3 words every Bible study leader must be willing to say

Words that come in threes can be very powerful. Phrases like “I love you” or “Please forgive me” can change the course of people’s lives. As a Bible study group leader, there is a set of 3 words that I must be comfortable saying to my group members. The three little words can change the culture of my group in a heartbeat. They free me as a group leader, and they liberate the members of my group. What are those powerful 3 words?

“I – don’t – know.”

The words “I don’t know” can change your ministry as a group leader faster than just about anything else. For the past 8 years I’ve been a Bible study group leader – I’ve lead a group of empty nest adults at two churches to explore Scripture, talk about how it intersects our lives, and how we can allow God’s Word to transform our hearts, attitudes, and actions. I’ve learned to say “I don’t know” when someone asks me a question during the Bible study. The 3 little words changed me and my group, and they’ll change you and your group, too, for the following reasons:

1.  You no longer have to be the expert.  If I refuse to say “I don’t know” when someone asks a question of me during a Bible study, then I have exalt myself to a place where I have all the answers. I make myself to be the expert guide who has figured out the deep mysteries of God’s Word. I make myself out to be the brilliant teacher whom my group members will never be. But if I am comfortable telling my people, “I don’t know,” then I can step down from my pedestal and sit among my group members as a fellow sojourner, someone who is deeply in love with the Lord and who sometimes struggles to have all the answers my group members need. But that’s OK, because together we can search the Word of God for them, and we can enjoy the journey of transformation together.

2.  You no longer have to lecture. It’s true that lecture can be a valid, effective way to teach.  Jesus used lecture to communicate a message on occasion, but He also used many other methods to teach. Lecture tends to limit the group’s ability to ask questions and challenge things said by the group leader because the flow of information is from the leader to the group members. If you teach your group through the use of discussion, Q&A, reflective questions, and small group discussion (buzz groups), spontaneous, unexpected questions will surface. These other methods besides lecture help group members think deeply and critically about the Word of God and its implications for their lives. When unexpected questions come up and I don’t know the answers as the group leader, I must be willing to say “I don’t know.” It doesn’t mean I’m stupid, and it doesn’t mean I’m not prepared. I just means I don’t have the right information at the moment – that’s all! I love it when I tell my group, “I don’t know how to answer that question – but I’ll find an answer and get back to you next week.”

3.  You no longer have to major on minutia. Saying “I don’t know” means that I don’t have to have the answers to a hundred questions that might be asked during a Bible study. I can focus on what really matters – people! Don’t mishear me on this. I believe we should diligently study God’s Word. I believe we should search the Scriptures and be prepared to lead people in Bible study. But I don’t believe we should spend every waking hour preparing your Bible study. I don’t believe we should be on such an information hunt during our personal time of study that we neglect meeting the needs of the people in our groups in between our group studies. I don’t have to study, study, and study some more in anticipation of every kind of question that might arise – questions that I naturally want to answer so I don’t look like I’m unprepared or even worse, ignorant. Being comfortable saying “I don’t know” means that I can stick to the main focus of my Bible study, become well-versed about it, and help people engage in active learning, sidestepping unexpected questions until I have time to find the right answer. Saying “I don’t know” gives me time (and I give myself permission) to become the shepherd-leader my group needs, not the fact-giving lecturer they tolerate. And people respect the fact that I’m not pretending to know it all.

The next time you teach your group, be ready to genuinely say “I don’t know” when you don’t know, and think about changing the way you prepare and lead your group. Make room for those 3 important words!


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