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How not to prepare a Bible study

a humorous look at getting ready to lead a messy small-group discussion


One Tuesday in May, I was about to lead a Bible study at our weekly worship meeting—it was last-minute, but I thought I could get it done. I studied the passage that morning for about an hour, and then squeezed in some more study and question writing time in between appointments with people on campus. Well, we did study the Bible, but it was a bit messier than I had hoped. Here are my top five tips if you're aiming to prepare a really sloppy Bible study like mine:

  1. Don't begin studying the passage until the day of the study. This way, you’ll be sure to come up with all kinds of questions about the text, but you won’t have time to sort them out and dwell on them. The key to leading a messy Bible study is to have a lot of questions that don’t really lead to a main point.
  2. Try to write Bible study questions in five-minute spurts. This will enable you to lose your train of thought between question-writing sessions. I used this technique and came up with a truly unclear question: “What’s all this life stuff about?” Great one, huh?
  3. Don’t leave enough time to reflect on your questions using a biblical reference book. Using reference materials such as Bible dictionaries will only encourage creative thinking and promote logical connections. To achieve real unpreparedness, you need to avoid these tools at all costs.
  4. Avoid investigating the context of the passage. Studying the context will only heighten your sense of clarity about the passage and how it applies to your members’ lives, causing your group time to be more effective. Be sure to choose the passage randomly, without reading any of the surrounding Scripture.
  5. Make sure you don’t have any time to wrestle with the passage personally before the Bible study. Taking time to understand the passage and apply it to your own life will only inhibit your ability to lead a sloppy Bible study. What little time you spend preparing should be spent in information-gathering alone, and not in absorbing the text into your own life situation.


All satire aside, God spoke through the text that Tuesday despite my stumbles and lack of preparation. I’m especially glad for the DePaul students—they have such good Bible study instincts that they were able to pick up my slack. And, no matter how much time one spends in preparation, nothing absorbs Scripture like a person eager to hear from God.

Ready for the real tips? Here are some steps I follow to prepare for Bible studies. Although this is a somewhat lengthy process, it gives adequate time to let the passage linger in one’s mind and seep into one’s life. So, if you are one who would rather avoid sloppy Bible studies, here are the tips for you:

Tips for preparing a good Bible study

Your personal study (20–40 minutes)

  • Pray and ask God to enlighten your understanding of the text.
  • Sit down with some colored pencils or markers, and a regular pencil or pen for marking up the passage and making notes (use a manuscript form of the passage or a photocopy from your Bible).
  • Read the passage two or three times.
  • Circle or mark places where you see repetition, contrast or causes that lead to effects.
  • Write down questions that come to mind as you read the passage. Look especially for places that are just confusing to you, and places where you see something and think, “Is there some significance to this word or image?”
  • Write down a few of your main impressions from the passage. These can be both thoughts and feelings.

Research (20–40 minutes)

  • Look up questions or historical context issues in a Bible dictionary.
  • Discuss the questions you identified above with a friend.
  • Figure out what the main point is. Write one or two sentences that state what you hope the group will understand from the passage.
  • Consider you own personal application: what is God saying to you through this text? Write out some of your thoughts on this.

Study questions (20–40 minutes)

  • Write a first draft of some Bible study questions. Be sure to include some questions in each category: observation (what’s going on?), interpretation (why does this happen?), application (what does this mean for my life?).
  • Look at an IVP LifeGuide® Bible study guide written for your passage. Read through its questions and look at the leader’s notes. Use this guide to revise your questions. There may be some questions that you wrote that are better! There may be some in the guide that you would like to use.
  • Write out all of the questions you are going to use in your own words. Write out your responses to the questions too.

Group preparation (20–40 minutes)

  • Think through your actual meeting. Would you like to have an icebreaker question? Where would prayer fit in your meeting? Would you like to include worship? Plan out the flow of your meeting.
  • Pray for your members and for the meeting. If you can, pray in the room where you will meet.
  • Call your members four to twelve hours before the meeting to remind them to attend (or give that role to another group member).


Being well prepared will allow you to relax and listen to your group members more attentively. After this kind of preparation, your Bible study will be far from sloppy!

—Ann Boyd, on staff at DePaul University, lives in Chicago with her husband, Jon. She knows all too much about being unprepared for a Bible study.

Copyright 2004 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA

Posted on: Sep 15, 2004
Last modified on: Mar 13, 2007

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