In this first conversation, called “Observation”, you want to see your group grow increasingly curious about the passage as they look closely at what’s there, and share what they’re seeing.
Begin the study by introducing the passage with a little bit of background. This is an opportunity to build your group’s curiosity and launch into the rest of observation with momentum! Avoid dumping on them everything you know or giving away spoilers. Instead, briefly share what will help them engage more fully.
- Is there a big event that precedes or follows this passage that makes this one even more significant?
- Is this part of a longer teaching? If so, why is this part of the teaching important to the whole?
- How does the author and his relationship with the original readers add weight to this passage? Does the situation of the author or the original audience make a difference in how you read it?
- Are there any cultural references your group might not know but would help bring into focus the drama of the passage?
Easy enough, unless you're studying a genealogy passage! Hearing a passage is a different experience than reading it, so this will help your group notice different things. Mix it up and have different people read each study.
Enter the Text
If you’ve prepared an “Entering the Text” activity, now is the time for it. These sorts of activities are there to help your group imaginatively enter into the story of the passage. It’s probably best not to do one every time, but if you find your group consistently lacks energy during observation, this can be a fun way to help get them engaged.
There’s no substitute for giving everyone a few minutes to read and study the passage on their own. If you’re using a Manuscript, this is when you’ll break out the pens or colored pencils. Sometimes you’ll want to give your group a hint on what to look for, like, “Be sure and notice how Jesus and Herod compare to each other.” Remind them to write down their questions.
Sometimes you can get away with simply asking, “What did you notice?”. However, more structure can often help your group push a little deeper. For instance, you could ask them:
- To zero in on one part of the passage. “What do you see in the first four lines?”
- About one character or theme of the passage. “What’s every detail the passage gives us about the storm?”
- To compare two things or people.
- What words indicate the mood or tone of the passage?
- As they imagine themselves in the story, what are they seeing or hearing?
- What phrases make them feel joy or concern or wonder?
Remember during this portion to only ask questions that can be answered by simply reading the passage closely (no interpretation required!) or by noticing how they are personally affected by what they’re reading. Avoid questions that have only one obvious answer, like, “What did Jesus say next?”.
Encourage your group to stay on the “What does it say” part without jumping too quickly into what it means. When your group sees that you enjoy discovering new parts of the passage, they’ll have fun too!
Part 2: How to Lead Interpretation