Podcast: Tips for Leading an Effective Bible Study (Lydia Brownback)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Guiding People into God's Word

In this episode, Lydia Brownback, author of Esther: The Hidden Hand of God, discusses some of her tips for leading an effective, engaging Bible study. She reflects on what she has learned over the years from Bible studies she's been a part of, offers advice for keeping the conversation on track and getting through the occasional awkward silence, and discusses why a Bible study leader's own passion for the text is so important for the group as a whole.

Esther

Lydia Brownback

Through this 10-week study, readers will discover how Esther, a book that does not mention God directly, implicitly points to our Lord Jesus Christ. Part of the Flourish Bible Study Series.

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1:32 - Always Learning from the Bible

Matt Tully
Lydia, thank you so much for joining me on The Crossway Podcast today.

Lydia Brownback
It's great to be back with you, Matt.

Matt Tully
How long have you been writing and teaching women's Bible studies?

Lydia Brownback
I've just started writing them. Before, I would informally prepare a lesson for a Bible study, but I'm just getting into the more formalized writing. I've been teaching Bible studies for over twenty years now.

Matt Tully
In what kind of contexts have you done that?

Lydia Brownback
Church context—-women's Bible studies in church—or a little more informally in my home; but always women's groups and of varying sizes, varying ages and stages. It's ranged from baby believers to those who've been walking with the Lord for a long time. It has run the gamut. And it's interesting, as the teacher I learned just as much from the people attending as they learned from the teacher. Because of all the many facets of God's word—

Matt Tully
Everyone says that, but what do you mean by that? How is that the case?

Lydia Brownback
Even if they ask a question, it's maybe an angle I never thought about; or they will actually have an insight that's just so wonderful. And the Holy Spirit's using this confab of people, speaking through each one, illuminating through each one. And obviously, you're ensuring that what is being said is faithful to the text, and you're throwing out what isn't. But as we come together around a particular text and we're all looking at it, it is that multifaceted approach that makes it a learning experience for everyone in the room.

Matt Tully
That's the amazing thing about God's word—it is so multifaceted and there's so much depth there that you can study it over and over and over again and still come away with new stuff.

Lydia Brownback
We'll never exhaust it. We can't. As human beings, we can never exhaust it. And don't you find that when you're reading a passage that maybe you read last January, and you come across it again, but given where you are now in July, it hits you in a brand new way. The Lord lays it on your heart in a brand new way, or opens your eyes to something about him in a brand new way. So again, we can never exhaust it. I think everyone has those experiences.

3:51 - A Leader’s Passion for Scripture

Matt Tully
As you look back over your life, is there someone that you can point to in your life who first got you excited about studying the Bible? About what the Bible is, about what it has for us, and what it means to actually dig in for yourself—is there someone who stands out?

Lydia Brownback
One of my seminary professors. His name was Ray Dillard. He passed away shortly after I graduated from seminary way back in the 90s. I took the Minor Prophets from him. I'd never studied the minor prophets before, and you don't see a lot of minor prophets studies these days—and we should, because it's so relevant and so amazing. But when he was teaching, he would weep when he hit certain parts, and he was just so passionate about the text he was teaching us that it made me want to dive into the Minor Prophets myself. And then I think other pastors—there's no one in particular. There are many like Ray Dillard: Phil Ryken, James Boyce, Alistair Begg. It's their passion for God's word that's contagious. I think when people are teaching with passion, it does pull others into wanting to have that discovery for themselves.

Matt Tully
How much of that do you think is at play when it comes to being a good Bible study leader? Not just having a passion for the text, but then displaying that passion to the people that you're leading?

Lydia Brownback
I think that is really important. But I think we can overdo and overteach, and then we take away the joy of discovery. And isn't that half the fun? When you're doing a Bible study with people, you want to lead them to make the discovery. You don't want to just tell them what it is.

Matt Tully
Which is probably harder.

Lydia Brownback
It can be, and I'm discovering that by writing Bible studies. Does this question make sense to me? Does it make sense to them? Is it spoon-feeding them, or is it too complicated where they're not going to get what I'm talking about? I thought writing Bible studies would be a cinch compared to writing other kinds of books. It's the exact opposite.

6:06 - The Active Word of God

Matt Tully
Thinking back again over your life, is there a Bible study that you were a part of—not leading, but maybe just participating in—that stands out to you? As you think about what you're trying to accomplish when you lead a Bible study, is there another example from your own life that stands as a great example of that?

Lydia Brownback
The one I think that has been definitive for me happened more recently, and it was a Bible study I was in in New York. It was a large group of women—I'd say on any given week there were forty people. On the roster were eighty people, so it was a large number. They were from a variety of backgrounds, I think there were a handful of unbelievers in there who were just Christian curious. I think there were seven or eight from the local Catholic church who were coming. Just the questions and the wonder! One day a woman was sitting in the back crying—I forget which text we were talking about—but she was crying.

Matt Tully
What book of the Bible were you guys studying?

Lydia Brownback
I think we were looking at Galatians. So this woman was crying. She was a quiet woman anyway, and so I didn't want to obviously say Are you okay? in the middle of this. So at the end I went and said Hey, what's going on? I noticed you were crying. She said You were talking about grace, and I've never heard any of this before. And she was crying because she was so struck with the awesomeness of God's grace. And she had never ever before in her own church—she was one of the people who attends the Catholic church—she'd never heard that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone. She was weeping with joy just so quietly there in the back. That was probably the highlight moment for me of Bible study, to see that happen in that room. Isn't that why we do this—people just showing up and sitting in the back and then that kind of thing happens? And then they start coming every week after that. It's great!

8:11 - Getting People Excited about the Minor Prophets

Matt Tully
You see the word of God active and making a difference. What do you enjoy most about the actual process and the act of leading? When it comes to standing up in front of people or sitting around a circle with people, what's the most fun part of that? And then I'd love to know what's the least fun part, or the most stressful part for you?

Lydia Brownback
When I teach a book like one of the Minor Prophets—let's say I did a study on Hosea—there's so much in there about God's judgment. If you're doing a chapter a week, you're going through week after week of a lot of God's judgement. You start to say Why does this matter? What does this have to do with my life, or does this have to do with my life? Or maybe it's really scary and you ask Is God really like this? And so you recognize this is the kind of thing that steers people away from the Old Testament, or from some of these books, where they see a lot of this. Either they just can't deal with it or they don't know how to understand it or no one's ever taught them how to study it. So to say God is the same yesterday, today, and forever; so it does matter to look at God in that context. And then to say Big picture redemptive history—Where is Jesus in this? And to get them excited about Oh! The Minor Prophets do matter. I think I want to study that book of the Bible. And then to equip them to know how to do it on their own, to want to read through it in their devotion time in the morning, to pick up Malachi and read through it. Some of them have never read these books of the Bible.

9:57 - The Role of Application

Matt Tully
Do you feel that way about all tough or tricky passages that may be uncomfortable—do you particularly enjoy teaching people through those?

Lydia Brownback
If they can capture the excitement. Right now in my own Bible reading I'm reading through Joshua where the promised land is portioned off to different tribes. Chapters are just names and places and people that mean nothing to today. But this is God's word, so it's there for a reason. It matters. We could put our rational mind on this and say This doesn't matter. But if we humble our hearts beneath God's hand and we get into his word and we pray to be receiving what he would give, it's amazing how suddenly there's this discovery. Well, what does it say? It ties us back to the verse in Acts where it says that God determines the boundaries of our dwelling. And so this is going back there too. He's determining the boundaries of people's dwelling. This was the promised land and the tribes and different peoples in different places, so this is meant for his people and for his purposes. So then how do we apply that personally? You apply it by asking What does this tell us about God? One, his sovereignty over even where we live; and two, that he cares about the details of our lives. So as we're reading a list of names and places that mean nothing today, what is it telling us about God? And that's Bible study. It's meant to do that.

Matt Tully
That's such an interesting point because I think a lot of times our experience with Bible study—I know this is true for me—is it actually seems like the preoccupation can be Let's try to understand fairly quickly what the text is saying, and then let's go around and we'll each share what that means to me, or how that's going to make an impact in my life tomorrow. What do you think about that? How do you balance the value and the time spent studying the text itself—trying to understand the meaning of the text and what it's telling us about God—with also the value of applying it to our lives in some kind of personal way?

Lydia Brownback
Both matter, and we see errors on either side. I've known preachers who will say they will never make an application at the end of their sermon because they'll say Well, it'll figure itself out. If they just follow this, the application will show up in their lives. I do think as shepherds guiding sheep, part of it is to help apply the text. Look how practical Jesus was in his preaching and teaching, and Paul too. At the end of his epistles there's all this practical application stuff. So I think we have our paradigm right there in Scripture. There is that balance. Historical context matters, and we can't skip over it because then we're not being faithful to the text; but then we don't want to just leave it there because then you've equipped people's heads, but have you equipped their hearts and their lives? I do love how Scripture does both, especially the epistles—we get all the doctrine, and then it's applied. In Paul's letters we get to see this.

Matt Tully
We see that pattern of doctrine and application.

13:22 - Handling Tough Passages

Matt Tully
What would you say is your least favorite part of leading a Bible study? Is there something that's stressful consistently and is a challenge to prepare for, or maybe it's a challenge to work through in the moment—does anything come to mind?

Lydia Brownback
When we have to explain difficult theological concepts that people are scared by or turned away by. If you want to talk about election, for example; I dread when we hit a text on election, but we have to cover it. Thinking back to the study in New York, when we hit that, it would have been so easy to duck it because of all these different backgrounds and people—Well, they won't come back if we talk about this doctrine. No, we have to hit it. And it was a contentious day, but it was presented in a way that's humble and listening, and not coming in like This is it. This is all figured out. We must be able to present it in a winsome way from Scripture itself. I don't trot out Luther and Calvin and all of that—these women could care less about that. What I'm trotting out is God's word and helping them get it from the text itself.

Matt Tully
Can you think back on any examples of studies you were leading where there was some kind of controversial passage or doctrine that came up naturally, and things just sort of went off the rails—maybe you weren't prepared for how intense it would get or how upset maybe some people got?

Lydia Brownback
I think a big one is in Peter where we're talking about his instructions to wives and submission. That's a very controversial one. I've had women get up and walk out or argue or debate. I'd say that issue, especially lately.

Matt Tully
How did you handle that? When you're trying to lead a study, you've said you want to encourage exploration and discovery—you don't want to always be telling them This is the right answer. Just accept it. But you also want the productive conversation to happen and for it not to devolve into a bunch of arguing. So how do you balance those things?

Lydia Brownback
One thing is I point out—in that example specifically—is the context of what Peter was saying. In this text, submission is being discussed in the context of presenting the gospel and how women were perceived in the culture, and it was about how a woman conducted herself. If she's trying to win her husband and if she's acting a certain way, it's going to shame his reputation in the community. So some of this about don't let your adorning be with the braided hair and be submissive (1 Pet. 3:3–6), that's the context for that remark. It's not the sort of Neanderthal caveman type of thing that some people think it is. And then on top of that, I am sure to point out what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean tolerating abuse, and even in Peter's day and age abuse was looked down on. There weren't jail sentences for it probably, but abuse was definitely not accepted. So I'm quick to always say what submission isn't. So there's a way to bring it out from the text; not just that one you're studying, but the whole picture of the Bible and the character of God.

Matt Tully
That's such an interesting point that when it comes to these tricky passages or doctrines, you're actually spending time pointing out what it's not. So often people who disagree with something and are the most vigorous opponents, when you talk to them a little bit about it, it's almost as if they don't fully understand or they have a caricature in mind of what this doctrine really says or means. And so there's value in maybe breaking that down a little bit, as opposed to almost presenting the positive picture of what it is.

Lydia Brownback
And that's a big part of it. I think another controversy that can come up is there's a huge contingent of evangelicals who equate America with Christianity. So if you are not making that same link in what you're teaching, there's bafflement sometimes, and they question. That can take it off the rails too. It can quickly become a political conversation. I think especially right now in our political climate that's a big issue at the moment for Bible study leaders to have to contend with.

17:56 - Awkward Silences

Matt Tully
So what are some of the most common pitfalls that maybe you've had to learn to avoid or that you've seen other Bible study teachers have to work themselves out of—what comes to mind on that front?

Lydia Brownback
Probably some practical things here. I would say it's just being able to rule the room in a way that's not like you're ruling the room. You may have the person who will monologue if given the floor and take the study not just down off on some tangent, but try to answer every question. Or, you also want the teacher to not answer every question; live with the awkward silence. If there's a silence for a minute, don't rush to fill it.

Matt Tully
Do you have a rule of thumb for how long you will wait until you say something?

Lydia Brownback
If you can sense discomfort, or if everyone's looking down and no one's looking up because people are just uncomfortable, then you just jump in. But if they're looking around because they're waiting to see who's going to go first and they might have something to say, but they're like Well, I spoke last time and I want so-and-so to have a chance, just wait. Or if someone starts to give the wrong answer, let them finish. Don't interrupt them. And then the worst thing is to shame them for their answer. Instead, say That's a great perspective. Does someone else want to add something? And then you have to say Well, here's how I take that. And so you're actually correcting without shaming anybody and making them feel stupid. So that's important to do.

19:29 - Addressing Theologically Problematic Answers

Matt Tully
That's got to be a tough tough balance to walk. How do you determine that? Somebody might say something that's maybe just not really there in the text—it's not really wrong necessarily, but it's just not what the text is about. But what if someone were to say something that's really theologically problematic in your mind. You're just like I actually totally disagree with that. What do you do in that situation?

Lydia Brownback
Then I will, of course, speak up and say There's some people who feel that way, and there's books written along those lines, but here's why I think this other view is better. And I'll lay it out. If it's a secondary issue like an end times view, let's just not even go there unless we're studying that. But if it's a core doctrine, then it has to be addressed right away.

Matt Tully
Have you ever had that not go so well?

Lydia Brownback
I think only with election conversations—yes, that one. When you're talking about Romans 9 and getting in there about how “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:13) and who are you to talk back to God because he chooses whom he wills and hardens whom he wills (Rom. 9:18), they look at that, they see it, and you watch their brain not accept it.

Matt Tully
And that's the words of Scripture themselves.

Lydia Brownback
Yes. But they think you must be able to modify that by something else in Scripture. So that's the one, I think, that can be most challenging of all. And then in the Psalms you have the imprecatory Psalms where there's prayers about Kill our enemies. You'll kill our enemies, and then the commands to go in and kill, and when they were taking over the promised land and there's the command to go in and wipe out every man, woman, and child. And so it's explaining then about judgment and how it's not that the Israelites were superior or morally righteous, it's that the judgment of this other group was ripe. And that's the position of everyone apart from the intervention of God himself. But initially, when you hear these things in Scripture—whether it's women's issues or whether it's just the killing or election—there's a lot of dicey stuff.

21:40 - Setting Expectations for Bible Study

Matt Tully
Are there any other pitfalls that you've learned to avoid over the years?

Lydia Brownback
Yes, I think just really practical ones. This is going to sound just so basic, but when I'm going to teach a study or teach a group, I do feel that people need to know what to expect when they come in. They need to know when we're going to begin, they need to know when we're going to end. Especially if it's an ongoing group and you're going to meet on a weekly basis, people need to count on beginning and ending on time and what's going to happen in between. Sometimes someone will come in with a big crisis, and then the whole study can go away because it becomes about helping someone with their crisis. So it's figuring out how to manage that sort of thing and also keep the study on track without being cold and unfeeling. So those are things for big Bible study groups. If they're expecting you to come in and teach on something, teach on that thing. Don't bait and switch.

Matt Tully
Do you think that happens sometimes, the bait and switch idea?

Lydia Brownback
I think it can. I think sometimes when someone's billing what they're going to do in a certain way and they come in and they're either unprepared or they've changed their mind or even they're thinking on whatever it was they were going to teach. I don't think it's frequent, but it does happen. And so that can really derail a lot.

23:13 - Bible Study Homework

Matt Tully
What do you think about the idea of homework? Some Bible studies are set up for you to come once a week, and you may or may not have read the passage, but you're just kind of coming cold and you're discussing it there. Other studies are the other extreme where everyday you've got pretty intense homework—thirty minutes to an hour—and you come having spent hours in that text every week. Do you think there's a happy middle ground that you think is ideal?

Lydia Brownback
It depends on the nature of the study. At the one in New York that was all those women from varying backgrounds, what I would do is—we would meet on Thursdays—so the Sunday afternoon before I would send discussion questions. We always did a Bible chapter a week, or a portion of a chapter. So I would say Here are discussion questions for this chapter. Please read the passage, and here are the questions in advance. If you want to jot down some answers, great; but if not, just show up. But please read the text. So that was all that was expected in that group. And I said If you don't have time to read the text, come anyway; we're going to start out by reading it together. People sometimes would come with it printed out and with all these notes written in there, and others would just say Oh, I didn't have time to get to it this week; but they never felt like they couldn't show up if they hadn't gotten to it. So in that particular study, that was the main point. I wanted them there and not to be intimidated by any sort of preparation they had to do. With other studies, I do think that the nature of it is you need to have time to marinate in the text before your gathering with the group to avoid just blindly shooting your mouth off. So it depends, again, on the group. So there's a lot of merit to do the homework. Whatever pace the Bible study teacher is setting for that—whether it's a daily dose you work on or whether it's just a chunk during the course of a week—but I think the most important part is to be in the scripture text itself.

25:12 - Encouragement for Studying the Bible On Your Own

Matt Tully
You mentioned not wanting people to feel intimidated by the study itself or even just by the Bible itself—the idea of studying the Bible on their own throughout the week. What would you say to someone who comes to you and just says I've never done this before, and to be honest, I am intimidated. This seems scary. I don't understand a lot of the things that I'm reading here in Scripture. Maybe it's a less familiar book like one of the Minor Prophets or something like that—

Lydia Brownback
Leviticus.

Matt Tully
Right. So what would you say to someone who says I do feel intimidated by this and I just feel like I can't do this?

Lydia Brownback
I would probably say God has given his word for everybody and it is his will for you to understand. For example, we see in Acts 8 how Philip came across the Ethiopian eunuch who was studying the scroll of Isaiah, and he said Hey, what are you reading here? And he said I'm not really sure. How can I know unless someone explains it to me? One of the things we get from that text is that God has equipped certain people, and it's a calling. We see that on the gift lists all through the New Testament. He's equipped some to teach his word. That's how he intends people to learn it. And so it's not just sit at home on your couch with the Holy Spirit and your Bible. We're supposed to be in the context of other believers as we learn God's word. Sitting under preaching—that's Bible study, that's learning, that's hearing it preached to you. It's also sitting on your couch, but it's not ever just sitting on your couch. So we're meant to be in a group, we're meant to learn from other people whom God has specially equipped to teach it. We see that right there in Acts 8, how this man was saying I can't understand unless someone explains it to me; so we know it is God's will for us to understand. What has he given to help us understand? He's given us pastors and teachers. I think that if we're intimidated by it, we need to get ourselves under that and to be in a good church where the word is taught all the time. And then to ask for recommendations for our personal Bible study, and to find one that's user friendly. If you're brand new to Bible study, that's going to help you walk through it.

27:26 - Study Bibles as Tools for Solo Study

Matt Tully
I've been surprised in my own life just how many people don't know about a lot of things that I might consider pretty basic or simple—just knowing how to find a good study Bible. That's the kind of thing that, for people who haven't grown up in a really solid church or have had mentors in their life, those basic things can often be things that we ignore when we're working with somebody that might actually be very helpful.

Lydia Brownback
Good point. Good mention about a study Bible. Those can be such a gift, but they can also be cost prohibitive for some people. If that's the case, there's accessible, affordable resources as well. But it's asking a teacher or pastor for recommendations within your price range, and surely they'll be able to help you.

28:15 - Honest Transparency in a Group

Matt Tully
So we talked a little bit about what to do in those awkward silences where you ask a question and maybe people don't immediately jump up to say something, but digging a little bit more on that front, when it does come to application—to applying Scripture to our own lives, to being honest about the things that we're struggling with, and letting Scripture inform those things—how do you encourage a level of honesty and transparency in a group setting? I think we've all probably been in groups where it felt like all the prayer requests were very surface level, they didn't really go anywhere deep, at least it seemed like. But then you can also have the other extreme where someone's sharing maybe too much, they're oversharing, and it sidetracks the whole group and becomes about them and their problem as opposed to studying Scripture. So how do you encourage a level of honest application that doesn't get a little too intense?

Lydia Brownback
To your point about prayer there, in the big group in New York, the group was so large that we didn't have a prayer time. If we had done that, it would have taken the whole ninety minutes. So we would pass around an envelope, people would write their request on an index card, put it in the envelope, and then we had a point person who would go home and type them all up and send them, and then we would pray for each other throughout the week. Obviously, if there was a huge crisis going on, we would drop what we were doing for five minutes, listen and pray, and then go back to the study. So I think those things are important to do to show caring and compassion, and we do need to pray for each other. I think that's an important thing to do. But as far as the honesty and the sharing of personal stuff, if you have that kind of time where you're discussing applications at the end of a study or a prayer time, you're right, Matt, there is so much of that Let's pray for Betsy's big toe. It's all the health requests and it's the travel requests and the financial requests.

Matt Tully
And the I'm just really busy. Just pray for me because I'm so busy. That's the go-to these days it seems.

Lydia Brownback
The study I've been in the last year has been really great. It's a smaller group of women—there are eight or nine of us on a given week. I think size does make a difference when it comes to being open, but someone has to go first with the honesty. In that sense, it should be the leader, I think. And so why not put it out there and say There's a sin issue I'm really struggling with here, and the passage this week brought out this sin. I'm guilty of that and I don't know how to stop being guilty of that. Would you pray for me about this sin? And it's amazing how, when you open up about your own sins, it does encourage other people to do that. But someone has to go first, and I think it should be the leader.

31:14 - Transparency of a Leader

Matt Tully
As a Bible study leader, do you ever feel like This is just going to be counterproductive or They're not going to respect me or listen to me as well if they know that I have all the right answers, but I don't actually live up to this stuff. Do you ever feel that tension?

Lydia Brownback
No, because I think that it points more to Jesus because he's the ultimate teacher here, and I want them to see him and not me anyway. So if they get to see my broken cracks and flaws and if they're benefiting from the teaching, who does that point to? I've had people say over and over again that they like the transparency of a teacher because then they feel it's relatable. They say Well, if you know Scripture, and yet you have this sin struggle, that means that with my sin struggles I can still know Scripture too. It's not some unattainable thing out there—once I get my spiritual act together I can really learn God's word. So in the midst of our struggles with sin, we learn God's word because we're wrestling with God. Isn't that when we're most in the text—during suffering, or if there's something we don't understand, or we're struggling with sin? It's the hard stuff of life that gets us in there to see what it really says anyway. And if they know that's how that teacher did it, that's going to drive them to think that's what it is there for them to do too.

32:32 - Stay True to Scripture

Matt Tully
There are two parts to this question: if you were sitting across from a relatively new Bible study leader—maybe this is their first go-around of actually leading a study—and they're about to start this new study and you only have five minutes to talk with them, what three pieces of advice might you offer that person?

Lydia Brownback
I would say staying in the scripture text is the most important thing, and being faithful to what you see there—not imposing your own ideas on it, or a million commentaries' ideas on it. Stay faithful to the text, and use outside resources to back up what you're doing, but don't superimpose them onto the text.

Matt Tully
You think that's an easy thing to kind of slip into?

Lydia Brownback
Yes, if they're not confident in their own understanding of it. I think with these harder texts it can be easy to say I respect this person, I'm just gonna take what he said, or she said, and adopt that and just teach it. But then if you're asked a question, you don't really know and you're kind of skimming over it quickly, and it's not going to be clear to the people you're teaching. And it's basically—this could be number two—you must know the text before you teach. Whatever it takes—go for help, ask for help, listen to podcasts, buy a commentary, talk to your pastor, ask to go to use your pastor's library—whatever. Just be sure you know the text before you teach it. So that would be the second. And the third, know your audience. Know the people you're teaching. Are they new believers? Have they been Christians a long time? What depth of Bible study are they looking for? What's going to challenge them, but not overwhelm them? And ultimately, as we started with, what's going to get them so excited about studying God's word for themselves once they leave your study?

34:26 - Teaching Others to Teach Themselves

Matt Tully
So you're thinking longer term than just the study that you're actually teaching?

Lydia Brownback
Yeah. I want them to fall in love with studying God's word, with knowing how to do that in a way that's faithful to the text, and to give them the tools to go in there and understand why the original context matters, and to ultimately say How does this point to Jesus? What does it teach us about the Lord? What do we learn about our great God here? And then every time they go off on their own to do Bible study, those are the questions they're seeking to get from the text themselves and that it becomes automatic in their life. You're not just teaching them a book of the Bible, you're teaching them how to study the Bible themselves.

Matt Tully
How dominant is that dynamic in your mind as you teach, or even as you prepare to teach, the idea of wanting to teach people the tools they need to then study the Bible for themselves—I want to teach them why it's important and how to actually figure out the historical context, I want to teach them why and how to look for these keywords—how dominant is that in your mind as you prepare and as you teach?

Lydia Brownback
I think it just becomes an automatic way that I'm teaching. When you start out, here's the context. And I don't say Here's the context, I just tell them the context. When I've taught Bible studies, we work through a book of the Bible. We start at the beginning, we hit every verse, and we go to the end. So it's teaching them the tools of expositional study and why one thing builds on another thing and how the original audience matters and all those things without making it sound dry and dull. You tell them Here's who Peter was writing to. These were people who had lived in Rome and then had been sort of kicked out and they were shunned and they had to go live in these outlying provinces and so they were exiles. And so it's like painting a picture in their mind instead of saying Context matters. So what's the context? It's helping them see it for themselves without dry, theological terms. And then you walk them through the whole book. Occasionally, I've broken off and done topical studies. When I say topical I mean like over the summer maybe we'll do a book—we did a Paul Tripp book one year. Another time, we didn't work through an entire book of the Bible, but we did the prayers of Paul for a season. That was fascinating to do the prayers of Paul, and at the end of each week we'd say let our prayer requests be praying these prayers for each other. So there is a place for that kind of thing too, and not just always going through a book of the Bible. But predominantly, that's how. So those are the three things I would say.

37:07 - Advice for Participants

Matt Tully
Same question for somebody who is maybe just a participant, not leading a study, but maybe this is their first time going through a study. Or maybe they've done it a few times, but it's been a while, or they still feel a little bit unsure as to what it's going to be like. What three pieces of advice would you offer to a participant?

Lydia Brownback
I would say ask a question if you have it, and the old saying is true: there's no dumb question. Come in there and know that your teacher wants to help you understand, and probably if you have that question, someone else in the room does too. So you're helping everyone by raising your hand and asking the question. Don't be scared of that because you're there to learn. Two, read the text before you come and know what you're going to be covering that day. And if you're not sure, write an email to the teacher and say Could you remind me? Whatever it takes, just try to read through the passage before you come.

Matt Tully
Any teacher would not see that as a burden. They would probably be pretty excited to get that email.

Lydia Brownback
Right. And hopefully, the teacher has posted it somewhere that's evident, but just read through it. Even if you just have ten minutes, just read through it. And the third thing is, at the end when the application is being made, listen to how other people are applying it or what they're saying they're going to apply or how they're going to pray about it. What can you learn from what they're contributing to the conversation for your own application too? If you need clarity for how to apply the text, ask the teacher for clarity. And number three, as you come to the study and as you leave, ask the Lord to illuminate both your mind and your heart. Ask him to open your mind to be able to understand the concepts being taught, and pray for the humility of heart to receive what's being taught. And then pray for wisdom and discernment to know what to accept, maybe what needs some follow up, some questions; but begin and end with prayer as you come to the study.

Matt Tully
Lydia, thank you so much for taking some time to offer some guidance and some tips for Bible study leaders as we all want to get into the word and understand it a little bit better.

Lydia Brownback
Thanks, Matt. It's such an important thing for all of us to do, if not the most important thing we can do with our day. Thanks for having me.

Matt Tully
Thanks.


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