4 Common DBS Challenges and how to overcome them

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!

A Discovery Continuum versus DBS

We all want effective tools, and Discovery Bible Study (DBS) is a fantastic tool for helping groups of people discover and listen to God, and grow deeper in their relationship with Him and each other.

Sometimes the tool can become the focus to the point where it distracts from the purpose it is intended to serve. As we coach people who are wanting to engage the harvest in ways that can lead to Kingdom movements, we sometimes see this dynamic in relation to DBS.

It is important to remember that the goal of discovery is to help people discover and listen to God.

We can facilitate discovery in a number of different ways. DBS is one of those ways, but it can be helpful to think in terms of a “discovery continuum”. We choose an approach depending on what is appropriate to the situation and the people we are interacting with.

Here are some examples:

Our Personal ‘Shema’ statements – as disciples ourselves, the ongoing process of discovering and listening to God and responding to what He says should be central to our lives. As we listen and obey, we build a growing list of Bible stories/passages that have impacted us, and changes that God has brought about in our lives. It is natural to be transparent with our spirituality and share these things in our relationships with other people – not with an agenda, but as part of who we are in our relationships with them.

Verbal Discovery – as we interact with others, it may be natural to share a story from the Bible. This could either be a story that has personally impacted us, or which we are currently thinking about. Alternatively it could be a story that we know intersects with the concerns, convictions or felt needs of the person/people we are talking to. After sharing the story we can ask, “What do you think about that story?” This gives them a chance to interact with what God without formality. It also gives us a chance to see how God might be at work in their lives by the way they respond and whether they subsequently talk about the story with others in their lives (e.g. by asking, “What would your friends/family think about it?”).

‘Taster’ DBS Set – if a harvest group or individual has a specific area of concern or interest and they are open to the Bible, we could offer to help them explore what the Bible says about the topic. A short DBS series of 4-6 stories can give them a taste in an area they are interested in. A short commitment may also make it easier for them to pull an initial group together. Depending how things unfold, this group may then naturally transition to a longer look at the broader story of God.

Comprehensive DBS Set – when a harvest group or individual are keen to explore the story of God and/or the message of the Bible and/or discover who God is for themselves, a longer set which walks them through the full story of God can serve them. The exact stories in this set can be tailored according to their worldview and culture. The “Creation to Christ” set pioneered by David Watson can be helpful for a number of cultural contexts.

Discovery is a powerful process that should serve us as we seek to cooperate with God and serve the person who is exploring or seeking Him.

Ultimately, we hope to see groups of people drawing together intentionally from God’s Word, but it quite likely won’t start there. It’s important that the context and the people we are serving determine our approach, rather than a pre-commitment to a specific method.