When Bible Studies Go Bad

The longer I’m around the more convinced I am that Bible studies are not always a good thing for the Body of Christ.

Before you fall out of your chair at that statement, let me clarify.

First, I did not say that all the Bible studies are bad. We should study the Bible, and study it often and in many capacities. The Bible tells us so. Therefore, we should have Bible studies.

Second, when I speak of Bible studies (or “small groups” if you like) I’m not speaking of church-sanctioned small groups, or even necessarily a group of friends, pastors, etc. coming together to study the Bible.

What I have in mind are those groups that spring up just because, and have no clear goals or purpose, and ultimately profit nothing.

I certainly believe Bible studies can be healthy and helpful if done properly. I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have been a part of some really great small groups. If we want to have a successful small group/Bible study, there are a few things to avoid.

No clear leadership. Any undertaking of group biblical study should be led by someone who has at least a small clue about how to teach and lead.

This isn’t to say the leader should be a trained pastor or theologian, but the idea of study itself precludes someone who is well-studied themselves, and is able to transfer their knowledge via teaching.

Age, maturity, and experience also comes into play. To lead a Bible study would assume there will be issues and questions that arise. It is helpful to have someone leading or in attendance who is versed not only in the Scriptures, but in life itself, and is able to answer questions or objections maturely and scripturally. These qualities certainly keep the study on topic and productive.

Having clear, qualified leadership is essential to a successful Bible study.

No theological consensus. Bible studies are often eclectic by nature: There is the young lady raised in church, the former druggie who found Christ recently, the atheist or agnostic who has questions and doubts — all in one room and all coming at the Bible from different directions.

This is why it’s also imperative that there be a theological consensus among leadership. I don’t mean to suggest everyone should agree on the timing of Christ’s return or if Adam had a belly button, but among the leadership of the group there must be a consensus on the non-negotiable doctrines of the Bible.

An “anything goes” free-for-all type of group is both discouraging and has the potential to be unhealthy spiritually.

No clear direction. This one is probably one of the main reasons Bible studies go bad. There is no clear purpose or direction for the study. There are no known goals.

If there are no goals there is zero percent chance of reaching the goal.

Therefore, keep the study moving and on topic. If you come together to study the biblical view of money, don’t get sidetracked into discussions about the Rapture.

People generally come to a Bible study to be led to the Promised Land, not to wander in the wilderness.

Abuse/exploitation of weaker/immature individuals. This is one I hate to even mention, but sadly it happens. Abuse and exploitation results where there is no clear leadership, no clear direction, and no clear theological consensus. When spiritually/emotionally weaker people come to a Bible study they are looking for community and direction like everyone else. They want to belong and grow.

The goal of a Bible study is not to be a group counseling session for spiritually and emotionally needy people by people who often aren’t qualified to counsel. This can lead to abuse when the study group focuses on “fixing” the hurting or sinning individual. Our small groups should always be safe havens of sharing, but we must remember our Bible study group is not a church, has no spiritual oversight, and cannot replace the authority of the local church.

Exploitative Bible studies can become dangerously cult-like, even if the intent to do so isn‘t there.

Gossip sessions. Gossip always makes for a bad Bible study, and unfortunately some Bible studies become gossip factories.

I certainly believe small groups of any type should be safe places for individuals to share their struggles, sins, joys, victories, doubts, questions, etc.

As leadership, we must steer our Bible studies away from becoming gossip sessions. We can do this by frequently reminding the group about their commitment to confidentiality.

One thing I’ve done when leading Bible studies is take those members aside who share more freely and ask them to think about what’s being shared, and how there is always the chance it could make it outside the group. I always counsel these to share specific personal details with their pastor, or with group leaders, and to be more general in what they share with the entire group.

Those are just a few of the ways Bible studies can go bad. We want to avoid those variables that make our small groups and Bible studies anything less than safe, productive, fun, God-honoring times together. We want to continue in those things that make for a healthy Bible study or small group.

What makes for a successful Bible study or small group?

1. Have clear goals in mind. Share these at the outset and repeat them often.

2. Stay on topic. Don’t get sidetracked.

3. Qualified leadership. Can’t stress it enough. They can help teach and handle anything that comes up.

4. Create a safe and open environment for sharing, asking questions, and asking for prayer.

5. Have a good time! Ice breakers, friendly banter, and snacks go a long way in capturing people’s attention – and keeping them coming back.



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