Over last two months I was looking into various ways to conduct bible studies but realized that there are almost no books on this subject. On the other hand, there are many books, articles and online discussions on various types of preaching. Despite obvious differences between the two (preaching is a one-person act, bible study is a discussion), with a certain degree of direction from the group’s leader, a bible study can be made to follow the same pattern as a sermon.
Three main types of contemporary preaching:
1. Topical – Preaching where the minister decides on a topic and then searches Scripture for biblical texts applicable to the topic.
2. Textual – Preaching that refers to a passage of Scripture but does not use the main point of the text as the main point of the sermon.
3. Expository (expositional) – Preaching that takes the point of the text as the point of the sermon.
There is a great debate between which type of preaching is the best. Most evangelicals now use expository preaching, while topical preaching is more popular in liberal and charismatic churches. All have their pros and cons: expository is considered the safest but also likely to be dull and impart pure head knowledge.
For a typical bible study I have a strong preference for the “textual” type. Here is my reasoning. No matter what passage you take, there is always the main point and many secondary points that it makes. In many cases it is impossible to cover all points in the span of a two-hour discussion, so a certain focus is necessary. Expository (also called inductive) bible studies constraints you to only focus on the main point, regardless of its importance to our lives. Very often it is the side points that are more applicable to us. On the other hand, textual bible study will free you to choose the point to focus.
I must say that I have already tried textual study several times in my bible study group. It was interesting to observe that some easily accepted it while others were left puzzled. Eventually, it led me to lengthen the study so that I can cover as many points as possible, but this is not the best way.
This leaves me with a question I am still not able to answer completely, “What is the role of a bible study leader?” I see it as an interplay between two options:
1) The leader is aware of all points the passage makes but arrives at the study without a preconceived idea of which direction the study will take. He/she then observes the natural direction the discussion takes and provides necessary input.
2) The leader is aware of all points the passage makes but decides which points he would like the group to concentrate on prior to study. He/she then stirs up the discussion in the preferred direction.