If you’ve used material from Bible Studies for Life this fall, you understand that things have changed in a major way compared to recent years. But you may not have noticed all the subtle shifts and tweaks that separate Bible Studies for Life from other curriculum options. More important, you may not understand why we made those changes in the first place.
I’d like to help. In the months to come, I will post a number of “behind the scenes” articles that help explain the main features of the re-launched Bible Studies for Life — and why those features make our material ideally suited for group learning and transformation.
To get started, let’s talk about questions.
Open and Closed
As a former editor of SmallGroups.com, I’ve reviewed a lot of curriculum over the years. Unfortunately, most of the resources I’ve seen include discussion questions that don’t actually spark discussion.
These studies typically include a lot of “closed” questions that only have one correct answer, such as: “What did Jesus say is the greatest commandment?” They also include a high number of questions that revolve around intellectual information—the goal is to help people learn a definition or regurgitate a principle rather than actually wrestling with the core themes of God’s Word.
These questions are more than frustrating in a group experience because they cause a lot of awkward, extended silence. I’m sure you’ve been there. The leader asks a question and then waits, uncomfortably, while group members look around at each other and try to figure out what to say. Then one person blurts out the “right” answer, and everyone moves on.
Who needs that?
That’s why Bible Studies for Life only features questions that are lovingly crafted to create conversations. We use questions that are open-ended, which means they have more than one answer. We use questions that help people explore their emotions and express themselves in ways beyond intellectual information. We use questions that focus on application in addition to intellectual understanding. And we use questions that give people a chance to tell their stories.
See What I Mean
Here’s a quick example of the difference between good and bad discussion questions. In Session 3 of “When Relationships Collide,” we study Abram’s confrontation with Lot in Genesis 13. Part of the study highlights Abram’s actions in vv. 8-9:
Then Abram said to Lot, “Please, let’s not have quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, since we are relatives. Isn’t the whole land before you? Separate from me: if you go to the left, I will go to the right; if you go to the right, I will go to the left” (HCSB).
Here are the kinds of questions you might expect to see in a typical curriculum resource. You’ve probably seen similar queries in a number of studies:
- “How did Abram avoid conflict with Lot?”
- “How did Abram demonstrate unselfishness in this situation?”
- “What principles for conflict resolution are present in these verses?”
- “Why did Abram choose to resolve the conflict in this way?”
The point of these questions (and many others like them) is to help people interact with the text—which is a noble goal. The problem is that most of these questions are closed; they only have one answer, which is a major buzzkill for group discussion. The only question that isn’t closed (“Why did Abram choose…”) is one that can’t be answered because the text doesn’t tell us what Abram was thinking.
Now, here’s the question we used for these verses in Bible Studies for Life: “What keeps us from approaching conflict the way Abram did?”
Notice how this question is open—it doesn’t have a “right” answer, which means discussion is possible. The question also encourages personal reflection; it makes us think about our actions and attitudes. It also offers group members a chance to tell a story: “Just last year my neighbor threatened to sue me because my fence was two inches over his property line, and I….” Finally, this question is bursting with opportunities to apply and obey the principles embedded in the verses, rather than just identify them.
In short, questions like these burst the doors wide open for group members who want to experience meaningful, life-changing conversations.