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Leading a Small Group Bible Study: How to Prepare a Lesson

Back in my single days I taught a single adult Bible study class made up of men and women of all ages that enjoyed digging into and discussing Scripture with me every week. I learned a lot about leading a small group Bible study and shared some of what I learned via a blog I created dedicated to the subject. This post is a refresh of a post that appeared on that blog.

The primary task of a small group leader is to prepare a lesson that will communicate God’s Word effectively and in a way that participants find relevant to their lives. Depending on the type of small group, this can be a daunting task.

Many small groups choose to go through a book or Bible study workbook, but I was one of those that wanted to prepare my lessons from scratch. When I first started teaching, I had no idea what to do or where to start in lesson preparation, but after a year or two I’d created a system that worked for me.

Every teacher has their own way to prepare for a lesson, but here’s some basics from my experience:

  1. Pray for the Holy Spirit to teach you as you study. Ask Him to show you what He wants this particular group of people (your small group) to study at this particular time. Continue to pray as you study and thank Him for every revelation.
  2. Read the passage through several times. For this initial reading, use a translation like the NIV or NASB.
  3. Create who/what/where/when/how/why questions out of the passage.  Answer them if you can.  If not, look for the answer.  A Bible dictionary may be helpful at this point, such as the Holman Bible Dictionary or one of these. Just don’t use commentaries yet. You may not be able to answer every question at this point.
  4. Read the passage in several other translations. The translations I usually read were the NIV, NASB, NKJV, HCSB, Amplified Bible, and The Message. Create and answer more questions.
  5. Make note of any particular verse/phrase/thought that stands out to you.
  6. Use the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge to find related passages. Make notes on how they enlarge your understanding of the target passage, especially as related to the main point of the passage that stands out to you.
  7. By this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what you’ll be focusing on in your lesson. You should be able to describe the point of your lesson with one word, or at the most a short phrase. If you can’t, then your focus is too broad. You should also have a basic outline of the points that you’ll cover. If not, repeat steps 1-6.
  8. Do a word study of key words in the passage using Strong’s Concordance.
  9. Read at least one good commentary on the passage.  It’s important to do this step later rather than sooner so that they do not shape your understanding of the passage.  Rather, commentaries should enhance the conclusions that you’ve already drawn or give you information that you may not be able to find any other way, such as cultural or historical information.  You may have some of your answers from steps 3 and 4 answered in commentaries.  Or you may find something new.  If used correctly, commentaries can serve as a small group of sorts, as if you’re sitting down with the authors and discussing the passage.

If you’re thinking that going through all nine steps will take hours, then you’re right. It will. I used to split up the work over four or five lunch hours during the week. That meant that I ate at my desk and didn’t get to have many lunches out, but I took my role as teacher seriously.

The reality of being a Bible study teacher is that you’re going to have to spend hours alone seeking God and doing the work. But participating in God’s activity is worth that small sacrifice.

Do you have any helpful tips for preparing a lesson?  Share your tips in the comments!  You may be helping someone more than you know.

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