Teaching any Bible study is really about answering three questions:
1) What (does the Bible say)?
2) Now what (should I believe)?
3) So what (difference should that make in how I live)?
Answering What? means digging into the portion of Scripture and uncovering what the Scripture means in its context. Hopefully your pastor has helped you along in this, but you will still want to read through a commentary or study Bible notes to make sure you understand what the Holy Spirit is saying through the biblical author. Even with the most explicit pastors, people in your group are still bound to have questions—and you should prepare to help them think deeply about the text.
Answering Now what? means helping your group process the heart change that should result from studying this particular text. One key way to process this question is to locate and meditate upon the gospel implications of the portion of Scripture that was preached. The central message of the Bible is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and every verse of Scripture supports this message. The gospel is the only message with the power to transform the heart. Helping the people in your group find this message will help them think about the heart change that comes from interacting with God’s Word. To prepare to answer this question, you may look into other portions of Scripture that support what your pastor said, or you may read devotional material that helps you process the heart component more.
Answering So What? means applying the sermon content to our lives. Hopefully your pastor has done the heavy lifting for you here, but you know the people in your group better than your pastor does. We should never read the Bible or hear it taught without being pushed to live out its truth. This part is where the rubber meets the road. You will want to think about what the specific people in your group need to glean from this sermon. What are they struggling with or asking questions about? How can this particular sermon speak to their lives right now? How should they (and you) be different having heard this sermon?
You will want to think through each of these questions in your preparation time. It may be that your group time will spend an equal amount of time wrestling with each question, or you may want to focus your time in response to the style of your pastor.
For example, my pastor spends a substantial portion of his sermon explaining the Scriptures to us. This means that when my group meets during the week, I feel confident that they have a solid understanding of what the Bible is saying because my pastor has explained it thoroughly. The What? question has been answered for the members of the group. This means that the majority of my group time I spend answering the So What? and Now What? questions. In practice, this means I take the application points my pastor gave us in his sermon, and spend most of the time in my group exploring those.
If your pastor spends most of his time on application, you may consider giving more time to helping your group understand the portion of the Bible that was taught. Remember, the goal is to supplement the sermon itself—and that may require some flexibility. Yet, you should also feel the freedom to spend an equal amount of time on each question. Answering these three questions gives your group a robust understanding of what God is saying through your pastor and helps them live out truth in a way that changes their lives.
Reid Patton is a Content Editor for the Custom Content Team at LifeWay Christian Resources, where he produces biblical small group studies for Discipleship In Context and SmallGroup.com. He is the thankful husband of Kristen and proud father of Ceile and serves with the Life Group leadership team at the Church at Station Hill in Spring Hill, Tennessee. In his free time, Reid likes reading, watching NBA Basketball and Auburn Football, and going to record stores. You can find him on Twitter @jreidpatton.