Good questions are the keys which unlock a passage. They help us to observe what itsays, interpret its meaning and apply what we learn. Good questions are also like the baton in the hand of a symphony conductor. They assure that people follow the music and work together harmoniously.
Chapter three suggested using a study guide when leading a discussion. There may be times, however, when you desire to write your own questions. A good study guide may not be avail-able for the book or topic you have chosen. Or you may wish to write a study directed to the specific needs of your group.
Even with a study guide itis helpful to know how to form questions. For one thing, when a vigorous discussion wanders off course, you can ask follow-up questions to keep the discussion moving constructively. Also, you will be able to personalize questions from the study guide to suit your group.
This chapter can help you write good questions and put them together into a well-organized, effective study. We will actually take you through the process of writing a study based on Matthew 20:20-28: Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
“What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The Aim of the Study
It has been said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” How true! A good study should have a clearly defined purpose. Once you have studied the passage on your own, form a statement purpose for the study based on the primary focus of the passage. For example, in the passage above, since Jesus focuses on the meaning of greatness, your purpose statement might be: “The purpose of this study is to learn the true meaning of greatness.” Decide the purpose before writing your study so that the questions will reflect that purpose.
Introducing the Study
An introduction cab set the tone for the entire study. Your purpose statement can serve as a natural theme for these opening remarks. A good introduction should have three characteristics: First, it should be interesting At the beginning of a study, people’s minds are usually wandering. A good introduction should grab their attention.
Second, a good introduction should expose a need. If people feel that the passage will be speaking to a real concern or lack in their lives, they will be much more eager to study it.
Third, a good introduction should orient the group to the passage being studied. lt should briefly describe the subject of the passage and how that subject relates to the needs of the group.
If we keep these goals in mind, an introduction for Matthew 20 might be as follows:
Power, glory, success. These are the marks of greatness in our society. People want to be at the top,
to see their name in lights, to bathe themselves in luxury. When measured by these standards, few of
us achieve greatness. But in Matthew 20 Jesus stands the world’s concept of greatness on its head. He also offers us a chance to become truly great.
Types of Questions
As you begin writing the questions for your study, it is important to realize there are several types of questions:
1. Approach questions. An approach question is asked at the beginning of the study before the passage is read. It can spark a discussion in three ways:
First, it helps the group members to warm up each other. No matter how well people may know each other or how comfortable they may be with each other, there is always a stiffness that needs to be overcome before people will begin to talk openly. An approach question helps to break the ice. For example, in this study on Matthew 20 we might ask: “When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
Second, an approach question gets people thinking along the lines of the topic of the study. Most people will have lots of different things going on in their minds (dinner, an important meeting coming up, how to get the car fixed) that will have nothing to do with the study. A creative question will get their attention and draw them into the discussion.
Third, an approach question can reveal where our thoughts or feelings need to be transformed by Scripture. This is why it is especially important not to read the passage before the approach question is asked. The passage will tend to color the honest reactions people would otherwise give because they are of course supposed to think the way the Bible does. Giving honest responses to various issues before they find out what the Bible says may help them see where their thoughts or attitudes need to be changed. For example, in our study we might ask: “Do you feel successful? Explain why or why not.”
2. Observation question. As you studied the passage on your own, you observed many important facts related to who, what, when, where, why and how (see chapter five). Some of these facts were more significant than others in helping you to interpret and apply the passage. Now you want to help the group to observe these significant facts. Do this by turning your observations into questions. For example, in Matthew 20 the following observations are likely candidates for questions:
Observation: The main characters in this passage ‘are Jesus, the mother, her two Sons and the other ten disciples.
Question: Who are the main characters in this passage?
Observation: The mother asks Jesus to allow her two sons to siton his right and left in his kingdom.
Question: What favor does the mother ask of Jesus?
Observation: Jesus states that the Gentiles define greatness as having others serve you. He defines greatness as you serving others.
Question: What definitions of greatness does Jesus give in this passage?
Good observation questions should cause the group to search the passage and its context. They should not be so simple or superficial that they can be answered with one or two-word answers.
3. Interpretation questions After you observed the facts of the passage in your own study, you sought to interpret the meaning and significance of those facts. YOU began to understand the main point of the passage and how the parts of the passage contribute to that main point. Now you want to lead the group to understand what the passage means.
Do this by turning significant interpretations into questions. (Caution: Be sure your questions allow the group the freedom to arrive at their own interpretations, even if their views differ from yours.) The following examples from Matthew 20 illustrate how you might do this:
Interpretation: The seats on the right and left of a host were positions of honor. The two sons wanted the second and third highest positions in the kingdom.
Question: What would be the significance of sitting on Jesus’ right and left hand in his kingdom?
Interpretation. Jesus uses the word cup as a metaphor for suffering, especially the suffering which leads to death. Jesus would die, as would the two sons as a result of their close following of him.
Question: What is the ‘Cup” from which Jesus and the two sons will drink?
Interpretation: The ten disciples were indignant because they wanted the highest positions in the kingdom but the two sons had tried to get to Jesus first.
Question: Why do you think the ten disciples were indignant toward the other two?
4. Application questions. After you observed and interpreted the passage in your own study, you also sought to apply it to your life. Through careful reflection and prayer, you saw how your attitudes, relationships and actions should begin to change. Now you need to help the group to think about how they should apply what they have observed and interpreted.
Do this by turning some of your applications into questions. But be sure that the questions are flexible enough to allow the main idea of the passage to be applied in a variety of ways. For example, in the Matthew 20 passage you might do this:
Application: This passage should begin to affect the way 1 treat my family, the people at work and those who live around me. For example, at home I should be more willing to do those jobs which no one else likes to do, such as washing dishes and carrying out the trash.
Question: How can you serve those around you in your family, at work or school, in society?
Application: I should begin cultivating the attitude of a servant this week. I will volunteer to do the dinner dishes at least twice this week.
Question: What specific act of service can you do for someone this week?
Application: If I demonstrate a willingness to do menial tasks, others might start giving me the jobs that no one else wants to do. They might take unfair advantage of me, just as I have previously taken unfair advantage of others.
Question: If you seek to become a servant to others, what difficulties might you encounter?
Application questions should be closely related to the main points of the passage. It is better to have three or four scatter-ed throughout the study than simply one or two at the end.
5. Overviewand summary questions An overview question allows the group to view a passage or book as a whole before they study its pans. A summary question helps to draw together the main points of a passage or book after they have been studied.
a. Overview: Try to visualize the people and the setting in Matthew 20:20-28. Describe what you see.
b. Summary. What has this passage taught us about the true meaning of greatness?
6. Combination questions Sometimes it is best to have a question which serves more than one purpose. These often generate more discussion than a simple observation or interpretation question.
For example, a question can combine observation with interpretation: “Why do you think the ten disciples responded as they did toward the other two?” (This question requires the group to observe how the disciples responded, but also asks them to think about why.) Or the question may make an observation and then follow it with an interpretation or application question: “Jesus states that he did not come to be served hut to serve. How can you follow his example this week?”
Also, you may preface a question with important background information: “The seats on the right and left of a host were positions of honor. How does this help us to understand the mother’s request?” Such questions are often more efficient than those which maintain a rigid distinction between observation, interpretation and application. They also help to give direction to the study.
Organizing Your Questions
After you have written your questions, you will want to make your final organization. Try to begin with your introduction, followed by the approach question, followed by reading the passage. Now arrange the rest of your questions. You could put all your observation questions first, followed by all your interpretation questions and end with your application questions. For some passages of Scripture, this may be the most natural approach. But a study is usually more interesting if you mix the various kinds of questions, basically repeating the observation/ interpretation/application pattern.
Structuring a Study
2. Approach question
3. Reading the passage
4. Observation question
5. Observation question
6. Observation question
7. Observation question
8. Interpretation question
9. Interpretation question
10. Application question
12. Interpretation question
13. Interpretation question
14. Application question
15. Summary question
Also consider which questions are absolutely crucial to ask. Put a star or check mark by these so you can be sure to ask them if time begins to run short. Considering in advance various ways to shorten a study may give you a lot more ease as a leader in the second half of the study.
Evaluating Your Questions
Writing good questions requires thought, patience and skill. Like any other skill, your ability will improve with practice. Once you have completed your study questions, ask yourself whether they have the following characteristics:
1.Your questions should be clear. If some are not, try rewording them.
2.Your questions should not be too long or complex. Those which are should be broken into separate questions.
- Your questions should generate discussion. If any can be answered with a yes, no or other one-word answer, try to make them more challenging.
4.Your questions should cause the group to search the text.
- Your questions should move the group through the passage in a logical sequence.
6.They should draw out and apply the main points of the passage.
7.They should usually be related to one passage rather than asking the group to jump from book to book or passage to passage.
8.There should be a proper number of questions for the time allotted to the study. Usually twelve to fifteen questions are sufficient for a one-hour study.
In addition to evaluating individual questions, look at the study as a whole.
-Do the questions flow harmoniously?
-Do they follow the general sequence of observation, interpretation and application? (This pattern may occur more than once in the study.)
-Is there a proper balance among these three types of questions?
-Does each question lead naturally into the next?
-Does the study achieve the purpose you worked out initially?
The best way to evaluate the questions you have written is in an actual group discussion. Sometimes a question which looks good on paper may not work in a group. Likewise, some seemingly ordinary questions may do an excellent job of generating discussion. It is a good idea, then, to evaluate your questions again at the end of the study. Use the evaluation guide in chapter eight. The feedback you receive from the group should help you to improve the quality of your questions in the future.
Evaluating Discussion Questions
|Here are some examples of questions to clarify what we’ve been saying about the strengths and weaknesses of several questions. Consider Luke 4:38-39: “Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her: she got up at once and began to wait on them|
|1a. Who are the characters in this incident?||This forces the group to look at the entire section. But it might better be put in simpler terms, as in 1b.|
1b. Who are the people in this story?
|A clearer way of putting 1a. .|
|1c. Describe the people in this story.||
The word describe stimulates a more extensive searching of the text than the simple word who and should encourage broader discussion.
2a. Was Simon’s mother-in-law ill?
|This one-word answer, yes, may be considered too simple and obvious. It doesn’t provoke much thought.|
|2b. What happened to the fever?||
Same problems as question 2a.
|2c. What did each person in the story do?||
Stimulates searching of the text and allows several members to respond
|3a. How did Jesus affect the different people in this story?||
This question highlights Jesus as the center of the story, and fits in with the purpose of Luke, the author.
|3b.What does this story teach us about Jesus?||More comprehensive than 3a and allows the group to think about any aspect of Jesus that the story covers.|
|4a. What does this story teach us about faith?||
In a beginning group, this question may not be easily grasped
|4b. What can we learn from the faith of those who asked Jesus to help the woman?||This focuses attention on one particular aspect of the story and may keep the discussion from rambling.|
|5a. How does Jesus’ healing reveal his authority?||This simple question leads into some basic issues that Luke, the author, speaks about frequently.|
5b. What are the implications of Jesus’ power over sickness
|For a more advanced group, this kind of question may be stimulating. A beginning group may find 5c better.|
|5c. Discuss how this episode with Jesus might have affected the household of Simon.||The word discuss encourages a wide-ranging exploration of the subject, and could lead to unprofitable speculation if the leader is not alert.|
|6a. Imagine that you are the mother-in-law of Simon (a) when Jesus arrived and (b) when you were healed.||The leader could ask one person to respond to both parts or have two people respond to one part each.|
|6b. What can we learn about healing from this story?||Don’t include too many speculative lessons.|
|7a. Let’s discuss how Jesus affects our ability and desire to serve.||Not very stimulating. It needs to be cast as a question.|
|7b. Do we believe Jesus can helppeople today? In what ways?||This question not only addresses the ability of Jesus, but our faith and confidence in him. If your group has people in it who are not Christians, a better question could be 7c.|
|7c. Do we believe that Jesus actually performed a miracle of healing as this story depicts? If not, why not?||
For those who have not yet been able to build much confidence in Jesus, this question could provide a context for growth
|7d. Have you asked Jesus to enter your home? life? Why haven’t we done so?||This type of application question can be very threatening to some individuals. But if the climate of the study is loving, it is often surprising how open the discussion following this straightforward type of question can be.|
Taken from: “Leading Bible Discussions” Completely Revised & Expanded by James F. Nyquist & Jack Kuhatschek IVP, Downers
Grove,IL , 1985