TIPS FOR LEADING A BIBLE STUDY
An effective Bible study leader is a person of prayer and a student of God's Word.
Ask for God's guidance: "Make me to know thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me" (Ps. 25:4).
Seek to grow in the fruits of the Holy Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control" (Gal. 5:22).
Be a student first: "You then who teach others, will you not teach yourself?" (Rom. 2:21).
Teach what is in accord with the Magisterium of the Church: "As for you, teach what befits sound doctrine" (Tit. 2:1).
Lead by example: "Set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:11).
Know the power of God'sWord: "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Q.: Which translations of the Bible are best for Catholic Bible study?
A.: The Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition (RSV-CE), approved by the Church, is a "word for word" translation and best for in-depth Bible study. The New American Bible (the version read at masses in the United States) is a "thought for thought" translation, so some particular words and phrases may not reflect the full meaning of the original text as well as the RSV-CE. For Bible study, however, it is good to use more than one translation so that there can be some comparison. Either of these Catholic Bibles is fine. For Bible study, it's best not to use a paraphrased version such as the Living Bible or the Good News Bible.
Q.: What should I do if someone in the group brings a Protestant Bible?
A.: Charity is always the best policy. Bible study leaders should do their best to make all people feel welcomed. People new to Bible study may not know the differences between a Catholic Bible and a Protestant Bible. (Protestant Bibles do not contain the "deuterocanonical books" of Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch. There are also misunderstandings reflected in the footnotes of some Protestant Bibles such as the New Living Bible, which refers to James as "the half-brother of Jesus," even in the "Catholic Reference Edition" of that translation.) A good idea here is to ask that the members each purchase the same Bible for use in the study to help discussion run more smoothly. (Note: The RSV-CE can be purchased from Emmaus Road Publishing)
Q.: How can I encourage the shy/unconfident members of the group to participate?
A.: Avoid the method of going around the circle and expecting everyone to answer. This can make some people very uncomfortable. Allow time for shy members to get used to the group, gently inviting them to answer a question now and then but always giving the option to "pass." Try calling on the less confident members at first for easily answered questions. Occasionally it is helpful to have someone read a particular Scripture passage aloud, which is a good opportunity for involvement free from the pressure of giving a "right answer."
Q.: What are some strategies for making the group members feel comfortable and welcomed?
A.: The leader should always welcome each person with a smile. At the first meeting, members can take turns telling a little about themselves. As they learn more about each other they will become more at ease with the others in their group. A nice gesture for the group leader is to leave empty seats where they are most accessible to latecomers so they can easily slip right in without feeling too self-conscious. (This also helps to minimize disruption.) It is best not to put less confident group members on the spot, but to gently invite their responses. The leader should try at all times to be positive, enthusiastic, and encouraging, making eye contact as much as possible and calling people by their names.
Q.: What if someone in the group tends to dominate the discussion?
A.: The group leader could ask questions such as, "Can someone who hasn't shared yet, answer the next question?" It is helpful to call on specific people by name to answer a question rather than leaving it open by saying, "Who would like to answer this one?" Of course, you should be careful not to call on someone you know to be shy or uncomfortable with answering questions. If someone continually tries to dominate the conversation, it may be necessary to talk to that person outside of the study time and simply explain that, while you appreciate their sharing, it is important to encourage others to share as well and to give them ample opportunity to do so.
Q.: What do I do when someone asks a question to which I don't know the answer?
A.: A leader should never attempt to answer a question that he or she is not sure about. It is always best to just admit to not knowing the answer. Having a plan in place before the Bible study is helpful. The leader could have a list of websites or books ready to refer people to, or, if the leader is willing, he or she may offer to research the question and come back with the answer at a later date.
Q.: What do I do if someone puts forward an interpretation of Scripture that is contrary to Church teaching?
A.: It is important to be sensitive and charitable while at the same time gently correcting misinterpretations or misunderstandings. It is also important to let the group members know that this interpretation is not correct, however. One way to do this without getting into a controversy would be to simply say, "It's true that that is the opinion of some, however, I don't believe that is what the Church teaches. While we don't have time to discuss this right now and we need to stay on the subject matter at hand, this would be an excellent opportunity for each of you to familiarize yourselves more with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Look up this topic this week and read what the Church teaches on this matter. Maybe we'll have more time at one of our social gatherings outside the classroom to discuss this and other matters more thoroughly."
Q.: What criteria do I use in choosing a Bible study?
A.: Some good questions to ask when considering a Bible study are: Is the study cross-referenced with the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Are the writings of the Popes and early Church Fathers taken into consideration? Does the study acknowledge the many "senses of Scripture"? Does the writer's attitude toward Sacred Scripture reflect the constant Church teaching that all Scripture is truth and inspired by the Holy Spirit? What version of Scripture is used? Are the questions simple enough for the beginning Bible student, yet challenging enough for the experienced ones? Do the questions reflect orthodox Catholic teaching? Do the study questions/comments take all of Scripture into consideration as much as possible?
Q.: What if the discussion gets sidetracked away from the topic?
A.: It helps to explain to the group before you begin discussing that it is important for everyone to do their part to stick to the passage at hand and try to avoid tangents. Staying focused may take some discipline, but it is well worth the effort. The group members will appreciate that their time is respected. If the leader is consistent in reminding everyone in the group to say on task, before long the group members will be more aware of the time and staying within that time frame. The leader can remind the members that they may discuss things more fully in their social times together when they have more free time.
Q.: What are some general recommendations?
A.: A brief opening and closing prayer is always good. These can be spontaneous prayers asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and giving thanks, or prayers within the tradition of the Church. Some brief opening prayers based on Scripture are: "Speak Lord, your servants are listening" (1 Sam. 3:10); "Open our eyes that we may see wonderful things in Your Word" (Psalm 119:18); "Lord, make our hearts burn within us as You speak to us through Your Word" (Lk. 24:32); and "Lord, open our minds to understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:46).
Q.: How long should each Bible study session be?
A.: An hour and a half is a good length of time for a group Bible study. This allows time for opening prayer and announcements or devotions, time for discussion of the lesson for the day, and perhaps a short lecture. Shorter sessions may make people feel rushed, and longer sessions may be difficult for many people's schedules. It is important to consistently start and end on time. This will encourage punctuality and will allow full use of the allotted time.
Recommended Resources and Materials:
Available online at www.vatican.va
- Dei Verbum
Divino Afflante Spiritu
Available from Emmaus Road Publishing or at your local Catholic Bookstore
- Courageous Bible Study series for women
- Come and See Bible study series for children and adults
- Hearts Aflame Scripture Study: Genesis I & II by Gayle Somers and Sarah Christmyer
- The Kingdom Series: Bible Studies by Ted Sri, Tim Gray, Michael Barber, and Stephen Pimentel
© 2004 Gail Buckley