Dwayne McCrary is responsible for the most utilized Bible Study material in the world, Explore the Bible. I was super jazzed when he said he’d do a three day interview with me. You’ll be stunned at the depth of understanding he brings to every subject and shares his own journey in leadership.
Check out what Dwayne has to say about writing your own Bible studies.
Rick: Dwayne I can’t thank you enough for doing this interview with me. I’m so honored that you’d take the time. Since you edit the Bible study used by more people than anyone else in the world, I’d like to ask you a few questions about that aspect of your work.
First off… Who do you work for and what is the Bible study series that you create for them? Also, feel free to describe what these studies are like and do a little commercial about them. I’m always psyched when the people that read this blog are made aware of transformational Bible studies they can use with the ministries they lead.
Dwayne: I lead teams that create different Bible study resources for LifeWay. I work with a great group of people and we are responsible for the following resources:
- Explore the Bible (for adults and young adults; we touch all the Bible books in a 9 year plan),
- MasterWork (condensed content from books by recognized Christian authors, with questions and leader helps added),
- Access (Bible study resource for adults with learning disabilities),
- Baptist Adults (for groups meeting weekly, focusing on doctrine, disciplines, and discipleship),
- Biblical Illustrator (biblical backgrounds resource that supports LifeWays three main Bible study families).
Rick: I’m intrigued, Dwayne. How many people use these Bible study series weekly?
Dwayne: Explore the Bible has the largest audience with 1.2 million people using it weekly. It is humbling, exciting, and daunting all at the same time.
Rick: That’s amazing, almost unfathomable.
Since I’ve got you, a true Bible study expert in front of me, I would really be grateful if you’d talk to the people reading this blog who are trying to write their own Bible studies.
Dwayne, what would you say are the essential components of a transformational Bible study and how did you come to this conclusion?
Dwayne: Let me deal with the second half of this question first. God has allowed me to be a part of different church staffs and to write for some time (my first writing assignment for LifeWay was in 1989). I have taught every age-group imaginable (right now I teach two groups for my church on Sunday mornings; a nearly-newly empty-nester group at 8 A.M. and then a 4 year old group at 11 A.M. with worship in between). I have also been a student of teaching and continue to seek to understand the craft. My experiences and continued study feed into this conversation.
Having said that, here are the things I believe to be essential:
- The Bible: I shouldn’t have to say it, but I see resources all the time that focus more on the writings of some leader (Luther, Augustine, etc.) than they do on examining what the Bible says.
- Opportunity to Discover: Groups ought to be designed so that the members can participate in the study (and do more than listen and take notes).
- Opportunity to Think: Bible study ought to challenge people to think critically about what they believe, why they believe it, how their beliefs stack up against the truths of God’s Word, and how they should respond to what they discover.
- Opportunity to Dialogue: most of us need an opportunity to think aloud if we are going to understand a truth we just discovered or rediscovered.
- Opportunity to Define Action: I may only be speaking for myself, but I need to be challenged to act or I will simply not make the needed effort.
One more thing…I think people learn best in a group that is led by someone prepared to lead that group. This person should have something that prepares him or her to lead the group and respond to questions that may arise in the discussion. Failing to provide the additional tools to the group leader is irresponsible.
Rick: I’m wondering… What process do you use in the creation of a Bible study session? Also, how long does it take you to create a really good study?
Dwayne: That is a loaded question! It depends upon what you are doing and who all is involved. Take Explore the Bible as an example. Every session is part of a larger plan to touch every Bible book in nine years. Because of the magnitude of the resources, others are involved who provide different input along the way. We follow a process with these steps:
- Determine the characteristics of the study set (scope and sequence, starting point, duration, goals)
- Identify the individual studies
- Create outlines (with review)
- Enlist and train writers
- Writers submit files by set deadlines
- Edit content
- Review (for grammar, clarity, and doctrine)
- Adjust and prepare for delivery (graphic design for print, PDF, etc)
For Explore the Bible, from the time we create outlines to the first day of use of the first session in a study (3 month set), it takes about 18 months.
If we are talking about creating a single session, let me suggest a process I have found helpful. This process assumes you have already determined the passage to study.
- Step 1. Read the Bible passage and list people/places/words.
- Step 2. Use Bible study resources to define and describe the items listed in step 1. Star key discoveries that speak into the overall understanding of the passage or give deeper insight.
- Step 3. Read the passage again and list the actions taken or directed in the passage. Include actions taken by God in the passage.
- Step 4. Synthesize your discoveries. Compare the passage examined to other passages. Identify theological categories addressed by the passage.
- Step 5. Identify principles and personal actions. Use the actions taken or directed (listed in step 3) as a starting point, seeking to frame them into a question. (Example: Action: Angels delivered God’s message to the shepherds. Questions: How does God deliver His message today? What role do I (we) have in delivering God’s message? What message do I (we) have to deliver? How does our message compare to what the angels delivered? How can I (we) deliver that message?) As principles are identified, look for ways the actions are tied to the principle(s).
- Step 6. Organize question sets. Look for paths from the action questions back to the items in the text that feed into that question. Create questions sets that move people through the discovery process to the action question(s).
Use the content from this process to create the resources you plan on providing. One of the important parts of this process is deciding what you will not include. Mastery happens when we understand one element of something really well. Good teaching is helping others master ONE thing at a time really well. We will leave some good content on the table, but we must do so if we are going to be effective teachers.
Rick: What training did you get to be able to write effective Bible studies and what understandings and abilities are necessary for anyone who wants to be able to write them?
Dwayne: Training…I have taught a Bible study group in some form since I was a senior in high school. Experience is a great teacher! I studied education in my post-graduate studies and continue to read books on the subject. Writing is something you can only learn by doing it. Everything I write is evaluated by someone. That alone helps be continue to improve my skills. One thing that also helps is reading other people’s Bible study helps even if you know the helps are inadequate.
To create effective Bible studies for others to use, you must have a growing understanding of the Bible and of educational practices. These two disciplines are very different with a person usually being strong in only one of them. You also need to practice clearly communicating something in writing. Social media works against us here because we are not as precise as we need to be.
Let me say this as well…Bible study helps for leaders should be more than lecture notes. Group leaders need to know how to lead the group to discover what the leader has already discovered. In a way, the leader helps should take the leader to a specific destination and then give the leader a plan for taking others to that same destination.
Rick: Dwayne, there’s a movement in the groups world today… sermon based Bible studies. Many of the people who are reading this blog post have the responsibility of writing them on a weekly basis. What suggestions would you have for them as they carry out this important expectation?
Give the group leader more than the group members have or have heard. Doing so will bolster the group leader’s confidence and give them the background to lead a meaningful discussion.
Point them to the Bible. The group ought to look at the Bible and verses that support a central idea. What the Bible says ought to be precedent.
Think in question sets with a destination in mind. The hardest thing to do is write a good question set. It takes practice and discipline. You can have a great question but still have lousy discussion if it doesn’t move people to an actionable conclusion. Questions ought to build toward an action with the previous question giving context for the next one. Most good question sets will move people along in the following steps: inviting the learner into the learning process (why should I study this?), defining a focus for the group (what is the issue we will examine?), directing the learner’s discovery (what does it say?), helping the learner process the content (what does it mean?), then challenging the learner to practice what they are discovering (what do I do?).