Most churches have Bible studies in small group settings, but they are not all run in the same way. Sometimes the Bible study resembles a Sunday School class, with a long lecture from the study leader and only limited interaction. At the other extreme, some studies are conducted without a leader and the group simply shares their opinions with each other without any real direction. Some groups use a Bible study curriculum that directs the discussion to certain topics, with a list of Scripture passages for each topic. In some cases so little time is actually spent studying the Scriptures that I wonder if it is even suitable to call them “Bible studies.” Different approaches are suitable for different situations, but there are significant advantages to inductive Bible study.
What is “inductive” Bible study?
Inductive Bible study is “inductive” in the sense that the goal is to draw conclusions from the data of Scripture in a way that is similar to that used in experimental science–general conclusions are drawn from specific data. While this might seem to be the obvious approach, there are in fact many “Bible studies” that are written from the opposite approach, starting with several points that the study writer wants to make and then looking for some Scripture passages to back them up. But if we respect the Bible as God’s word we should strive to let the Bible speak for itself, not use Scripture as a source of proof texts to support our own ideas.
Inductive Bible study in a small group setting involves the whole group in the discovery process, with a study leader to act as a moderator to guide the discussion. Here are some of the characteristics of an Inductive Bible Study:
- The study is usually focused on a single passage of Scripture, which is long enough to be a complete literary unit
- The leader is well prepared, but shares only a little background information and leads mainly by asking questions
- The group digs into the text together to discover its meaning
- Some groups use printed handouts of the text so that group members can mark up their copy as they study
- Conclusions are grounded in the text of Scripture
Advantages of inductive Bible study
There are some significant advantages to doing inductive Bible studies:
- there is ample opportunity for active participation
- we retain more of what we discover for ourselves
- we benefit from the insights of others
- an experienced leader can provide direction and focus without dominating the discussion
- we learn how to study the Bible by example (especially from the leader’s questions)
- passages are studied in context instead of as isolated verses
- new Christians and even seekers can participate without needing to be familiar with rest of the Bible
- we can encourage each other in applying what we have learned
The goals of inductive Bible study
Some of the ministry goals for inductive Bible study are:
- that people would grow in their understanding of and obedience to God’s word (life transformation)
- that group members would learn how to study the Bible by example
- that Christ-centered relationships would be fostered through interaction in the study
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16, ESV)
What is your experience with inductive Bible studies?