This post is the second of a four-part series on three different ways to engage with group members. You can read part one of this series here.
You walk into the room and it happens. You are handed a piece of paper with a story printed on the top half and questions on the bottom half. The story speaks in generalities and stops before there is resolution. The person who handed you the sheet of paper asks you to tell him how you would finish the story, if it was being written about you. He listens intently, asking for clarification on some points. He then zeros in on one statement you made, explaining that today’s Bible story will contain a similar statement and encourages you to listen for it during the course of the discussion.
You have just entered the world of the Investigator. The pattern is simple: share content, ask a set of questions for response, share more content, ask more questions for response. The questions are not “got it” questions (such as, what did Paul say in this passage?) but tend to be more process and probing questions (for example, do you agree with what was done? How do you see this in our world?) The leader shares and asks, while the group members listen and respond. Another way of describing this approach is ask/respond.
The Investigator must be able to identify strategic information and stories that connect to that information. He or she must also be able to craft a question set that moves a person in a specific direction. (For further explanation of using question sets, read my posts on the topic: part 1 and part 2.)
This approach does engage the group in interacting with the content in some way, which is a strength.There is also little to no preparation required for the group members, opening the door for guests to more readily participate. Everyone simply responds to the questions asked based on their experiences and the information shared. Good Investigators maintain control by the content they choose to introduce to the group and by the questions they ask. This keeps the group on task and away from unfruitful discussions.
Like the presenter approach, little is expected of the group member as far as preparation is concerned. Once again, this is a strength and a weakness. The group is open to new people, but commitment to studying beyond the group is minimized. This approach will take more preparation time by the leader than the other two approaches. Creating good questions takes time and lots of effort. Some would characterize the creating of good questions sets as the most difficult of all tasks undertaken by a teacher.
The group members also run the risk of becoming dependent upon the Investigator to ask questions (a basic function required for learning and critical thinking). This approach could be a way to teach others how to develop quality questions, but only if the group and individuals in the group are given the opportunity to lead in an investigation (which rarely happens). Simply watching someone else ask does not mean we will suddenly become an investigator as well. An interrogation-only group also tends to be threatening a new person. They can feel put on the spot in front of the group and forced to share something they didn’t want to share. Trust is a must, which also takes time and usually excludes additional people from being added to the group.
Next, we look at the Experimenter.
G. Dwayne McCrary is the team leader for Adult and Young Adult group resources at Lifeway, leads two weekly Bible study groups (one for empty-nesters and one for 4-year olds), serves as an adjunct professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and carries 20-plus years of church staff experience. He is married to Lisa (both native Texans), and they have two children and one grandson. Find him on Twitter: @gdwayne.