The heart of Thrive316 are the discussion guides found in the doctrines, virtues, and practices. Each discussion guide consists of a series of questions or talking points to inspire spiritual conversation. These discussion guides were written for informal dialogue between friends; although, they are often used in small groups or more formal Bible studies. They work best in groups of twos and threes. The larger the group, the more wooden the discussion can become.
The mistake people sometimes make using the discussion guides, especially in a group, is to approach them as closed questions with a specific answer rather than as a launching point for discussion. We refer to this as the Sunday School answer verses the thoughtful answer.
For example, the following question is found in the Virtue of Goodness in discussion guide Q11. It refers to Ananias and Sapphira holding back some money they claimed they were giving to the Lord. “Why did they (Ananias and Sapphira) commit this sin?”
The Sunday School response goes as follows. Everyone looks around at one another seeing who will state the obvious. Someone finally says “lying” or “greed.” Everyone nods and sort of agrees that is the correct answer. The group goes onto the next question. The group has found the solution.
The thoughtful answer probes a little deeper. It goes beyond the obvious and interacts with the question: much like two friends might do when discussing a current event. One friend might say to another, “I think they were giving for the wrong reasons. They obviously desired to impress everyone with their spirituality, and make a big show of giving, but were unwilling to pay the true cost of total surrender. They were not honest with themselves or others regarding their spirituality. They were insecure and pretentious and that came through in their actions.” The other friend might respond by saying, “I totally see that. However, I think they were also influenced by legalism or a sense of spiritual performance. They measured spirituality by their deeds rather than their heart. They probably thought they were being spiritual because of the amount of money involved even as they lied to others around them.” The first friend then asks, “Doesn’t that come back to faith, or their lack of faith? They were not willing to trust God to satisfy their needs in life: financial, social, and personal. They were still trying to be in control.” The conversation continues as new ideas and questions emerge and play off of the initial question or talking point.
The whole key to having rich and helpful discussions is the ability to move beyond the Sunday School answer to more thoughtful and honest answers. There are a variety of ways group leaders can help facilitate this kind of discussion. The tips after each discussion guide will remind you of some of these principles.
First, remember each discussion guide is a conversation rather than test. The goal is not to come up with the right answers, the goal is to explore the truth presented in the Bible passage. Thus, we should be intentional in exploring the nuances, impact, and applications for the various truths we encounter in scripture.
Second, the discussion guides are talking points, and as talking points are fluid. You may spend more time on one question than the others. You may skip some questions altogether. You may add questions you feel are relevant to your group. Allow the Holy Spirit to direct the conversation.
Third, if a question seems wooden or bogs down, ask questions of the question. Why did the author include this question? Why is it important to ask or establish this question? Does this question establish an important truth to build on? Is there anything going on that is beyond the obvious? How might people legitimately answer this question differently? What other questions might this question inspire?
Fourth, if you are leading a group, go through the questions ahead of time and develop a discussion strategy in your mind. You obviously want the Holy Spirit to direct the discussion. However, if the discussion bogs down you are prepared to probe, challenge, and direct.
Finally, if you are leading a group, read a commentary or two on the passage to give you some context and background information. This will help you better frame the discussion, respond to questions, and empower people to look beyond the obvious. Links to reputable online commentaries are found on the homepage under “Helpful Links.”
These are some of the highpoints to keep in mind as you lead Thrive316 discussion guides. Again, the smaller the group, the more natural the conversation tends to be. The larger the group, the more group dynamics influence the discussion and people to be less open. Simply recognizing these tendencies and striving for thoughtful and meaning conversation regarding scripture will help you maximize the effectiveness and impact of your discussions.