources to help them lead learners through life-stage and age-appropriate learning activities, and the pastor can speak into the Bible study lesson.

Now, I know that you may be thinking, “This limits the pastor – he has so stick with the study plan in the curriculum to make this work,” but in reality it’s not limiting…it’s liberating.  A busy pastor can quickly look ahead years into the future and see exactly where the curriculum scope and sequence is taking his learners.  He can use that scope and sequence to develop Holy Spirit-inspired sermons that tie to the small-group Bible study, and he can even develop sermon series that tie to unit themes in the curriculum!  His creative abilities can now be used to develop sermons of impact, rather than trying to think about what he’ll preach next.  In the end, everyone wins.  Consider doing some “reverse engineering” if you are using the sermon-based small group model…as the Apostle Paul once said, let me show you “a more excellent way.”

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