Bible Study: Boring?
Not at all! These 8 points will help leaders supercharge your sessions to bring the Word into better focus, allow creativity to thrive, and most important of all—be fun.
Bible . . . Study?
As a young, new pastor, I found reading, studying, and teaching the Bible daunting tasks. Where to begin? How to interpret it? How to make it come alive for others? I finally fell in love with the Bible when I started employing some of these strategies.
Put these Bible study strategies to use and they can bring a new vitality to the Bible for you as well as your learners.
Some people come to Bible studies hoping you will give them the answers to their questions. But the best gift you can give them is to encourage their questions and help them to wrestle with the answers for themselves. Often, their questions will raise other questions, and then meaningful conversations can open their minds to possibilities they had not yet considered.
Some of the best thought-provoking questions are the ones that we might be afraid to tackle.
Was Mary truly a virgin or was it a literary device to indicate Jesus was important?
Did Jesus really walk on water?
Were, in fact, the Israelites truly slaves in Egypt?
Resist the temptation to answer the questions. Instead, allow questions to open minds to wondering, which leads us to the next suggestion…
Instead of answering questions, let the questions lead to wondering. What might it mean if Mary was truly a virgin when she conceived? What might it mean if Mary was not a virgin? What are the implications for the Christian community today? How might either answer shape your personal faith life?
Wondering aloud can seem scary, but it can also open minds and conversations in ways that bring the Bible to life. When we’re allowed to wonder, the Bible bubbles with energy and vibrancy. It becomes a book we can’t wait to dig into deeper.
Some of the best thought-provoking questions are the ones that we might be afraid to tackle. Resist the temptation to answer the questions. Instead, allow questions to open minds to wondering.
Ask: What is God Doing Here?
It can be tempting to read the Bible through the lens of a lifestyle guidebook – How can I behave like the people in the Bible? But the Bible comes alive in new and interesting ways when we ask, “What is God doing here?” Sometimes we find God is active, teaching, healing, protecting, saving, forgiving, loving. Other times God’s activity is harder to pinpoint. Becoming actively aware of God’s activity in the Bible’s world helps us become more aware of God in our own lives, too.
Engage a Variety of Learning Styles
Everybody learns a little differently. There are several different classifications of learning styles out there, but for our purposes we’re going to look at these five primary and two ancillary learning styles. The theory is that engaging different learning styles can help captivate people's attentions and excitement in different ways.
Visual learners prefer using pictures or images to learn. To engage this learning style, bring maps, images of what objects and buildings might have looked like in biblical times, or videos that spark new questions and conversations.
Logical learners prefer using logic, reasoning, and systems. To engage logical learners, try asking questions about the strategies and motivations behind people’s actions in the Bible. What did the Pharisees see that made them so afraid of Jesus? What did they have to lose if Jesus’ popularity continued to grow? What strategies could they have employed to ensure the survival of their social structure?
Verbal learners prefer using words, spoken and written. To engage verbal learners, encourage journaling, reading the Bible aloud during your study, and open conversations. Have learners post their Bible questions and thoughts on their social media to engage further conversation. Bible studies tend to favor verbal learning styles, so mixing it up can make it even more exciting!
Physical learners prefer using their bodies, especially the sense of movement and touch. To engage physical learners, post poster paper around the room and let people get up to write thoughts or lists on these posters. Or play games that require light physical activity like puzzling out representative objects (stuffed snake for Adam and Eve, wooden staff for Moses, and crown for King David) in chronological order. Or bake bread together. Or raid the preschool’s musical instruments closet and play instruments together.
Aural learners prefer sound and music. To engage aural learners, play music or watch music videos to enhance your sessions. Or sing your group’s favorite hymns. Don’t be afraid to use popular and contemporary music.
Social learners prefer to work in groups. To engage social learners, encourage open conversations within the study group.
Solitary learners prefer to work or study alone. To engage solitary learners, encourage self-study at home.
While there is some debate as to whether or not learning styles are effective for long-term learning, the primary goal here is to engage your learners and pique their interest. By tapping into these learning styles, you will engage all the senses, making the process more interesting for everyone.
Bible study doesn’t have to be limited to a conversation around a table. Think about the varieties of subjects taught at your local high school. Could some of these be incorporated into your Bible studies? Here are a few to consider including in your curriculum.
- Social Studies and Current Events
- Life Skills such as . . .
o Building, Repair and Maintenance
o Political Engagement
o Social and Interpersonal Engagement
The possibilities are endless! As you plan your sessions, give yourself some time to gather props and materials to engage your learners in unlimited ways. What's more, creativity is a natural partner in Bible study to creativity in worship.
Don’t Be Afraid to Use the “Secular”
It is tempting during Bible studies to demonize the secular, creating a dichotomy between the things of God and the things of the world. But the reality is that your people are living in the world. And the world is not wholly demonic to them. They like secular music. They watch reality TV. They drink beer and they swear. To demonize the secular only serves to shame them and keep the Bible at a distance. Instead, try using the more neutral elements of the secular world to enhance biblical learning.
- Use songs and music videos in the mainstream to demonstrate how God is active in the world. Go to Billboard’s Top 100 to see what people are listening to. What does this music say about what the world is concerned about today? Check out Drake’s God’s Plan video. (You’ll need to print the lyrics for older ears. Oh, and you’ll probably need the Urban Dictionary to interpret it.) Pay attention to the initial discomfort that the unfamiliar style of music evokes, and the radical message of love and compassion the video shares.
- Host your Bible study at the coffee shop.
- Invite a Muslim to speak with your group when you study Paul’s ministry with Gentile communities.
- Watch a clip from Shark Tank when you discuss the pooling of resources in early Christian communities. Or a clip from Escaping Polygamy when discussing the polygamist lifestyles of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, or Solomon. Or a clip from Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath when discussing the challenges the Israelites faced as they tried to keep their faith clean of outside influences.
Resist the temptation to demonize the secular; instead, help learners make connections between the world they live in and the world of the Bible. Help them see God in their world.
Do's and Don'ts
There are no right or wrong ways to study the Bible. I have found that the Bible opens up to me when I practice some of these do’s and don’ts. (These are just to open our hearts and minds to other possibilities, they are not intended to condone or condemn.)
- Do wrestle with the awkward stuff. Ruth is in Jesus’ genealogy, and she seduced a man to get what she needed. (Ruth 3) Awkward! When Abraham and Sarah were traveling through the region of Negeb, Abraham told King Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, so the king wouldn’t murder him. (Genesis 20) Really? When the tribe of Benjamin were left without wives, God’s elders instructed the Benjaminites to kidnap wives from the tribe of Shiloh. (Judges 21) What?! Sometimes it’s ok not to reconcile the bad behaviors of God’s people, but let the discomfort sit with us a while.
- Don’t try to turn people into saints and sinners. We’re all a mix of both, and people in the Bible are no different. If we make them into saints and sinners, then we risk trying to emulate people who are only human. We strive to behave in ways humans cannot, and the shame of underperforming against these biblical saints can be detrimental to learning and loving the Bible.
- Don’t try to explain away the things we don’t like. Sometimes texts sit in conflict with one another. If we try to reconcile them, we end up beating our heads against a wall. If we try to explain away the ones we don’t like, we limit the Bible’s ability to open our minds. Sometimes the best we can do is allow two seemingly contradictory texts to sit uncomfortably with us.
- Don’t force texts to fit your theology… let your theology transform as you let the texts work on you. If a text seems to say something contrary to your beliefs, consider letting the text speak to you. What might it mean if the text were telling a truth you don’t want to see? What might it mean for our faith life if we have to reconsider our beliefs?
- Don’t make the Bible a rule book. As soon as it becomes a guide for living, we turn ourselves off to the rich, messy reality of living in God’s world. We stop seeing the humanness of the humans in the Bible. If we can let the stories wash over us in all their scrappy glory, then shades of depth and meaning start to form.
Finally, Have Fun
The most important aspect of studying the Bible is to have fun, together! The Bible has more history than all the history books in the Library of Congress. It has more twists and turns than The Kite Runner. It is more epic than The Lord of the Rings. It is steamier than an EL James novel. It has more battles between good and evil than Harry Potter. It’s more poetic than William Shakespeare.
In short, this amazing book has something for everyone. So, have fun! Explore. Learn. Let your mind be blown.
Dr. Kimberly "Kace" Leetch the founder of Clergy Stuff, a provider of Narrative Lectionary worship resources and the parent company of RCL Worship Resources. Her goal in her work life is to provide resources for clergy to make their ministries cooler, easier, and funner. Yes, she means funner. She lives with her family in Bloomington, Minnesota.