If you’ve ever taught seventh-grade boys, you’re an exceptional person. I once heard Dr. Phil Briggs, retired professor at Southwestern Seminary, call seventh graders “electric chihuahuas.”
That’s why I admire Jim Burns. Mr. Burns taught my Sunday School class when I was in the seventh grade. We were the typical group of emerging adolescents: cracking voices, discovering girls don’t have cooties, and slugging each other every ten minutes—just because. Each week Mr. Burns tried to teach biblical truth to 10-15 boys high on Sunday School doughnuts. I don’t remember if, on this one particular morning, we were especially rambunctious—maybe one of us accidently slugged him—but at the end of class, he asked, “Why don’t you teach the class next week?”
He was looking straight at me.
Being a seventh-grade boy—which means I didn’t think this through—I said I would. So I took the book he gave me and I read. I actually prepared—and that’s saying something because I rarely took the time to brush my teeth. And on the next Sunday, in spite of all my squirreliness, I led my peers in Bible study.
And 45 years later, I am still leading Bible studies.
You’ve got someone in your Bible study group who could also lead a group. He may not think he can, but with the right encouragement he can discover what you see dormant in him: the makings of a great Bible study leader.
I don’t recommend the approach Jim Burns took with me. He simply handed me a book. That’s it. I was thrown into the deep end of the Sunday School lake, and it was assumed I would figure out how to swim. Let me offer a different approach, more akin to a swimming instructor getting into the lake with the rookie.
Lead a small portion. As you prepare someone to be a Bible study leader, ask him to lead a specific part of one week’s study.
- Lead the discussion of the question printed on page 42.
- Give a two-minute presentation on the meaning of the word “sanctification.”
- Share ideas on ways the group could live out the truth of the passage.
You’re offering a small assignment that should not feel overwhelming. I did this several years ago with a group of seventh-grade boys. I did what Mr. Burns did with me, but on a small scale. The study was on the reliability of God’s Word, so I asked one of the guys, a Boy Scout, to explain orienteering (for you greenhorns, that’s reading a map and compass). In two minutes, he took something he was familiar with and connected it to looking to the Bible for guidance. (I’d like to believe—as Mr. Burns did with me—that’s the reason this young man is now serving a church in the mission field of Kentucky.)
Prepare alongside you. Provide the person with a Leader Guide. Show him how you prepare. Encourage him to familiarize himself with the group plan and the commentary, then as you lead the class, he can follow along. He can see where you got your brilliant ideas and how you customized the plan to fit the needs of your group.
Let him substitute. We all have those occasional weeks we must be out. Ask your potential leader to take the reins. They’ve watched you and they’ve seen how you prepare. A single week of teaching gives them an opportunity to dive in and see what it’s like. When you return from your trip, help him or her evaluate the experience.
A married couple in my church didn’t think they could lead a group. I asked them, “Can you fill in this week, until I secure a leader?’ For them, that felt like wading into the shallow end, so they agreed. They substituted a second week—and then another. I was not surprised when they volunteered to lead the group on a permanent basis.
- A teenager learns to drive by getting behind the wheel of the family van.
- A doctor learns to operate by placing a scalpel in his hand.
- A Bible study leader learns to lead a group by walking into the room and starting the discussion.
Even if it’s a room of seventh-grade boys.
Lynn Pryor regularly blogs at lynnhpryor.com. He has graduated from leading seventh-grade boys to leading young adults in his church. He lives out his passion for Bible study as a team leader for adult resources at LifeWay.