You love your Lord. You love your Bible. You love your youth (well, sometimes).
So why is it so difficult to write a “good” Bible study?
Engaging youth with the Word is powerful, life-changing–and also very challenging! But fear not. Even if you’ve had little (or no) training in writing a Bible study, some of the tips in this article can shine some light on your path.
Devotion vs. Bible Study
First of all, let’s define our terms. In my mind, there’s a difference between a “devotion” and a “Bible Study.” A devotion is a short (5-10 minute) message, during which God’s Word is read and hearers are reminded briefly of God’s Law and Gospel. Usually, in a devotion, there is a “speaker” and “hearers.”
On the other hand, a Bible study involves a “leader” and “participants.” The goal is to help everyone better understand a Biblical text. Here, participants have the chance to, well, participate! They can ask questions, answer questions and share ideas with the group. Typically, Bible studies run 60-90 minutes.
Picking a Text
You really can’t go wrong when picking a text. All of Scripture is worth a good study! (Yes, even that dusty Old Testament.) If you’re new at this, you might want to start with a text or story that you’re familiar with. Or it might be time to branch out and learn something new yourself.
You’ll want to pick something manageable in the time allotted. For example, don’t tackle the book of Genesis in one study! Plan on spending an hour to cover about a chapter of the Bible.
Now that you’ve picked a text, it’s time to start outlining your Bible study. Keep your study focused by centering around these questions: (1) What is the context? (2) What did this text mean to the original hearers? (3) What does this text have to say about Christ? (4) What does this text have to say to our youth today?
Context! Context! Context!
Your first goal is to get a good grip on the context. How does this text fit within the chapter? The book? The Old or New Testament? The entire Bible?
It helps if you think of the Bible as one story. The Bible is the story of God redeeming His creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every story, every chapter, every verse contributes to that central story. Your job is to find out how your text fits into that story.
If you have questions about the context, this is a great time to ask your pastor for guidance. He’d love to help.
Don’t Flip Out! (of the Text)
Now, it’s time to dig into the text and determine what it means. But as you do this, resist the temptation to be a “flipper.” When leading a Bible study, some leaders are tempted to make participants constantly “flip” to related Scripture passages. Flippers are trying to get a “fuller” or “better” perspective of the text. However, this usually has a reverse effect.
It usually goes like this: “Today we’re studying James 5, which talks about prayer. So today, we’re going to look up every verse in the Bible that mentions prayer.” Not terrible, but not all that helpful. After an hour of flipping around, your youth really haven’t learned much about what James had to say about prayer.
Yes, sometimes going to related passages is helpful. For example, if you’re studying a New Testament text that references an Old Testament story, it would be helpful to go back and read that story during your Bible study. The author probably assumed you knew that story already.
But as a rule of thumb, pick a text, and stick with it. You’ll get a much better idea of what the author was trying to say. (Plus, think how many paper cuts you’ll prevent!)
The hardest (but most important) part of a Bible study is determining what a text means for us today. The Bible was written to different people, from a different era, in a different culture. But that doesn’t mean these texts aren’t applicable for us now.
Your job is to “build bridges” for your youth. You are bridging the gap, so to speak, between the culture of the Bible and the culture of your youth.
Use Law and Gospel to help build these bridges. Does the text alert its original hearers to a particular sin or command to follow? Does the text alert its hearers to their sinful nature? That’s the Law for the original hearers, and it’s also the Law for hearers today. Does the text comfort its original hearers with the message of Christ and God’s mercy? That’s the Gospel for the original hearers, and it’s also the Gospel for hearers today.
For example, let’s say you are studying 1 Peter 4, which talks about persecution of Christians. The Christians of Peter’s day were persecuted for their faith. Some were tortured or even killed for what they believed. Now it’s time to build a bridge! Your youth might not be killed for their faith, but they certainly endure hardships for being Christians. They might have to sacrifice their popularity. (There’s a bridge!) And just like Peter’s hearers, we have Christ who has suffered for us and is with us in our suffering. (There’s another one!)
This is where you want to focus on making your youth “participants”–not just hearers. Ask them questions that make them reflect beyond just “yes” and “no” answers. For larger groups, try breaking them into smaller groups for discussion time.
Five Things to Never Forget
Whenever possible, appeal to the five senses. If you’re studying the Passover, have your youth try unleavened bread. Study the parting of the Red Sea next to a lake or river. Have some youth reenact a scene for the group.
Or if you have a computer/projector, “set the scene” with a simple picture as a backdrop. If you’re studying Jesus at the temple, put up a picture of the ancient Jerusalem temple (thank you, Google!)
Don’t underestimate the power of the senses; your youth will learn (and remember) a lot more.
Hungry? Feed Yourself!
Finally, the best way to equip yourself as a Bible study leader is to be fed with the Word. Attend a Bible study at your church. Study your Bible on your own time, or with a friend. As you grow in your knowledge of the Bible, it will become easier to teach it to others.
So there you go! Now it’s time to give it a go. Remember, there’s no such thing as a “perfect” Bible study, but thank God that the power is found not in us, but in the Word itself. So what have you got to lose?