Bible Study Small Group Guidelines and Priorities
God will use your willingness to serve Him to have an impact for eternity on the lives of these women! Be praying now for how God is putting your group together for His purposes. He will. It never fails that you will see ways He has put women together so that they can relate to each other in significant ways and encourage each other in ways you can’t.
Expect that you will have ups and downs with your group!
1 Cor 15:58 Therefore, my brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
It helps if we keep our focus on why we’re here, to examine our motives in why we’re serving. Motive needs to be—to be used by God in the lives of the women He gives you, serving them, loving them, pointing them to Christ. Finding community and making friends may be a by-product of being a small group leader, but if that’s primarily what you’re looking for, if your motive is anything other than serving God by serving His women, you will be disappointed. To listen, to care about them, to point them to Christ, then to trust the outcome to Him—that will never disappoint. God will decide how that will look, and He will not waste your investment of yourself.
Philippians 2:1-7 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Your role as a small group leader is to facilitate the discussion and to shepherd the women in your group—to know where they are, not only in their lives, but in their walk with the Lord. You’ll be best able to do this by spending time with them during the Bible study and outside the Bible study time.
What you do outside the Bible study time will affect your Bible study group time, and what you do during the Bible study time will affect your time outside the Bible study. As you love and care for your women during the week, they will be more committed to be there and to be open during the discussion. As you listen to what they say during the discussion, God will show you ways to pray for them, ways to connect with them and love them well. Pray God will show you where each woman is. Sometimes her response to a question will give you great insight. Listen.
We hope it will be freeing to you to realize what your role is and what God’s role is; your role is to love these women, to pray for them, to point them to Christ, to listen, to encourage them toward community; it is NOT your responsibility to change them or to solve all their problems. That is God’s responsibility alone; we can’t.
Phil 2:13—“for it is God Who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose”
One of the most exciting things about serving God in this study is to watch Him change hearts—you WILL see Him do that! You will get to see things He is doing that you wouldn’t if you weren’t serving here. You will watch God do things that only He can do. Be looking for that. It is such an incredible privilege to watch God change hearts—you WILL see Him do that. The better you get to know your women, the more you will be aware of what He is doing. It doesn’t get any better than that!
SMALL GROUP LEADERS: PARTNERING WITH THE WOMEN IN YOUR SMALL GROUP
Keys to leading a vibrant small group:
Commit every aspect of your group and your leadership to God.
Phil 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
As you give your leadership to God, He will give you a peace which will enable you to focus on Him and on your women, not on yourself and your insecurities.
Pray for your women. The more you are praying for them, the more you’ll be able to love each one of them with the love of Christ.
Preparation — have your lesson thoroughly done; know that passage as well as you can.
Some of you know the things we will be studying very well—for others, some of the things may be new. Just ask God to help you understand it and to equip you to lead the group—to know what’s on point; to know when it’s getting off track.
Another aspect of preparation is knowing your women —that will help you know what to draw out, how to respond with sensitivity.
As you’ve done these things, you will be able to focus on them, to really listen without thinking about yourself—“What should I say?” “What will they think of me?”
Perspective — knowing your role and God’s role. Be intentional about why you’re here; what your role is and what God’s role is. If I know why I’m doing something, I will stay focused, passionate, committed.
Remember the purpose of small groups:
1. Learn to apply God’s word to their lives. We want them to develop a hunger habit of turning to God and His word for answers. Romans 12:1-2 so that we will be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”
2. Foster authenticity and open sharing in order to “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:23-24).
3. All women need to feel connected. Small groups allows women to get connected to other people in a safe, small environment.
You want your group to promote these purposes—how you do create that?
To create it most effectively:
1. Encourage openness
2. Be the leader
There are many ways these women could be spending their hours we schedule Bible study—many good ways. We want them to walk away after the Bible study feeling the time in the group was worthwhile—that coming here was the best part of their week! God’s word and His truth are worthwhile. That’s what people are longing for, whether they know it or not.
1. Ways to encourage openness
• The goal is to help the ladies process what they heard, not to get through all the questions. The questions themselves are not sacred; the women’s hearts and minds are.
• Actively depend on the Lord’s wisdom as far as drawing out quiet ladies and putting people on the spot.
• Encourage them that what God has given them is valid. Affirm their openness. Remind them that we are here for each other; it may be that the thing you shared is just what someone else in the group needed to hear.
• LISTEN. If they know you’re listening, that they are being heard, it will encourage them to be open. Be active in listening—body language, eye contact, nod, whatever is natural for you. Call them by name. Dale Carnegie is famous for saying that the sweetest thing anyone can hear is the sound of their own name. (“I have called you by name; you are Mine!” –Isaiah 43:1)
• When someone shares, allow them to discuss. When that has been covered, respond briefly to affirm that person. Especially if someone has shared a personal experience, don’t leave it hanging. But be brief; keep it about her, about God, not about you. “Thank you, that was powerful / I can really see how God has been working in the situation / great insight / good point / gives us something to think about” . . . something natural to you that will encourage her to be open again.
• Be aware of body language that is saying “PLEASE DON’T ASK ME ANYTHING!” and ”If you ask me, I will talk.” But first, throw the question out and wait for a response. Don’t be afraid of a little silence; someone may be working up the courage to share. And often, the silence is the space people need to think through the answer to the question that was just asked. We’re usually tempted to jump in and say something—start rambling, etc. A few moments of silence does not mean that it’s not going well. It may mean that lots of (mental) wheels are turning! Don’t be afraid of silence as women think about the answer to the questions. Nobody wants to end up looking foolish, and silence allows their thoughts to jell somewhat. Stay relaxed! If you can’t do that, ACT relaxed!
• If someone has been really vulnerable or emotional, always respond with compassion and affirmation. In cultures where physically touching a non-family member is acceptable, it can be good for people on either side of her to reach over and touch her—gently rub her back, place a hand on her arm or leg, etc. You may need to model this. If you feel it’s appropriate, you might stop and pray right then. (Don’t underestimate the affirming power of a leader’s prayers on the heart of a person who has just risked it by sharing something vulnerable! Not only are you releasing God’s power into her life, your prayers probably “weigh” more in her eyes than anyone else’s simply because of your role as leader.) We all know how it feels to be really open, then regret it. “I shouldn’t have said so much” turns into “What are they thinking of me now?” which turns into “I can’t face them again.” Bless them for their vulnerability: for example, “_____, I want to honor your courage and openness in sharing your heart with us. You’ve given us all a gift.” Contact that person later in the week to follow up and affirm her.
• If someone says something you know is contrary to scripture, gently correct it by making sure there is no energy or edge in your voice, and saying something like, “Well, that’s an interesting thought, but God’s word says _________.” With a smile and gentleness.
• If someone goes too long (and you can tell by the other ladies’ body language that they know it too), bring relief to the group by finding a place to jump in and redirect the conversation with something like, “That’s great, ______. Maybe you could talk to me about that more later. Anyone else?”
• Keep track of birthdays and make sure everyone's is mentioned. For those whose birthdays are in the summer, surprise them by celebrating "half birthdays"!! (6 months around the calendar)
• Be open and transparent yourself; let them know we’re all in this together; you struggle too; set the example of being teachable yourself. For some of us, that’s hard; for some, it’s too easy. Be open and transparent, but it doesn’t need to be “all about me.” A small group is not a therapy group for you to dump all your “stuff”! Neither should you put yourself on some sort of pedestal that elevates you above the other women. The ground is level at the foot of the cross!
2. Be the leader
You are a facilitator—not a teacher.
But you’re the leader.
1. Encourages discussion and openness, draws out sharing.
2. Lets them answer; doesn’t give all the answers.
3. Affirms and responds to someone who shares.
4. Is gracious
5. Is an active listener
6. Is the leader; guards against poor use of time; guides the discussion to stay on track.
That is your responsibility; we want them to feel the time was well spent. You have flexibility to lead the group the way God is showing you to—doesn’t mean you just have to read straight through the questions, but be careful not to get totally off track. If the group time just becomes . . .”What did you do this week?” . . . they could do that anywhere. That’s what makes Bible study unique.
Things you can do so the time will be well spent:
Start on time; end on time. Let them know you’ll do that; it gives security and helps the group be more relaxed. You may have been in groups other places where this doesn’t happen and you know what it’s like. Be sure they feel free to leave by the published ending time. Some have responsibilities they’re going home to; for evening groups, many have had unbelievable days and need some time at home. Be sure any “official” part of the group is over by the official ending time; if you need to, stand up at that pre-set time. It’s great if people want to stay and talk later; that’s not a bad thing. But if someone needs to leave and feels awkward about doing that, it will discourage her attendance in the group. If you know you can get so wrapped up in the discussion that you easily lose track of time, ask for a volunteer time-keeper who will help keep everyone aware that there are ten minutes left (or however you choose to handle that).
• To be committed to the study of God’s word. We don’t demand that they have the study done; we want them to come even if they haven’t, but remind them that you don’t want them to miss anything God has. They will get much more out of the group and the teaching if they have done the study.
• To let you know if they won’t be there; you care whether they are there.
• Be excited about what God will do through them and in them.
• As they study and share, they can EXPECT to see God change them.
• As they pray for each other, they can EXPECT to see God answer prayer.
Purpose of small groups: to learn to apply God’s word to their lives
• Guide the discussion to fulfill that purpose: to help them identify situations in their lives where they can apply God’s word. We want authenticity. . .but not just venting. Be careful to guide it away from husband-bashing, boss-bashing, boyfriend-bashing, roommate-bashing.
• You may have heard this truth—God loves you just as you are, but He loves you too much to leave you just as you are. Good principle in our small groups. Openness in the groups is a goal, but not an end in itself. Always keep in mind the purpose of learning to apply God’s word. We always want to be accepting of each person just where she is; your goal will be to offer hope as God is brought into the situations of her life. The questions are a great tool to identify where each girl is, so we can encourage her in bringing God’s word and His truth to the situation to transform us.
• You will probably have times where someone is very emotional and vulnerable. Sometimes when we’re in that frame of mind, we don’t know how to stop. We want to be compassionate but don’t let it go on and on, to monopolize the whole group time; step in. “I’d love to talk with you tomorrow,” then stop and pray if appropriate. Then pick up the Bible study discussion again. The ladies in your group will be grateful for you maintaining control and not getting derailed.
Some specific situations you may encounter in your group
1. The person that dominates the conversation – Privately, have a conversation with her where you thank you her for her enthusiastic participation in the discussion, and then ask her to help you be aware of chances for giving others opportunities to share. Ask for her help in keeping a balance in the group. This is a difficult conversation, so be sure to sandwich the uncomfortable truth that you are asking her to pull back between affirming her on the front end and the back end of your conversation.
2. Someone who offers unbiblical advice to another person in the group – Affirm the person’s heart to help so they feel heard and appreciated, and then gently tell what God’s word says. You might also say something like, “We do hear that advice out there in the world and it may make sense from a purely human perspective, but God has given us principles to live by. . .”
3. The quiet person – When you encourage her to talk by asking them a question, smile at her and make sure your voice is warm and inviting. If she is very shy, consider calling her during the week and asking her to come prepared to answer one or two of the questions: an assignment. Tell her you want the group to hear from her because what she thinks is important.
4. The conversation that gets wayyyy off track – It’s your responsibility to apply the brakes and lead the way back on track. The ladies are expecting you to! With a smile on your face, say something like, “OK, that was an interesting (and it might even have been important) ‘rabbit trail,’ but now let’s get back to our questions.” You can use a gesture, such as using both hands to create a “T” where you say, “Time out! OK, back to question 4 (or wherever things got off track).”
5. The exceedingly needy person with the problem that she talks about all the time – Exceedingly needy people have boundary problems, and they need you (and the group expects you) to provide limits. Some people are “EGR Folks” (extra grace required), and it’s helpful to just accept that brokenness is a part of life (and Bible study). This kind of lady needs a lot of affirmation, especially outside of the Bible study, but be aware of the time slipping by and don’t let her develop a pattern of dominating the group. Letting her go on and on about her problem (which is very effective at getting the attention she craves) will not change her neediness—or her problem. Seek to make her feel heard and understood, but also communicate in private that you want to make sure everyone gets their opportunity to share as well, and that means being sensitive to one person not taking up too much time.
6. When you are asked questions about a particularly difficult passage of scripture, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
The leadership team leader is here to be a resource for you. We want to know how things are going in your group. If you see any of these issues developing or have any concerns about your group, come to us. You don’t need to shoulder it by yourself.
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 We constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of His calling and that by His power He may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the Name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The author gratefully acknowledges the wisdom and experience of the leadership of Women's Bible study (especially Ann Holford) at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas, the source of much of this document.