There are many great ways to involve learners in Bible study, but unless they feel they are in a “safe” place, your efforts are likely in vain. Add to the following suggestions for creating a safe place for learners.
- Verbalize this is a safe place. Ask the class to commit to confidentiality when appropriate.
- Ask for volunteers or pre-enlisted persons to read or pray aloud. If you pre-enlist someone, introduce them as someone you asked in advance to read.
- Ask good questions—open ended questions with no right or wrong answer are the best. Verbally remind people you are not looking for a right or wrong answer. Save these questions for application discussions as opposed to biblical content discussions.
- If asking a question with one correct answer, point them to the answer. (Look in verse 12 to find what Paul said about….)
- As you make Bible application, consider beginning questions with “What do you think adults today think about…” This will allow people to share what they think within the framework of a bigger, less personal audience. They will still think about what they think as individuals, but they share it as a general thought.
- Recognize the more personal the discussion, the fewer people need to be involved. (Share in a small cluster, with the person beside you, etc.)
- Constantly point to the Bible as authority rather than personal opinion or popular practices. (Many people say this today. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about this matter.)
- Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit working in people’s lives during the session. Avoid pressuring or asking people to share what is happening. Verbalize they do not need to share but offer to pray for the person. As God leads, you may have others surround this person to pray for him or her.
- Consider the use of a debate to air popular opinions and practices that may not align with scripture. Getting those out on the table helps the group honestly wrestle with God’s Word.
- Recognize people will not be transparent if you are not. Avoid sharing personal experiences every week, but you do need to share how you wrestle with living the Christian life.
- Understand some discussions may need to take place at another time and place or with other people. (Many men wrestle with that same issue…one or two of our men will continue that discussion with you later…Let’s talk after class.)
- Avoid “taking sides” in a discussion—always redirect to what scripture says. (It is obvious this is an important topic. Let’s see what the Bible says about this.)
- Affirm and thank people for sharing something very personal, difficult, or painful.
- Provide learning activities that allow for reflection, especially in private matters. (Suggest learning write in their learner guides, write on an index card, etc.
- Allow for some discussions to take place within same sex groups, with persons other than one’s spouse or other family members, etc. as appropriate.
- Experience the Bible truths for yourself as a teacher. You will be more open to the Holy Spirit’s showing you what to focus on, which key verses to dig into, which verses to overview, etc.
- Recognize many struggles will not be resolved during the Bible study session—they will begin there. Affirm people who at least recognize something in their life that is not in line with God’s Word. Affirm that as a valid starting point. Remind the group all believers struggle with living the Christian life. Claim Phil 2:13 as a promise that God can change our desires to match His if we want Him to do so.
- Be prepared to tactfully address comments that may appear judgmental or insensitive—even if spoken in jest. (I know what’s going to happen when your wife gets you home, etc.) Routinely remind the class this is a safe place. If “class clowns” continue to try to make something funny out of serious matters, talk with them privately.
- Avoid using prayer requests as a time to share “spiritual gossip”. Lovingly confront those who do so in private.
Belinda Jolley serves as the Director of the Adult Ministry Office of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Belinda and her husband, Steve, enjoy starting new classes at First Baptist Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina.