Spice It Up, by Mike Hanlon and James Leitch, is not a Spanish cookbook, nor a guide to better sex! It’s a course to equip leaders to lead more engaging Bible studies. If Bible studies are your thing, then I hope you haven’t had the experience of being bored to death (especially if you’ve been in a group with me!) Far too many studies end up being mundane and pedestrian. Sometimes we plough through the passage, asking basic comprehension questions, and fail to understand what it really means or what we should do in response. This course aims to overcome these problems. Bible study should be stimulating and life-changing.
Spice It Up is an 8 week course aimed at giving confidence to leaders in handling the Bible in a small group environment. The beauty of this course is that it’s compact and simple, while integrating wisdom from other books and resources. It acknowledges dependence on ideas and material from Growth Groups by Col Marshall and Leading Better Bible Studies by Rod and Karen Morris. This is a great start for new leaders, but it’s also an excellent refresher for those who have previously received training in leading Bible studies. It covers the following topics:
Week 1 Why Bible Study Groups
Week 2 Basic Bible Study
Week 3 Making Bible Study Come Alive
Week 4 Group Dynamics
Week 5 Understanding and Integration
Week 6 Learning Cycle – Application
Week 7 Preparation
Week 8 Practice Sessions
A real strength of this material is how it pushes the leaders to be more interesting AND to go deeper into the Bible. It’s a big mistake to think that the Bible and fun are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Instead of superficial pedestrian yes/no type questions, we’re urged to use creative strategies that connect people to the text and highlight it’s relevance. For example, instead of asking…
- What does it say?
- What does it mean?
- What does it mean to us?
we’re encouraged to explore with the group…
- What is surprising?
- What is thought provoking?
- How does it inspire and challenge us?
This course helps us to use questions well. We should consider the likely responses to any question we ask, but avoid questions that are really a quiz, asking people to discover the answer in our heads. We’re encouraged to have prompting questions up our sleeve that keep the discussion going. These might include extending questions (e.g. “Can you explain that a bit more?”), justifying questions (e.g. “How does that fit with what we’ve been talking about?”), and redirecting questions (e.g. “Any other thoughts?”).
People learn in different ways. Some are more auditory, some visual, and others kinaesthetic. Recognising this opens up creative opportunities for engaging the group. The authors are huge fans of engaging people in a common space, especially by the use of a whiteboard. If people speak and get to write things on the board, then all three learning styles are engaged to some extent.
Spice It Up encourages leaders to add a step between meaning and application. This step asks how what we are learning fits with or shapes our overall theology and connects with the rest of the Bible. It helps people to do theology in a practical way. It also demonstrates that our thinking and practice are to be shaped by the Bible, rather than simply filtering the Bible through what we already believe.
The course also pushes us to apply ourselves to application. Too often we overlook this area and then tack on a question like “So how does this apply to us?” if there’s time! If the goal of Bible study is to see people’s lives transformed by the Word of God, then this is simply not good enough. The advice is to use more concrete and specific questions, to probe more deeply, and to introduce scenarios that highlight what the passage will mean in specific situations.
There are so many practical tips in this material. A whole chapter is devoted to how to go about preparing a study. There’s a string of appendices covering issues such as discovering your learning and communication styles, templates for preparing and writing studies, specific issues for studies from the Gospels and parables, factors of group life, relationships between leaders and personal ministry to members of the groups, and memory prompts for quick Bible studies.
Spice It Up describes the groups as Bible Study Groups. In our church context we’ve given small groups a variety of names and the current one is ‘growth groups’. They’re not intended to be simply Bible study groups, but also involve prayer and personal ministry. For this reason, I’d be inclined to speak of Bible Study in Groups instead. Maybe, then, this course could be accompanied by a series of other courses such as Prayer in Groups, Relationships in Groups, Promoting the Gospel in Groups, Personal Ministry and Care in Groups!
However, the strength of the book is in assisting us with leading better Bible studies. It does this with clarity and simplicity. It’s an excellent resource that is backed up by a website that includes training videos, Bible studies and other resources. The course material can be purchased from this site.