Study Questions

Those of us who preach weekly have little need for discussion questions, but many of us also teach in Sunday School or other venues, or lead small groups.

Prior to assuming the responsibilities of Senior Pastor here at Faith, I spent nearly 23 years working primarily with adults and doing a lot of small group leading and classroom teaching. While I prefer to develop my own discussion questions (in fact, after this post I'm going to write the questions that our small groups will use this week, based on the text on which I preached this morning), I find that there are some very good resources that can help you if you get stuck.

Search the Scriptures (Revised) - originally edited by Alan M. Stibbs, this book from InterVarsity Press takes you through the entire Bible in three years. Most of the questions are content-oriented, but each day closes with an application question. Highly recommended.

Serendipity Bible - Zondervan publishes this massive NIV translation with discussion questions in the margin. The questions tend to emphasize more application than content, but if you are developing a discussion, they can trigger some ideas that can be of help if you get stuck. Recommended.

Life-Change Bible Study Guides - NavPress has a full selection of studies that are inductive in nature. They foster good study skills and provide a good balance of content and application. We've used these guides with our adult program, and generally they have been received well. Recommended.

There are a ton of discussion resources available (that may in fact be literally true). If you are leading small groups, you can find both topical and book-related study guides available through such retailers as CBD.

But have you considered writing your own? As I said earlier, our groups study the same text that I preach on the previous Sunday. There are pros and cons to this, of course. Some may feel that they are getting warmed-over sermon, for example. But since I'm writing the questions and can easily recall what I said, I can make sure that what we do in our small groups does not inappropriately overlap what I said on Sunday. In other words, I don't want our people to be discussing the sermon - I want them to discuss the text on which the sermon was based.

There are a couple of guidelines that I try to use in developing questions for small group discussion:
  1. I want to lead the group into an inductive study of the text - we want to see what the text means.
  2. I try as much as possible not to focus on controversial areas. In fact, I often put a note to the leader in the questions about this very thing. I am Reformed in my orientation, but I have people in my church who are not. I don't want a discussion of election to occupy a small group for several reasons: first, there is usually more heat than light; second, when opposing and strongly-held or emotionally-charged opinions are shared in a debating style, it makes it hard for everyone to experience true Kumbaya (HA!). Seriously, having members of a small group suplexing each other off of the end tables is generally a good thing to avoid. I have no problem talking about areas of potential controversy in my sermon. But a small group is not the place for debate.
  3. Work the questions so that the application to the original readers is discovered. That prevents us from making misapplication. While circumstances differ because of time and culture, we still want any practical application to be drawn from the applicational intent of the author.
  4. Make sure that you ask questions that allow the group members to relate the meaning of the passage to their lives. This is where I probably overlap my sermon, but that's ok.
  5. Point to Christ. If we preach redemptively, we need to discuss redemptively. There is no reason why the Fallen Condition Focus idea that Bryan Chapell writes about in Christ-Centered Preaching.

I personally think that it is highly beneficial for pastors to lead small groups. There are ways around the "I want to be in my pastor's group" celebrity cult response. Telling people that you don't bathe after Sunday helps, for example. Maybe I'll post about that at some point (pastors leading, not our sanitary habits), but I have found that my small group experience is a vital part of my ministry and my Christian walk.

I hope you had a great Lord's Day. The service went well, I had a decent nap, the Phillies won, it's a nice spring afternoon. But most of all it's a privilege to serve Christ! Amen??


Milton Stanley said...

Good stuff, Peter. Thanks for sharing the resources. Peace

John said...

Thank you!! This is exactly what I need!

John said...

Excellent Peter, its good to have a library of BS. It is a privilege to serve Christ! Halelujah!


PS. Who are the Phillies, is that cheese or something? :)

Peter Bogert said...

Alas, John, the Phillies are playing like cheese.

John said...

I am Reformed in my orientation, but I have people in my church who are not. I don't want a discussion of election to occupy a small group for several reasons: first, there is usually more heat than light; second, when opposing and strongly-held or emotionally-charged opinions are shared in a debating style, it makes it hard for everyone to experience true Kumbaya (HA!).

I'm in a denominational church with a fixed position on major theological subjects. What is the theological dynamic in a non-denominational church, such as yours?

Peter Bogert said...

Can you rephrase that question, John?

John said...

Pardon my verbal clumsiness.

What I mean is, how strict are theological standards in a non-denominational church? We have a good hundred pages in our Book of Discipline on the subject. It's the official stand, although few members of the laity have much interest in the theological minutia.

An average layman, and possibly even a Sunday school teacher could openly espouse Reformed soteriology or decry infant baptism, but a pastor would get yanked out of the pulpit by the District Superintendent.

So my poorly phrased question asks about the theological homogeneity of denominational vs. non-denominational churches.

Peter Bogert said...

Good question, John. The easiest way I can explain this is that independent churches like ours tend to have a broad, generic statement of doctrine on essentials. This would be required for membership, for example. Many independent baptistic type churches like ours also tend to lean toward a dispensational, baptistic and non-charismatic position. This may or may not be included in the official doctrinal statement. It seems that some of this is a matter of heritage.

Our policy is to ask people who join to assent to basic evangelical doctrine. We identify for our people the various positions on what I call "the major minors."

We're working on something over the next few months that will impose certain doctrinal standards on staff, missionaries we support, and those who teach/preach.

Interestingly, there is generally no official statement for or against Reformed soteriology in most of the statements of churches like ours. I made my views clear when I candidated here, and while each Elder would not agree with my views on soteriology,, they accept them and accept the fact that I am going to teach from that perspective in dealing with relevant texts.

It would be important in an independent church setting that, if the Elders accept the theological perspectives of the Pastor, that pastoral staff and other teachers not counter those views.

The fact that this is somewhat loosy-goosy is why we want to be a bit more specific in terms of our own expectations and practices.