Bible Study that Doesn’t Suck!

Some of the principles and frameworks that I have found helpful in running bible study. Sorry if its not all clear, but these are notes and bits and pieces… its still a work in progress ….


  1. My Hints for Bible Study
  2. Circles of Story
  3. Ched Myers ‘Cartoon’ Method
  4. Walter Wink Method
  5. Action Based Theme
  6. Lectio Divina
  7. Contextual Rewrites and Performance


1. Love the stories! Word, World, Your own and the punters!

2. Do lots of Bible Study with as many diverse groups as possible!

3. Be willing to fail: Do lots of Bible Studies that suck!

4. Improvise: Respond to the Spirit, Demonstrate creativity and risk taking, overlap methods.

5. Understand context: What are the stories that are ‘in the room”? Why are people there? What are the questions they face?

6. Be a Bard:
• Vocation and Calling
• Do the work: Build your own knowledge of the Circles of Story and that of your participants!

7. Develop lots of your own questions based on text.

8. Love and trust the questions!

9. Lead don’t dominate!

10. Make memorable Sacred Spaces.

11. Understand Learning Styles/Teaching Methods
• 4MAT Learning
• Left Brain/ Right Brain: Singing, Audio-Visual, Street, Theatre

12. Understand and adopt principles of Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal.
• Generative Themes
• Codify and De-Codify
• Action Reflection
• Spectators to Spec-Actors

13. Gym Coach: Build interpretive muscle, literacy is a confidence thing

14. The ‘Word’ is out there(on the street)!…not on the page.

15. Expect transformation every time!


My aim is never to simply study the bible but to promote literacy in three narrative worlds or what I call “circles of story” of the participant. The Biblical Story, Stories of our World, and Personal Stories. My aim is in any bible study to at least touch on each narrative world and find connections between each. Its often in the overlap of these circles that transformation takes place.

Some ways I encourage groups to become more literate in each circle over the course of a study series:


  • Get a copy of the text your are studying, read it, carry it, live and breathe it. Let it become a rule for life and practise.
  • Pre read the story/s we’re studying, consider it from the three circles perspective.
  • Write out the passage by hand.
  • Do a critical Study of the structure and agenda of the story; Identify episodes (I call them DVD Chapters), themes and links,characters, settings, plot, allusions to older stories.
  • Pray the Scripture yourself through a Lectio Divina method
  • I really like Paula Gooder‘s “Searching for Meaning: Introduction to Interpreting the New Testament” as an accessible introduction to critical methods… SPCK, 2008



• Read the paper with the Biblical story in the other hand, consider themes, links, agendas. Cut and paste alongside each other, how does one read the other & vica verca?
• Mapping our Social, Cultural, Economic and Political Worlds. Growing in awareness of our localities history. How much are you aware of how power is distributed in your community; among the people you minister to, our state, our government etc


• Critically evaluating the stories of our lives, the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories that are told about us through a Narrative Therapy approach.
• Mapping our family Histories for Alcoholism, Suicide, Domestic Violence, Divorce Religious and Cultural Traditions, Political Location, Social Mobility, Unemployment or Elite Work, War or Revolution, Poverty & Affluence, Education options, Class or Race tensions.

based on “Who Will Roll the Stone Away”, Ched Myers, Orbis 1995 p.72-73.

This method takes a text that the participants are passionate about (cartoon, movie, advertisment etc.)helping them to interpret it in a deliberate way before then moving to interpret and make connections with the ancient biblical text.
No society has ever been quite so mystified in quite so many ways as our own, saturated as it is with messages and information.” Christians have a unique responsibility to decipher the hieroglyphics of capitalist culture but we can only do this by way of “the stronger language of a more fundamental interpretive code.”.
A central criticism of Marks’ Jesus was the biblical illiteracy of his listeners. He understood that literacy in the texts of scripture can facilitate literacy in the texts of this world.
This exercise allows us to imagine how narrative strategies of allusion, parody or ironic twists might be going on in the gospel text, which comes from a historical and cultural context not immediately intelligible by us. Often we are guilty of reading our newspapers with more complexity than our bibles.
The momentum created by analysing a sophisticated but familiar text (we are literate!), helps us overcome our remoteness from the symbolic world of those unfamiliar bible texts.
Also; seeing how religious texts are political helps us overcome our paralysis before the ‘sacred’ texts of capitalism. We can then recognise how political texts/images can be religious.

• Write down in as short and succinct a phrase or sentence as possible the meaning of this text as you interpret it.
• (Particularly if the above is difficult…) List what sort of information you would need to know about to interpret this text properly? How might you get this info?
• Now think about how it was that you came to your conclusion? How did you interpret it?
• De-construct the image by analysing the narrative form:

How is this type of communication normally understood? What are accepted norms for this form of communication? What of this genres’ conventions have been used, avoided or manipulated in this instance?

List all the things that identify, describe, define, (ie. characterise) each character.
List all the things that identify, describe, define (ie. characterise) the settings.

How does the story unfold? Identify introductions, build ups, climax, conclusions etc.
• What images is the writer using? List.
• What is the context in which they appear? (surrounding text/s, social historical moment at time of production)?
• What images could be considered political?
• What images could be considered religious?

• How have the images used by the writer here been used in the past?
• Why are they lodged in our (political) subconscious? How do you feel, What do you think about when confronted by these images?
• Having considered in Section A how the image could be considered political? What are the specifics of this? Who is the author for or against? Where/what is the power of this image?
• Is the author persuading you to think or to do something? What are the ethical implications of this view? How do you think you should respond?
• Do you agree or disagree with the author’s perspective?
• Recall the historical moment to which the author is referring. Where were you located at the time ( physically, socially, ideologically etc. )…… and now?
• What were your feelings at the time?….. and now?
• How did/does your location affect your feelings and response to this text.

• Questions as in Section A
• List what sort of information you would need to know about to interpret this text properly? How might you get this info?

• What was the narrative and historical moment?
• How might you have felt about the narrative / historical moment if you were various characters (depicted or addressed)
• How is the image political?
• How is the image religious?
• How might the story have affected the first hearers of the story? What is its power?
• Does that power carry through for us today? List ways in which its themes might be relevant? What connections can we make between our world and this one? Also identify barriers and differences.
• How does the biblical story illuminate our own experiences? What personal stories can you bring to bear?
• What does this mean for our lives? How should we think or act?

FREE FOR ALL: Moving around the circle
Name as many connections as you can between the two texts. These may be similarities or differences. (eg. Characters, Settings, Themes, Ideological….etc)

I like to think of the bible as a stick of dynamite, sitting in the basement of every church in the location of empire, waiting for those with ‘eyes to see’ to light the fuse. With the tools of literacy, the power of the dominant culture’s dreams about itself can be broken and the power of the story to awaken us from our sleep broken open.

– Ched Myers

Ched Myers suggests we need to liberate bible study in the following ways:

* Bible College; biblical criticism needs to deprofessionalise
* Sunday School; bible study needs to be more critical
* Small Groups; need to overcome the reflect/act dichotomy.

Method based upon work of the Guild for Psychological Studies, San Francisco.

Ground Rules
1. The text and not the leader of the group is the focus.
• Questions guide and give focus to the group
• There is not one right answer. Good questions lead to many good answers
• Leader does not approve or disapprove of answers except for errors of fact.

2. We are seek insights not information
• Everyone’s experience and participation as being vital for this process.

3. We are all equals before the text
• We are each experts of our own experience
• The intersection of text and our experience creates valuable and unique insight.


Developing profound questions is the most crucial aspect and most difficult part of leadership in this mode.
Go through your final questions, try and come up with two good answers to each question to ensure they are not to narrow.
The goal is not educating biblically illiterate Christians, but aiding them to find life changing truths in the text.
Allow people to ‘feel’ into images, meanings and symbols.

• How to develop questions.
• Group process and the leaders journey
• How to introduce Biblical criticism
• Engaging the other side of brain


Step 1.Lectio : Reading
Read the text twice slowly, different speakers
Listening for the WORD of God, key words and phases
Step 2.Meditatio: Meditation
What is the WORD for me today?
Offer key words and phrases to the group
Step 3.Oratio: Prayer
What does the word make me want to say to God/to others
Step 4.Contemplatio: Contemplation
What does the WORD of God ask me to do?
Rest in the WORD
Clarence Jordan: Koinonia Farm & Cotton Patch Versions

2 Replies to “Bible Study that Doesn’t Suck!”

  1. Brilliant stuff mate-would like to speand a bit more time reading over this stuff, seeing particularly how it relates to VETAMORPHUS-it can be very easy for the weekly readings to become a chore! I mean that’s what I’ve heard, none of my groups have ever suffered that!

  2. This is a great consice reference. I’m getting back into group bible study leadership and this really helps!

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