Lifeway Christian Resources director of Sunday School, Ken Braddy, believes the lecture method isn’t the best way to teach the Bible, and teachers must learn appropriate discussion techniques to effectively convey God’s truth.
“Discussion is the most important technique for learning since it helps us think through issues and learn from one another,” Brady explained. “It’s what I call ‘groupalogue.’”
Braddy presented the third of his “Training Through ’22” webinars March 24, noting that at one point more than 300 Christian leaders from throughout the world were participating online.
“You may call it Sunday School, or you may call it small group time, but whatever you call the teaching time adjacent to your worship hour, we know people learn better when they discuss what they’re learning,” he told listeners. “I’ve found this to be true in the groups I lead. I ask questions to guide our discussions, and I establish the theological guardrails to keep us on track.”
Jesus was a master of questioning, Braddy noted.
“He invited people into conversations with Him,” he said. “He showed such wisdom that Luke tells us the religious leaders ‘dared not ask Him any more questions’ (Luke 20:26). He taught the proper concepts of God and also the proper interpretation of spiritual truth.”
Braddy mentioned a number of appropriate ways to facilitate group discussion.
“The icebreaker is a question anyone can answer and there’s no wrong answer,” he noted. “It can get people talking early, even ‘unchurched Harry and Mary.’”
Braddy said the “open-ended question” also has no right or wrong response, such as “How did you choose the Bible translation you use?” or “What is your favorite book or movie?”
The experience-based question encourages members to think about their own lives, such as “What made you really angry as a kid?” or “How have you been assured of God’s presence during difficult times in your life?” Braddy said.
Emotional questions might probe what makes a person worry or how they may have responded to a difficult circumstance in an unhealthy way, he added.
Asking tough questions
Finally, Braddy suggested the “polarizing” question: “If God is love, why did He order women and children to be killed as the Israelites moved into the promised land?”
“This kind of question will bring various responses, and this might be a good way to involve members in biblical truth,” he noted. “But the leader must use questions like this sparingly.”
Braddy listed types of questions he called “discussion killing,” including the patently obvious he deemed “idiot” questions, as well as unreasonable or compound questions that might call for two or three answers. He also advised against “spur-of-the-moment” questions.
“I encourage teachers to write out their questions in advance,” Braddy suggested.
“Five questions per lesson is probably enough for the typical 45-50 minute Bible study time,” he noted. “This doesn’t mean a teacher can’t be spontaneous, but it does mean we have to be good stewards of the time we have. Ten minutes to introduce and five to ten minutes to wrap up and apply the lesson to life will fill the time we have.”
Braddy further advised teachers to encourage members to find agreement, never laugh or ridicule responders, strive to be active listeners and never fear silence.
He referred to Robert Pazmino’s “Basics of Teaching For Christians” that cites research suggesting a wait-time beyond one to three seconds can bring the most thoughtful responses.
“The research found that even waiting up to 20 seconds for a response may not be a bad thing,” Braddy noted. “What we want to do is encourage group members to interact, discover, wrestle and apply the truth of God’s Word. This is our best way to teach.”
Measuring group success
Braddy’s newest book, “Break Through — Creating A New Scorecard for Group Ministry Success,” will be published in August and is available for preorder.
“I tried to speak about new ways to measure group success in the post-COVID world,” he said of the book.
Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life curriculum was redesigned several years ago to better facilitate discussion, Braddy noted, and some of the techniques he enumerated are found in the materials. Churches can download four BSL lessons without charge at biblestudiesforlife.com.
The fourth webinar in the series, “Three Stages in Creating an Out-of-This-World Bible Study,” is scheduled for April 14 and participants may register at Lifeway.com/training22.
Braddy also publishes articles about Sunday School and other group Bible study at Ken.braddy.com.