Bible study doesn’t have to be a monologue. That’s one lesson I’ve learned since I first began teaching the Bible years ago (my first experience as a teacher was leading an 8th grade girls Sunday School class with my wife). In those early days, I talked a lot as the teacher. I thought that I was the star of the group, and that the teenagers had come to hear my deep thoughts on the biblical text. Boy, was I wrong!
Thank goodness that over the years I developed into a better teacher who finally learned a great lesson: It’s better when your group members do the majority of the talking. As a friend of mine once said, “He who talks is the one who learns.” My best Bible study groups have been the ones where I led the people to have a “groupalogue,” a Bible study in which people are encouraged to speak up and share insights and stories. Bible study groups should not resemble pulpits, but should look more like coffee shops. Teachers err when they try to emulate their pastor in the classroom; group Bible study should be interactive, engaging, and full of life and conversation. Leave the monologue for the pastor in his pulpit.
If you are not accustomed to letting your group members talk at least as much as you do, here are 3 reasons why you might want to consider encouraging them to talk, open up, and share their personal stories:
- People change their minds about themselves as they hear other people’s stories – A group of adults who were involved in a study that sought to determine the kind of environment in which adult group members experienced community, vulnerability, and spiritual transformation reported that hearing people’s stories was crucial. “All acknowledged the value they experienced in hearing the life stories of others in the group and the closeness that developed as a result….narrative pedagogy challenges us to share and listen to our own stories and the stories of others and allow God’s story to powerfully shape and reshape the trajectory of our stories. Long-believed autobiographies of failure and shame can instead be newly understood as ones of resilience and God’s providence.” Don’t miss the importance of that last sentence! As people hear each other talk about God’s work in their lives, they realize that others have experienced setbacks and failures just like them. No longer do they perceive themselves as failures. Instead, they begin to understand that God is at work in their lives, and they discover an inner strength and resiliency that provides strength during difficult days as they hear the stories of others (Christian Education Journal, Series 3, Volume 12, No. 2. Fall 2015, p.275).
- People realize their struggles are not unique – As people open up and tell their stories, it becomes apparent that none of us have all the answers. In fact, it becomes apparent that most of us move from one crisis to the next! As one of my pastors was fond of saying, “Very few of us are on calm seas. We are either coming out of a storm or moving into one.” As adults tell their stories and ask questions of one another, they begin to realize that struggles are normal, and that depending on others for support is something that should, and must, take place in the context of Christian community.
- Many people are verbal and auditory learners – These two types of learners actually get energized when they are allowed to talk, and when they have opportunities to listen to people talk. That’s the majority of the people in your group, most likely! Encouraging discussion in your Bible study group helps people connect to the biblical truth and to each other – and that’s a great combo.