How to pursue a helpful discussion over biblical truths for either small groups or personal conversation
In studying God's Word with others, what are the most helpful questions to ask? How can we facilitate better discussion over scripture with our families? The following is an exerpt from our Growth Group Leader training manual, and would be helpful for leading a biblical discussion in a group or personal discipleship setting.
We do not want any of our group leaders to be lecturing the group or leading the group in a formal study of the sermon passage. We are looking for group leaders to guide a group conversation about how to apply the truths of the passage preached. â€¨Asking the group effective questions is central to accomplishing this goal. While questions are provided to leaders and group members, simply moving through a list of questions is not the goal. Ask questions that will stimulate discussion. Silence is not necessarily negative when asking a question. It may be an opportunity for everyone to give careful consideration to what is asked. Silence may indicate that the question is not understood and needs to be re-worded.
Asking questions is important, but it is not the end-goal. Shepherding lives under God’s word is our aim. Building fellowship around the word of God is a focus. Don’t feel the need to cover every point of the sermon. Shepherd the group’s lives in response to the word that was preached.
Colin Marshal has some helpful advice on asking questions to foster group conversation:
Answers about questions
Questions are the life force of discussions. Asking the right question at the right time is the art of leading a discussion. It is true for all forms of enquiry: asking the right question is a prerequisite for getting the right answer.
Why Ask Questions?
John Milton Gregory in The Seven Laws of Teaching describes teaching and learning: Teaching is arousing and using the pupils mind to grasp the desire thought or to master the desired act. Learning is thinking into one’s own understanding a new idea or truth or working into habit a new art or skill.
The purpose of asking questions is to accomplish this teaching and learning. Questions stimulate thought: arousing, clarifying, guiding, analyzing.
Types of Questions
There are two broad types of discussion questions.
Although prepared before hand, such questions are used in a flexible way, responding to what happens in the group rather than asking them in a rigid, systematic way. To the group, they may often appear to be spontaneous.
These are the spontaneous questions that facilitate the discussion, keeping it moving forward. They are important for building the habit of listening attentively to each other.
A Good Question
Here are some characteristics of a good question.
Open-ended, not closed
Good questions tend to be open-ended. They require a thoughtful response, rather than a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Open-ended questions often start with the words ‘What’, ‘How’ or ‘Why’. Closed questions, in contrast, limit the possible responses of those listening.
Open question: “What does it mean to continue to live in Christ?” Closed question: “What are the four ways to continue to live in Christ?” Closed question: “Is God concerned that we continue to live in Christ?”
Doesn’t anticipate the answer
Questions should not be leading. Questions which lead the group in a certain direction won’t achieve the purpose of making the group think.
Poor question: “Jesus was God, wasn’t he?”
Simple, not double-barrelled
Questions that have two or more parts confuse the group because they do not know where to start their answers. Each question should address one issue.
Poor question: “What does it mean to continue to live in Christ; why is it important and are you doing?”
Concise rather than complex
Question should not need further elaboration. They should suit the group and word choice, and the level of ideas involved, and the amount of background knowledge required to answer.
Poor question: “In Paul’s eloquent discourse on the profundity of Christological soteriology, what is his view of traditional ceremonial religion for justification and sanctification?”
Better question: “What’s wrong with keeping rules?”
Chasing rabbits (bad rabbits and good rabbits)
How should you handle answers to questions and responses to conversations that begin to move away from the main point of your question, or perhaps into a different topic altogether.
Don’t immediately dismiss this digression (don’t kill or ignore every rabbit that runs by). You need to determine if this is a change of direction that would not be healthy for the fellowship of the group at this time. If the digression seems to focus on one person’s interest alone, and would not be edifying for the majority in the group, you need to suggest that it is a topic that you could likely take up at a different time. However, if the digression is one many seem to be interested in and might prove beneficial for the group to pursue, continue to deal with the issue. More than likely, it is not helpful to chase unrelated topics on a regular basis. However, be very sensitive as to what would benefit the group as a whole.
Make sure you do not give the impression that you are not interested in anything other than making it through a list of questions you have been given. If someone poses a question that is off topic, or introduces an issue that takes the group in a different direction than you originally planned, work hard not to dismiss the person out of hand. What motivates them to bring the issue up? Is this an opportunity that would genuinely encourage the group to pursue?