Pizza, pudding, and Personal Study Guides

Maybe you can identify with the following scenario. You take your family to an all-you-can-eat buffet. It has almost endless possibilities and combinations of delicious food you can choose from. Will you start with the fried chicken, the fish, or go straight to the person who is carving prime rib or ham? Will you partake of international foods, a variety of garden vegetables, and choices from four different kinds of salads? And then there is the fresh-baked bread choices. Mmm.

I’ve taken my family to restaurants like this in the past, and when my sons were younger, even with all of the outstanding and varied choices of food to pick from, they went straight for the pizza and pudding. Not once, not twice, but until they had stuffed themselves. They did this in spite of our pleas to “put something green on your plate.” Perhaps you can identify with me in this. Rather than eating a balanced meal, we overindulge in something that is good, but perhaps not nutritionally the best choice for us. Let’s apply this to Bible study groups.

When group leaders are left on their own to select what their groups will study next, some, not all, run to their favorite topic or book of the Bible, just like my sons ran to their favorite foods on the buffet. Although choices are almost endless on a buffet, we tend to stick with what we like. That’s how a pile of pizza and pudding happens. The same thing tends to happen when group leaders self-select the topic of study. They stick to what they like.

That may be alright to do that at a restaurant, but it’s not a great choice for Bible study groups. Here’s why using an ongoing curriculum is a good option for group leaders and the members of their groups:

  1. Balance. A Christian publisher like the one I work for spends enormous time and energy developing study plans that balance all genres of Scripture into their ongoing studies. Not only that, but there is balance between Old and New Testament studies as well. A balanced diet of Scripture is much healthier for individuals than an imbalanced one! I recently attended a group as a guest only to find out they were two years into a study of the book of Revelation! While I enjoy the challenge of interpreting prophetic books, that’s a bit much. The group was “eating a lot of prophecy,” but they weren’t in the gospels, books of history, poetry, wisdom, or the epistles.
  2. Freedom. One of the biggest decisions that group leaders face is, “What do we study next?” I visited another group just last year and heard the group leader ask his people what they wanted to study. All he got were blank stares and no input. He quickly found out that although he was exhausted coming up with the next study, it fell to him yet once again, and he didn’t know what to do. In a survey by Lifeway Christian Resources, group leaders told us that selecting the next study was the hardest thing they had to do, and they wanted much more staff direction and input than they were getting. When a group finally chooses (or is guided to use) an ongoing curriculum series, the decision about “what’s next?” is already decided, freeing up the group leader to focus on his or her preparation, and ministry to group members.
  3. Self-feeding. In Dr. Brad Waggoner’s book The Shape of Faith to Come, a survey revealed that the most important factor in whether or not a believer grew as a disciple from one year to the next was whether or not they read God’s Word daily. People don’t need to come to a group to listen to a teacher – that can develop a co-dependent relationship; what they need is a teacher who will provide them with a tool they can study between Sundays (which is increasingly important in our church culture where attendance is now extremely non-linear). A Personal Study Guide like the ones my company produces allow people to read their own Bibles, study and mark up their own personal study guides, and discover the joy of self-feeding on God’s Word between the times they attend a meeting of their group.

If your Bible study group isn’t using an ongoing curriculum series, I want to invite you to check out the wonderful options that Lifeway produces. Click here to a landing page that has details and samples of several great choices for ongoing groups!

The next time you go to a buffet to eat, make sure you have a balanced selection. As your Bible study group feeds on God’s Word, make sure that you are providing balance and healthy options. Pizza and pudding is great, but not all the time!


  1. I couldn’t agree with you more about the value of curriculum use. I’ve been leading adult Bible study groups for over 30 years. I’ve always relied on the curriculum. Balance, giving trusted and valuable resources to each participant, having a leaders guide that challenges be while saving time, and having someone else pick “what’s next” are some of the compelling reasons. Thanks for your regular posts.

  2. Ken, Would love to read some recent study/research regarding group leaders and group ministry. Where might I find recent studies?

    • Lawrence, Lifeway Research put out a book about 18 months ago titled Together: The Power of Groups. I’ll send you a digital copy.

  3. I am a huge proponent of on-going curriculum. The balance that Lifeway provides in each of the curriculum lines is amazing. As a teacher, this is an amazing help! Thank you Lifeway for providing excellent on-going curriculum!

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