It’s that time of year again. Many churches, communities, and neighborhoods are starting fall sessions of women’s Bible study. The next two blog posts will give practical help for leading small group discussion. Feel free to share with your church, Bible study leaders, and women’s ministry leaders!
Start with a room full of women; add different personalities, various levels of spiritual maturity, and unique backgrounds. There is great potential for an awesome experience – or an awful encounter. Bible study discussion groups can be fun and rewarding for the members as well as the leader. However, situations sometimes pop up that can threaten the learning environment or the relationships.
Usually leaders ask a question, the women participate, and helpful discussion ensues. But sometimes, the road is a bit rough. The discussion may simply fall flat. Other times it gets away from the leader and takes on a life of its own. And then there are those rare instances when someone takes a wrong step and things completely fall apart.
I’ve faced many challenging classroom experiences during my twenty-plus years of teaching the Bible in various small group settings. Some situations were unique one-time experiences, but other problems I’ve encountered over and over. Try these “learned by experience” suggestions to deal with five common challenges.
- Responding to biblical error.
Generally, we shouldn’t correct someone in public. If the mistake is inconsequential – like mispronouncing Melchizedek – just ignore it. No need to embarrass the speaker. However, I gently correct in two kinds of situations.
- If ignoring it will hurt someone else – Once in a ladies’ Bible study a young mother stated: “If you raise your kids correctly, they will never rebel.” Two godly mothers in the group were dealing with rebellious teenagers. You could see the anguish on their faces.
- If it involves vital doctrine – Any statements contrary to foundational biblical truth, like the nature of God or how we are saved, must be corrected in the current discussion. As leaders, we are responsible to handle God’s Word correctly. However, don’t say “You’re wrong!” Instead ask further questions and read passages that present the truth.
- Responding when you don’t know.
An honest answer is always the best answer. Humbly admit you don’t feel confident in giving a good response, then promise to do further study and come back with an answer the next time. Don’t be afraid to ask someone else for help!
- Responding to detours.
Rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance to determine if a topic is worth chasing. If it is, be willing to adjust your class agenda. If not, graciously interrupt with a statement like: “This is so interesting. Can we pick up this discussion up after class?”
- Responding when you’ve lost control.
I’ve used one of two methods to regain control, depending on the personality of my group. Sometimes I’ve used humor to get their attention such as the “kindergarten” clap. Other times a direct “Let’s get back on track” is the best solution.
- Responding to the sound of silence.
Silence in a group situation makes many people uncomfortable and strong leaders know how to use it. Don’t be afraid to let a question hang. Often the women are thinking, so don’t break the silence too quickly. Make eye contact. After a moment repeat the question. If still no answer, then be ready to share your own.
The best way for leaders to deal with these – and other – small group situations will vary some depending on the personality of the group members. Ask God to give you wisdom to adapt your strategies to the individual. For further help, be sure to come back for the next post, “4 Personalities Which Derail Group Discussion.”
Have you ever encountered any of these challenges? How did you handle them? Have you faced a challenge not on this list?