As group leaders we all want the best environment possible. Because of this, we take measures to prepare not only in terms of information and content, but we prepare our hearts, our homes, and our minds. I even review my plan and mentally project how various group members might answer, how the follow up questions might go, and how the discussion might deviate from what I might expect. Most of us probably prepare in similar ways. And afterward I’m probably the world’s worst at mentally replaying how the time went, noting what I could have done differently, assessing how each group member engaged, and giving each group discussion an arbitrary (and undocumented) score. But it all begins with preparation. Here are a few tips for preparing based on my experiences in group life. Even if these are only reminders for you, perhaps some new language will create a context for renewed energy.
1. Prayer. Of course we begin here. Prayer is a spiritual discipline — perhaps the first spiritual discipline — in the life of a Jesus follower. In his letter to the Philippians Paul exhorts us “… in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6) I begin my prayer time with the Lord’s prayer because it recollects the hierarchy Jesus gives us: God’s sovereignty, our worship and adoration, our place in a different kingdom and our call to obedience, our reliance on His revealed Word, forgiveness, the presence of temptation, and a reminder of where power is ultimately found. A well-prepared heart through prayer is crucial to leading an effective, transformational group time. The list could actually stop here.
2. Mental Walk-Thru. I mentioned it above but I really like the idea of a mental walk-thru prior to the actual group. In theatrical arts I think they call it blocking, although that’s not a perfect comparison. The gist is that you gather your script (or list of questions, summaries, commentary, and primary points) and walk-thru them with your group in mind. Unless you are a day one group leader you have at least some knowledge of how different people in the group respond to different prompts. With this knowledge, you can get a feel for how the discussion might go. Make yourself answer each question. Does the question make sense in context? Is it clear? Will it need a follow up explanation? Is there a theological statement that needs to be made here? Taking 20-30 minutes for a mental walk-thru once you’ve put your plan together is a great way to ensure you are as prepared as possible for creating the right group experience.
3. Set the Stage. By this I mean set an expectation for everyone. As you wrap each meeting be sure to spend just a few moments looking forward to the next discussion. Throw a question or a life application out there that you’ll be addressing during the next meeting. You can email or text during the week to further pique interest. I’ve talked a lot about this on the podcast but I like to show everyone our plan for the next several weeks with a topic for each. I include the schedule every week in a handout or email. If you do this, point out topics along with scheduled breaks, social outings, or holidays. Setting the stage for an upcoming discussion removes the unknowns and creates a sense of expectancy. It’s an important piece of a most ripe environment for transformation.
4. Be In Touch. This is different from setting the stage. While setting the stage is all about what you’re doing when you’re meeting and how you’ve demonstrated that you have a plan, being in touch is more about contact when you’re not meeting. These days text is such a great touch point between group meetings. Texts can be intrusive but handled appropriately that’s not much of a concern. You can text individuals about important life events or more casual kid’s activities. Group texts also represent ways to keep everyone informed and your group more a lifestyle than a single, weekly occurrence.
5. Preparation. Of course. We couldn’t get through this list without a reference to how we prepare. Prayer, like I’ve already pointed out, is crucial. Setting the stage, a mental walk-thru, and being in touch all represent ways you can create the best environment for your group Bible study. There is certainly a range for preparation as a group leader and this depends somewhat on the material you are using as a beginning point. If there’s video, of course, watch the video and take notes. If there is a commentary, be familiar and research any questions that emerge. If you have a question, more than likely those in your group will, too. If you’re using sermon based study material, what additional resources should you review to be as prepared as possible. My preparation in this regard includes keying in on important theological tenets and referencing commentaries at my disposal. I also review questions to be sure they’re right for my group. Although I have a high degree of trust in publishers that curate content, I’ll often rephrase or replace questions for our specific context.
I hope this has been helpful. I’m sure most of you have your own tips. If you can find time, be sure to post them here for everyone else. I’d love to see what other group leaders use to create the best environment for Bible study.