Essential Practices for the Small Group Leader #3: Systematic Preparation

If you are going to teach the Bible to people, you must prepare.

“Wow,” you’re probably thinking, “he wasted bandwidth just to say that? Thank you Captain Obvious!”

Okay, I admit that is not the most original thought I’ve ever shared. But I say it because I’m convinced that many small group Bible studies flounder because the leader did not give adequate time and effort into preparing to teach. I’ve actually had Sunday School teachers brag to me that they waited until late Saturday night to do all of their preparation. I suppose they thought I’d be impressed.

Not so much.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men . . .” Colossians 3:23

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

I believe God expects us to do our best in ALL areas of our life, but particularly when it comes to kingdom matters. Every person who has the privilege and responsibility of teaching others the Bible should take that task seriously. Consistent, systematic preparation is a must!

I will admit that everyone has their own methods of preparation and that some folks can get a lot done in a short amount of time. Fair enough. But as a Christian educator with 28 years experience, let me share some ideas about systematic preparation that have helped me:

1. Start early
If you teach once per week, I recommend that you begin your preparation for your next lesson the same day you teach your current lesson. In other words, if you teach on Sunday morning, begin to prepare for next week on Sunday night.

2. Begin with the scripture
You may have numerous resources and a book or lesson guide to follow. Those are tremendous helps, but ultimately the Bible is our textbook. I suggest you begin by reading the passage you plan to cover multiple times. If you have more than one Bible translation, use them. Allow the passage to speak to you before you worry about how to present it to others.

3. Keep the passage in context
It’s always a good idea to read at least the chapter before and the chapter following to keep the passage in context. Ask the questions – who is speaking? who is the audience? what is the situation? what truths and principles might be gleaned for application? Here is where your teaching guide, Bible dictionary and commentaries may come in handy.

4. Anticipate the “So what?” question
The people in your small group need to discover how the Bible impacts them personally. That’s where we have to take them from the historical context of the scripture passage to how the text speaks today – the point of personal application. The Bible is always relevant – our job is to help people see how it is relevant to them personally.

5. Develop a lesson plan
Your teaching materials may provide a suggested plan for you to follow. However, you may need to customize the plan based on a number of factors – time available, the life situations of your class members, and certainly, the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I think of the lesson plan as similar to a flight plan for an airplane. You have to take off (introduction), fly from point A to point B (the body of the lesson), and finally bring her in for a landing (application and conclusion). Unfortunately, without good preparation it is all too easy to run out of time while the plane is circling the field, looking for a place to land!

6. Prepare with purpose
As the group leader, you should hopefully know the people in your class well enough to develop meaningful points of application. In fact, it is probably best to work toward only ONE point of application for each lesson (even though the scripture passage may lend itself to multiple points of application). Christian growth is a life-long process. Rather than try to force too much into a limited amount of time, it’s better to give the group one solid “nugget” they can take with them. Be sure the point of application is something concrete the group can do, not just an abstract theory.

7. Assemble your resources
Perhaps I should have put this as point number one. Every teacher needs resources to help them prepare Bible lessons. Today, many of these resources are available on-line for free. Personally, I like having the books before me, but that is a personal choice.

Suggested resources for Bible study leaders

Your Bible: This is a very personal choice. Stick with the translation with which you are most comfortable. Study Bibles are nice but certainly not required. I use the NIV and ESV but there are several good translations available.
Your teaching curriculum: The materials your church provides for small group studies. These are very helpful in organizing your teaching for the long term.
A Bible dictionary: Helpful for looking up names and terms found in scripture.- A Concordance: This allows you to find verses by key words.
www.biblegateway.com This is one of the most comprehensive and helpful Bible tool sites on the web. It offers multiple translations and is very user-friendly.
Bible Commentaries: A brief word about commentaries – there are MANY selections available that fall all over the theological spectrum. Some are good, some aren’t worth the paper on which they’re printed. I tend to buy commentaries by author rather than series. (Note: Commentaries can be expensive!). However, two series that I can recommend are The New American Commentary series published by Broadman and The NIV Application Commentary series by Zondervan. Both series provide a good balance of scholarly research with practical application. I would not worry about investing in commentaries unless you feel that your other resources are not adequate.

Ultimately, it is not so important that you follow my specific methods or use my suggested resources. What matters is that you do take your preparation seriously, whether it takes you two hours or twenty. It will make a difference in your teaching and your group will thank you for it!

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