The purpose of Discovery Bible Study (DBS) is to disciple a group of people through cultivating mutual support and dependence on God’s voice and the authority of His Word, so they can align their lives with His. DBS can be a powerful discipleship process for both Christians and non-Christians.
DBS can be a powerful discipleship process for both Christians and non-Christians.
As our team has coached and facilitated discovery groups, we have observed several common obstacles faced by Christian facilitators. These obstacles arise due to important differences between DBS and the type of Bible studies most of us are familiar with. If we can avoid these things when facilitating DBS we unlock some powerful dynamics as we help people grow in relationship with God and walk with Him in discipleship.
Here are four common challenges faced by Christian facilitators and advice for navigating them:
1. Bringing “other voices” into the DBS
The goal of DBS is to help people hear what God is saying in a particular passage and, over time, Scripture as a whole. Christian participants will often bring other voices into the conversation – commentaries, historical and archaeological information, their pastor’s recent sermon, etc.
These other voices may not be ‘bad’ or wrong, but they do not carry the same authority and they can distract from what God is saying in the passage at hand. The goal of discipleship is to help people recognise and depend primarily on God’s voice, and in DBS our purpose is to help people hear Him.
Two things can help the facilitator here. Firstly, before starting the passage, it can help to remind the group that our purpose is to hear what God is saying to us through this passage, and to learn how to reliably hear Him through His Word. Secondly, if group members stray from the passage at hand ask the question, “Which verse are you looking at when you say that?” As time goes on, the group will automatically start asking each other this question, leading to a greater group accountability to the Word.
2. Answering questions
As we have said, the purpose of DBS is to cultivate a dependence on God’s voice and the authority of His Word. Often, groups will look to ‘the expert’ (ie the facilitator) to answer their questions, but God wants us to come first to Him. We love sharing our hard-earned knowledge, but when we do this we are pointing people to ourselves as the source of knowledge rather than the Bible.
When we answer peoples’ questions we are pointing them to ourselves instead of the Bible.
As we facilitate DBS, questions about the Bible text will arise. We can help the group develop confidence in the Bible’s sufficiency and authority by pointing them there first. When a question arises, the facilitator can respond with a question, “If all you had was this story how would you answer that question?”
You can also put that question to the broader group – in many cases the answer will be there. Sometimes it’s not, and it’s ok to acknowledge that a particular passage does not provide a definitive answer to a question – God is not necessarily seeking to answer every question we have. If this is the case, put the question aside (temporarily) and focus on what God is wanting to say to us right now through this passage.
If the question still seems important to the group once the DBS has finished, here’s a great 2-step process which continues to cultivate dependence on the Word:
1) Brainstorm a list of Scripture passages that relate to the question.
2) Ask the group to read through these passages and then plan to discuss their learnings together at a mutually convenient time.
A DBS facilitator might be able to give a good answer (ie give someone a fish to eat) but walking through this process trains people for lifelong growth in relationship with God and building a reliable and Word-centred theology (ie teaches people how to fish for themselves).
3. Managing Time
In many contexts the facilitator has a limited time to run the DBS. Amongst Christians we have observed a tendency for the first part of the DBS (ie What are you thankful for? What’s been difficult? etc) to take a big chunk of the time, which then forces the facilitator to rush through the remaining two-thirds.
Each DBS question contributes an important Biblical element to the discipleship process and it’s critically important that the group is able to adequately engage each one together.
To avoid this problem, consider framing the “Look Back” section clearly at the beginning and specify that the personal sharing be concise, perhaps 1-2 minutes per person (assuming 90 minute DBS session). You could also consider involving the group in ‘enforcing’ the time limit, especially if relationships are good in the group. Other solutions include the group sharing answers to those questions prior to meeting together (eg through messaging platforms) so they can focus on the “Look Up” and “Look Ahead” when they meet together.
4. Fuzzy Answers to Application Questions
Listening to God is good, but not enough – we must take action in response! As we respond to what God is saying to us, intimacy with Him deepens, we grow spiritually and transformation takes place in and through our lives. “How will we apply this to our lives?” and “Who needs to hear this story/what I’m learning?” are crucial questions in this process.
Fuzzy answers to these questions make it harder for us to be obedient to what God is saying, and harder for the group to support each other in their spiritual growth. Failing to identify people to share the story makes it harder and less likely for others to be exposed to God’s Word and the things He is teaching us.
Fuzzy answers hold back spiritual growth
As facilitators there are two easy ways to help the group get more concrete:
1) If someone identifies a fuzzy application step (eg “I will be more loving”), ask them if there is a specific context or relationship where they find that particularly challenging. What practical action can they take to be more loving in that specific situation or relationship?
2) If someone has trouble thinking of a person to share with, it may help to spend time praying as a group for ‘harvest people’ around us. The “people map” prayer tool can be helpful here.
Best learning practice – Debrief!
I hope this post has been helpful in exploring some of the common challenges in facilitating Discovery Bible Study. DBS itself is deceptively simple – facilitating well is an ongoing journey. Many people have found that learning process enhanced and accelerated through coaching and debriefing with somebody else who is familiar with the discovery process and underlying values.
If that sounds helpful then please feel free to make contact and I can connect you with someone who can support you in doing what God has called you to do.
All the best!