One of the key goals of discipleship is to help people become familiar with the Bible. Growing in our knowledge of God’s Word is one of the most important aspects of our spiritual growth, and while many churches strive to achieve some level of biblical literacy in their congregations, it seems to me that many have neglected the next step of showing people how to learn about the Bible on their own. The importance of this skill cannot be overstated. It is a precious renewable resource, enabling a lifetime of personal biblical study.
This is where small group leaders come in. Small group leaders are in a position to make a life-long impact on their group members by helping them learn how to learn. Showing them how to seek answers. Coming alongside of them as they seek the truth.
I routinely tell our small group leaders not to view themselves as experts but rather as co-learners with their group. The group leaders who embrace this mentality tend to create a very healthy group environment. The group leaders who insist on viewing themselves as an expert or a teacher tend to cause problems because they do not create a climate of mutual learning and exploration of faith. They unwittingly remove any motivation for the group to find answers on their own—because why would they need to? They have a resident expert in their midst.
So if you’re a small group leader and you have a lot of biblical knowledge, resist the urge to always be the one to give the answer. Maybe you’ve been to seminary or you’ve been teaching the Bible for years. That’s awesome, and your group is certainly blessed to have your leadership. But even though you might know most of the answers, try not to rescue the discussion when there’s a tough question on the table. Instead, view your role as helping the group arrive at the answer. You’ll be modeling a valuable skill for them, and there’s a higher chance they’ll retain the answer if they discover it themselves.
This doesn’t mean you can never provide an answer—God obviously wants to use your biblical knowledge to grow your group. But you want that to be the exception rather than the rule.
If, on the other hand, you’re a small group leader and you do not know that much about the Bible, that’s a great place to be! You have the ability to authentically walk through the tough questions with your group and find the answers you seek. I promise no one will think less of you for being transparent about not knowing the answers. In fact, you’ll be admired for it.
So how can you lead your group toward finding answers to questions about the Bible? In my small group, if someone asks a question I usually turn it back to the group and ask if anyone else knows the answer. That’s where I start, and often someone does have an answer or the beginning of an answer. If no one has the answer or there is confusion, here are several other things you can do to help your group learn how to learn:
1. If someone has a study Bible, have them read the commentary in the footnotes to the rest of the group. I would encourage you as the group leader to bring a study Bible to the meeting to make sure that there is always one available.
2. Have your group look up key words in the concordance of their Bibles to find other passages that address a similar topic.
3. Send an email to one of the pastors at your church. Do this while you’re at the meeting and tell your group that you’ll forward the response when it comes in.
4. Have some group members commit to doing a little research before the next meeting. When you reconvene, have everyone share what they discovered. I would advise your group to avoid simply Googling the question unless you want some wacky answers. Instead, search for resources that are affiliated with a Christian publisher, school, or scholar. Some pastors or churches have great blogs too. These institutions are excellent places to find trustworthy sources, because they have already done the work of vetting their authors.
This sort of approach also reinforces another important idea: That there are clear, biblical answers to be found. Everything is not supposed to remain a matter of opinion or speculation. The Bible is not supposed to be a mystery, but we have to lead our group members to a place where they know how to demystify confusing or difficult passages in the Bible.
Ultimately you want your group members to adopt the posture of the Bereans, who eagerly examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul was teaching them was true (Acts 17:11).They sought answers to the questions they had, and Luke praised them for doing so when he wrote Acts.
If you as the small group leader resolve to not be the expert, you have the ability to inspire and equip your group members to be life-long answer seekers. What a gift you will have given them!
Ryan Lokkesmoe is the Small Groups Pastor at Parkway Fellowship, a multi-site church in Katy, Texas. Ryan earned his master’s degree in New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in biblical studies at The University of Denver. He is the author of Blurry: Bringing Clarity to the Bible, and has written for Relevant Magazine and Patheos Evangelical. Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyLokk.