Melissa Kruger on Asking Better Questions

Melissa Kruger on Asking Better Questions

Nancy Guthrie interviews Melissa Kruger

Transcript

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Melissa Kruger: What drives me to teach is that I believe that I have treasure and what I wanna do is make everyone in the room thirsty. I don’t want them to really come listen to me again. I want them to be like, I’m gonna check out what she said in the Bible. I want them to be amazed by the Bible and I think that’s what the best Bible teachers do.

Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to Help Me teach the Bible. I’m Nancy Guthrie. Help Me Teach the Bible is a production of The Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway, a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible Christian books and tracks. Learn more at crossway.org.

Before I get started with our conversation for this episode, I want to tell you about something that I’ve been working on for awhile that I am excited about. I think that there are a lot of women in our churches who want the want to to read their Bibles. So why don’t they want to? Well, I think there’s a number of reasons. I think, well, for one thing, we have an enemy who lies to us about the Bible, tempts us with alluring alternatives. But I also think that a lot of us are bored by our Bibles or intimidated by our Bibles or have a sense when we do read them, that there is something deeper underneath what we’re reading that we don’t quite get and we’re not quite sure how to get it. And we find that frustrating.

And over recent years, what has given me and so many women I meet with a fresh passion for getting into the Bible is the discovery and continued growth and understanding the Bible as one story centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. And the more technical term for this way of understanding the Bible is biblical theology. In fact, as I travel around the country, I meet women and as women talk to me about their growing understanding of and use of biblical theology in their studying the Bible, I see joy in their eyes and sometimes it even erupts in tears because there’s just a sense of how come I’ve never been taught to understand the Bible in this way.

So throughout the fall of 2019 and the spring of 2020, I’m going to be presenting biblical theology workshops for women in 15 cities around the country. And these workshops are gonna be hosted by churches and seminaries who have a heart for women from all over their area to come and learn together over three sessions, sessions that will be energetic and interactive. And I hope just lots of fun. So if you’re a woman listening to this, I hope you will go to nancyguthrie.com and look at the list of where the cities are and figure out if there’s one that you and maybe a group of friends could come to. If you’re a pastor listening to this, I hope you’ll drop a note to some of the women in your church, especially those women you know, who just love to learn more about the Bible and suggest that they look for a workshop either in your city or some nearby city that they might attend. I think oftentimes pastors do not know how much it means for women in their church to hear from their pastor and say, I know you love the Bible. Here’s something that might really help you grow.

So that’s my little plug for the Biblical Theology Workshops for Women. And once again, if you want more information about that go to nancyguthrie.com. So let’s get on with my conversation today with one of my really good friends, my friend Melissa Kruger. Melissa, thank you for being willing to help us teach the Bible.

Kruger: Oh, thanks for having me. I listen all the time. So it’s fun to get to be on here with you.

Guthrie: Melissa serves as director of women’s content at the Gospel Coalition, and we’ll ask her what that means. And she’s the author of a number of books. One she’s very well known for is The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World. I meet people all over who are doing that study in their churches. Her newest book is called 5 Things to Pray for your Kids. Melissa is married to Mike Kruger, who’s the president of Reformed Theological Seminary. They have three children. She blogs at Wit’s End, which is hosted by the Gospel Coalition. And if you’re like me just reading that list, I feel tired already. I asked her last night at dinner, okay, explain to me how in the world are you doing all of this. This sounds crazy. So this is a lot, Melissa. So what drives you and pushes you to do all this and what sustains you as you do all this?

Kruger: That’s a great question. I will say, I didn’t say this last night, but I do cry a lot. If that makes you feel better. Some days I’m like, “Lord, help me. Help me.” You know, it really is such a privilege to get to spend our lives telling people about Jesus. And I can say I just love him and I’m already tearing up, this is bad. What a privilege that my savior saved me and I get to spend my life telling people how good he is. So what propels me is his goodness. He’s so good. And he rescued me and I have no idea why. And, you know, and he plucked me out and he saved me. And I just wanna tell other people that they can be saved too. And that the word is true. You know, the longer you live you, I banked on it at 14.

You know, people tell you, you need your Bible. I said, okay, I’m gonna listen to these people. But I believe it now. You know, I look back and I say, yes, Psalm 1is true. Blessed is the man or woman who delights in the law of the Lord and how God’s ways are better. They’re not always easier, but they are always better. And I look back, and the regrets are sin and the things I look back with joy on are the times I obeyed when it was hard, you know? And so all of that propels me, you know.

Guthrie: At The Gospel Coalition, so it says you’re director of women’s content. You’re also working on planning the next Gospel Coalition Women’s conference. So tell us about both of those things. What does that mean, director of women’s content?

Kruger: That’s right. Basically all the content we’re trying to put out to equip women in their local churches. And so that includes the conference. So that type of content that we’ll get, we have what’s wonderful when we leave the conference, we have all these talks recorded because you, even as I’m planning them all these 50 workshops, I wanna go to everyone and I have to say, “Oh well I’m gonna get to listen to those online,” and things like that. But we also are working on different book content. And so that’s really fun for me because I love books. And so it’s, and I actually love the process of putting them together.

Guthrie: So last year you put together that fabulous book Identity Theft.

Kruger: Yeah. Which was really fun.

Guthrie: Chapters written by a lot of different people. What really amazed me about that book, you’ll remember I told you this when I first read it was first of all, you know on a book like that you kind of wonder will some chapters be weaker than others? I mean they were just all so strong, but what I was really amazed your editor’s touch. You brought a consistency to those chapters. That was really impressive and that’s a such a significant any issue for so many of us as women and it was dealt with in such a biblical helpful way. That’s great.

Kruger: Thank you. I like, you know, my background is math, so I’m a big structure person. So I’m like, if we’re gonna have different voices, structure really matters in a book. It holds…it’s the skeleton that can hold the beauty of all the other parts together. But I loved, it was almost more interesting to me to hear all the voices because one person talking on a topic and you and I both write those books, but I’m like, “Are they tired of me yet? Surely by chapter eight we’re done with hearing her talk about envy,” you know, or whatever. I mean, and so it’s nice to hear how different people are interacting with material and thing. I loved getting to do it. It was fun. And so what helps so much as how my two jobs interact. So because I’m really well-established in the local church, I sit across the table from real women, not women out here that I think what they need and I see their tears, I see what’s really on their hearts, what’s driving their decisions. And so that really helps inform the content that we pick.

And so that’s what I’m thankful for those two jobs because one, it keeps you really grounded, I think sometimes in the local church and one helps me really remember what’s going on here and how can we help serve the local church? Because a lot of local churches aren’t necessarily equipped to have training on how to teach the Bible. So we bring in someone like you to do something like that. And so this conference provides a place a bunch of women can come all together and get some of that type of training on different topics, you know, whether it’s anxiety, which is something I’m seeing in my church a ton, you know, we’re having this uptick. And to hear someone who’s really thought through that from a biblical perspective, but your issue may be conflict and how do I confront in love? And so you can also hear that. And so it’s nice to have a place many women can come in here content on all of that.

Guthrie: So you have been working in recent months to figure out and fill the slots for that for plenary sessions, for workshops. And I imagine there are a lot of people and women listening to this podcast and they wonder how in the world do they choose people for that? I look at that process and I think that’s gotta be in some ways fun but also very difficult. So will you just talk about that process a little bit?

Kruger: It is difficult because there are a lot of women I just love, you know, and you wanna have everybody. But I will say it starts with a lot of prayer. I can say just many days it just said, “Dear Lord, help me in this process. Help me figure out how to weave it together.” Even what workshops to do because they’re also a million different topics you could do. But when we were looking for a women’s speaker, the main thing we wanna make sure is that she can handle the Word of Truth correctly.

Guthrie: And what does correctly mean?

Kruger: Yeah. I would say one that she is a whole Bible Christian meaning she, you know, just like what you were talking about with biblical theology, she understands that all the stories are one story and that as she’s teaching and handling, I think one thing is how she feels about it. That she loves God’s Word and that she wants to accurately get the context right. She wants to understand what genre am I teaching when I teach. So she wants to not just get one verse out to people, but she wants to understand that verse in the context of all of scripture and the scripture story.

So it’s, you know, it’s one thing for us to take. We all know we could take one Scripture and say a lot of things, but that even if she’s talking on a topic, she’s gonna look at the whole Bible on that topic. So like, I mean, last year, I taught on discernment, I used Paul’s verse in Philippians where he says, “I pray that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight or discernment.” But I’m looking at the whole Scripture to say, what is discernment? Let me go back to Proverbs. What’s wisdom? What’s, you know, that we’re looking at the whole storyline. So we’re looking for women who don’t just know a lot about one topic, but they love God’s Word and they use that to apply it to whatever topic they’re teaching on.

But then the second thing, we really want women whose character also displays their love of God’s Word so that their lives watch your life and doctrine closely, you know, so that their life is representative of their doctrine. So that…

Guthrie: I’m thinking that must be challenging for you because you’re inviting women from all over the country and even from outside of the country to take part in the workshop. So I suppose that means you have to rely on, you know, maybe even seeing how they interact online, read what they’ve written I suppose, those kinds of things.

Kruger: Yes. Lives are a lot more public these days.

Guthrie:That’s true.

Kruger: You do see, but one of the biggest things is I like to see that they link somewhere to their local church.

Guthrie: Ah they’ve got to be deeply rooted in a local church.

Kruger: It matters.

Guthrie: It does.

Kruger: It matters. It should be our home. It should be the place that we’re based and that we’re proud to call home in some sense. And so I really do look. I would just encourage bloggers out there, tell me who your home people are. You know, like, I wanna know that you’re part of a church. And I, yeah, I mean, I think that’s important for all of us.

Guthrie: I remember years ago after I wrote my first book. You know, I had spent years working in Christian publishing and so I had worked in this world and at that time, you know, there were there all of these Christian women speakers, and, you know, a whole network of that. And after I wrote my first book and I’m talking, I’m aging myself. So that one, 2002 and people began to ask me to come and speak, but I had this deep sense of I don’t wanna be a woman Christian speaker. I want to teach the Bible. And it was very challenging for me at first because especially at first, people were wanting me to come and tell the story about the loss of two of my children. And I understood that, and I wanted to share that.

And so for me, my initial challenge was, okay, I’ve got to figure out, they want to hear this and understand that. And but I’ve gotta figure out how do I use that to actually tell God’s story? How do I use that to illustrate something that’s in the Word? Because I think there’s a big difference between a Christian woman speaker and a woman Bible teacher. Do we agree there?

Kruger: Absolutely. Yes.

Guthrie: So I imagine as you are working on finding people that some people might suppose you’re just looking for good speakers, but I assume you’re looking for something. I mean, people need to be capable, have some skills in speaking, correct?

Kruger: Yes. And what I will say when we talk about this in the seminary world some, you can know a lot about the Bible and actually not be prepared to handle it correctly in the sense of understanding your students. You know, I was an Ed major and so one thing we talk about a lot is it’s not just getting the information out of your mouth, it’s helping the learner learn. And so one of my things as a Bible teacher, I’m not just, you know, I think a woman speaker sometimes is standing up and giving a talk or presentation. You know, but it’s a lot about her probably, and she’s funny and she’s making everyone laugh and it’s like, so we’re all here to have a good time. What drives me to teach is that I believe that I have treasure, and what I wanna do is make everyone in the room thirsty.

I don’t want them to really come listen to me again. I want them to be like, I’m gonna check out what she said in the Bible. I don’t know that story vacant. What’s she talking about? I want them and, Oh, she’s relating it back to the garden. Oh, and she’s relating it to David and Bathsheba. Oh, look at these. I want them to be amazed by the Bible. And I think that’s what the best Bible teachers do. They make you think, I can do that. I can go. And that this book has depths to be plumbed that I haven’t seen before and that we’re gonna be, I think we’re gonna be doing that all of eternity. So let’s get started, you know. And so that is what you’re looking for. People who just, you know, wanna direct people to God’s word rather than to themselves. I’m sure it’s a temptation. Anyone who stands up on stage, I’m sometimes a little terrified to stand up on stage. So that’s probably helpful because I believe what I have is worth doing it. This treasure that we get to give other people is worth it, but it can be important for all of us as women who stand up to not make it about us.

Guthrie: Yes, definitely.

Kruger: And it can be about us in our insecurity to do it. And it can be about us in our pride to do it.

Guthrie: Both ways.

Kruger: Both ways.

Guthrie: Well, talk to us a little bit about your own development of being a Bible teacher. How did that come about? How they get started and how has that developed?

Kruger: I would say that my love for God’s word started at age 14. My parents gave me a Bible in the year for Christmas that year. And for some reason in my head, I thought that’d be a pretty good thing to do this year. And so over the course of that year, I read the Bible in a year and I wouldn’t even say I understood really the gospel yet, but I was already having a daily quiet time. So I really felt the Lord was softening my heart through just reading the Bible. And that started at 14 and has never stopped, that daily reading of Scripture. And so embarrassingly, probably by age 16, I was helping lead a Bible study. I don’t even know what I said in that Bible study, but it was just that notion of I’ve learned an inch, I gotta tell other people. And that’s what I sometimes encourage women because I will say through teaching, I have learned.

Guthrie: That’s the best way I’ve learned.

Kruger: Yes, yes.

Guthrie: The biggest way I’ve learned.

Kruger: And so, you know, you may make mistakes.

Guthrie: You will make mistakes.

Kruger: Yeah. Actually that’s a really good way to put it. You will make mistakes and you will go back and you’ll cringe a little and you’ll say, “Oh, you know, I shouldn’t, I use that material resource. Oh.” But that’s okay. Yeah, the Word went out and it’s not gonna return void. And I do think that doesn’t mean we don’t get further training. We keep training, we keep wanting to do better. We keep growing all the while knowing we’ll make mistakes. We won’t say it perfectly. So that really sends that point pretty much have always been leading a Bible study. All through college I led Bible studies. I mean, I can remember studying Nehemiah with a group of women and join a dorm at UNC and we drew the walls every week. We had this big piece of paper and we were just, where is this one? Oh, this one’s here. And we just took the time to go through the text line by line.

I’m thankful for people like Kay Arthur who taught me how to do that. That’s where I would say I learned to do that because she makes you read the Bible over and over and over. And that helped me learn through doing just daily devotions. You know, that we’re in the Word. You know all of hers take you to the Word. And so I feel like I was trained by doing and I’m really thankful for that and that’s what made me want to do that for other women because I’m so thankful she took the time to write those studies. And so that’s what’s made me thankful for people like you who wrote these studies. I did your Hebrew study with a group of women and I was like, this is needed because it is intimidating to step into the text sometimes. So sometimes you see a friend to take you by the hand and say, read this much, answer these questions and think, you know. And that’s really helpful. It made it less intimidating for me to go into the Word.

Guthrie: So at one point you taught high school and I wonder if there were some certain skills or understandings you had from learning how to teach high students math or whatever it was that transfer over that you think make you a more effective Bible teacher that we might be able to learn from.

Kruger: One of the most helpful things I learned because I taught high school math, which is no one’s favorite subject, is that you do have to win your audience. People are human. They come in tired. Yeah. I would watch first period, totally different experience in sixth period after lunch. After lunch, your students are gonna be tired. You know, they’re gonna be, it’s gonna be harder to pay attention and that’s just because we’re frail, limited humans. That’s not because someone’s not spiritual. Yeah. I don’t know if you found this, people will fall asleep during your talks. That’s normal. I mean, people are human and these things happen.

Guthrie: No one ever falls asleep when I’m teaching.

Kruger: Oh wow. You’re amazing.

Guthrie: That’s probably a good place to insert a warning for some of those out there. Yes, we notice.

Kruger: We do notice, we do notice, and you have to say, okay, they’re probably tired.

Guthrie:  Okay. I will try not to take this personally.

Kruger: Exactly. It helps me that my husband’s a pastor and they fall asleep on him, too. So it’s really helping because Oh, every week you see people sleeping and the like and I’m like, really? Really? Because I’m an eager beaver learner, so I’m like, I could never fall asleep when someone’s teaching.

Guthrie: It does kind of challenge me when that happens. I realized I mean kind of learn this from the Julius Kim episode of “Help me Teach the Bible” I did. He talked about why people sleep and a lot of it has to do with keeping the same tone with things sound very much the same. So when I see someone’s sleeping, it gets me like maybe I’ll transition, I’ll make into a story or I really work to change the tone somehow to kind of draw people awake.

Kruger: That’s exactly right. And the other thing I learned that in the classroom setting, lecture, realistically, is probably the time they are learning the least.

Guthrie:  So what does that mean?

Kruger: So it’s wonderful that we stand up and teach and I think sometimes we as women think the most significant thing would be to stand up on a stage of 10,000 women and they’re listening to me speak. And I just wanna encourage women who are leading a Bible study of 10 to 15 in their homes because as soon as a woman in your group speaks, she’s learning. When she looks at the Word and is bold enough to say, “You know, Paul here is doing this,” she just learned it better. And then when she turns around and I say, Hey, can you lead for me next week because I can’t. And I forced her into the teacher’s chair, she just learned it even better. So there’s a taxonomy of learning and how it takes place and how our brains actually retain things. And so for me, a lot of my goal in the local church, not everyone’s gonna be a teacher, but everyone is gonna teach in the sense of letting the Word of Christ dwell in me richly that teach and admonish one another. That might happen on a park bench.

But when she says that Word of God to another woman, she’s at that moment learning it and believing for herself in a new way. And so those little conversations that are happening around tables and dinners out that are about God’s word are really impactful. So I just always wanna encourage women who might view their teaching ministry as small it, it’s really impactful what happens when it’s, give me one-on-one that you’re just reading the Bible one-on-one with someone, but you’re both learning in a different way as you interact over the checks.

So that’s one thing I learned from teaching is, so when I would do in the math classroom is actually have my kids come up and teach the problem they had done for homework. And I knew at that moment that they were learning more. And so I think that helps us to say, oh, we think we’re learning more when someone just gives us the information, but we actually learn more when we’re interacting with the information.

Guthrie:  Well, let’s talk some more about small groups because you love small groups and you have some good advice for people who are leading small groups. And I read that you said what can make or break a small group Bible study has less to do with what teachers know and more to do with what they ask. What do you mean by that?

Kruger: Yeah, teachers, we love learning typically, and so Bible teachers especially, so I can know everything about the book of Philippians. I can tell you about the city of Philippi. I can tell you what was going on in Roman culture at that time. And then I can tell you all these great relationships in the text. And so I can know all this stuff. But then, sometimes when we go to the Bible study, if we haven’t prepared our questions well, the Bible study can fall flat. And we’re probably seeing they’re saying but I worked so hard. I outlined the text, I found the main point, I understood the context and it just was me, you know? And you’re just sitting there, you’re like, why is no one answering my question? And so I think the art of asking you questions is something we don’t talk about very much because often we’re preparing to give a main talk. You know, when we do Bible teaching. And so one thing I love is to help people learn what questions not to ask and what questions to ask.

Guthrie: All right, let’s delve deeper into that. What are some of the common errors we make when we are developing questions? And are you talking about questions we ask in an interactive setting of teaching or are you talking about questions like on a written series of questions we’re gonna ask them to do before or during our teaching time?

Kruger: Absolutely. They’re completely different.

Guthrie:  Are they different?

Kruger: So yes. So what I would do, I would do a lot of observation questions in a written one because I want to have to go and look at all the details of the text.

Guthrie:  So yes, you’re, you’re asking them questions and some of them just factual information about what is in the text just to till up the soil of their hearts. They gotta get into it a little bit to be ready to hear.

Kruger: Absolutely. So in a written Bible study, I would say for saying Acts before you say Philippians, I would say, who are the three people Paul interacted with in the city of Philippi? Yeah, Lydia, the jailer and the slave girl. I would ask that question. I would not ask it in a Bible study setting because those are what I call the captain obvious questions. These are the ones that everyone sits there and says it’s right in the text.

Guthrie:  And nobody even wants to answer out loud because it seems so obvious.

Kruger: Yes. Yes. And so what I would say is go ahead and own the names. I would say, “Paul meets three people in the city of Philippi.”

Guthrie: In here.

Kruger: He meets Lydia, he meets, you know, the jailer, and he meets…what look at their economic backgrounds and who they are and where they come from. What do y’all notice about them? What things can you glean about them?

Guthrie:  This is what you say in person because you want them to start thinking and observing a little bit deeper, deducing some things from some words and terms in there.

Kruger: Yes. And so then they’re like, Oh, Lydia is a seller, purple cloth. She’s a business woman. Yeah. And so we started to get a little image. Oh, what do you think it means that he’s a Roman jailer? Yeah. Oh, he works for the government. Yeah. You want them to start gleaning what these and oh, the slave girl, she has no rights. These are three people who are in totally different. We have a woman, we have a government official who’s a male and we have a slave girl. You know, and to really start interacting with the characters a little bit deeper. But a question can do that and help people start to develop that process of really thinking about who’s being interacted with here.

Guthrie:  Oh, that’s good. All right. So the more obvious factual ones in the written Bible study, but in the actual setting of the study with people, we’re asking questions that get them to think a little bit more deeply, think about implications and you used it in terms of understanding people, which is incredibly helpful. Another type of question that you have said is not a good kind of question, are one word wonders. What is that?

Kruger: If the answer is yes or no or Jesus, don’t ask it. Again, people were like, is God merciful? Yes.

Guthrie:  You’re standing there and you’re trying to come up with a question and you realize you have asked that question and that the answer is Jesus. And people kind of look at you like, yes, you made me say that. Yeah.

Kruger: Exactly. And I’ll do that as a joke. Yeah. I mean, you can do it, but you can’t expect a lot of discussion with the one word wonder. I mean, you just can’t. And so rather than ask, is God merciful? I would ask what I call Google map guidance questions, which means that, Google, what I love about Google map and guidance is that it gives you multiple ways to get to the same location. Yeah. So there are all these different ways they’re showing. So I would say when you think about Old Testament and New Testament stories, how do they show us that God is merciful. There are lots of different answers people can give to get to the same God is merciful.

Guthrie:  You’re getting people to draw upon their Bible knowledge and that helps them kind of put some things together and they can begin to see, “Oh, over in and over in the Bible, we’re seeing that God is merciful and what that looks like.”

Kruger: Yes. And I’m learning from you and I’m learning from Susan in the Bible study, and I’m learning from Sarah. You know, we’re all learning from each other’s Bible knowledge, too.

Guthrie:  I can remember lots of years being in Bible studies and I’d be with people and I would think, I would look at other women, I would think, how does she know where all this stuff is in the Bible? You’ve ever feeling that way? And I would just think to myself, I will never, I couldn’t imagine that I would ever like with somebody would say a little phrase from the Bible and I’d be able to say, “Oh, that’s in 1st Corinthians.” Or I’d hear someone talking about a particular book of the Bible and they seem to understand the main point of the book. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. We don’t wanna shame anyone for their Bible knowledge or lack of knowledge. But I think it’s very good to be in a setting and go, wow, some of these people know the Bible better than I do. I have a ways to go.

Kruger: It gives us a hero, not in a book we read, but it’s…

Guthrie:  On a screen somewhere.

Kruger: And that makes it that much more real. Oh, if this 60-year-old woman in my church can do that, I can become that. And I think those are the best. And because then I can go get coffee with her and I can say, tell me how you’ve gotten to know God’s Word like that. I wanna be like that. Tell me how that’s happened. And so I think, isn’t that great? I mean, yeah, we get to see into the inner life of someone and it’s simply by a question.

Guthrie:  Yeah. Excellent. All right. So you said no captain obvious questions. No one word wonders. Okay. What’s a Mission Impossible question. I think I’ve asked these, by the way.

Kruger: I have too. That’s why, and I say, when the crickets are chirping, you sometimes know.

Guthrie: It’s like you know, right when I get it out, I’m thinking that was too complicated. Is that what you mean?

Kruger: Yeah. Yes. Or sometimes it’s because we’ve done all this wonderful study.

Guthrie: Right, and you can’t expect that they’re gonna look the text and immediately get it.

Kruger: Yeah. So if I say you know, what was the culture like in the Roman city of Philippi that we’re studying? And everyone looks and they’re like.

Guthrie:  Well, I didn’t read the commentary, you did!

Kruger: Yeah, I did. They’re thinking I was scrolling Instagram last site. I was not studying the culture of Philippi I last night. And so I think it’s better in those moments just to teach, just to say, Hey, these are the things I learned and your group will appreciate you for that. And then you could say something like, I live in Charlotte, which is a banking town. And so if I’m explaining that Philippi as a crossroad city where lots of merchants are crossing through I can say, so how is that comparable to the city that we live in today? What things do you see in the city of Charlotte? What are some of our idols?

Guthrie:  So that way you get them to interact to talk and think about what you’re wanting to impress on them rather than expecting them to know something that they…

Kruger: Exactly. Because if they make that connection in their mind, they will remember what I just taught them about Philippi better. So I’m getting them to interact with what I just said. Because then when they link it to the city of Charlotte and they say, “Oh yeah, our idol can be really money and making more and more money,” they’re gonna remember that that was Philippi’s, too. You know.  It helps them link it in their own mind.

Guthrie:  Okay. What’s the question that’s TMI, too much information? I know what this is in general, but I don’t know what you mean in terms of when you’re leading a Bible study.

Kruger: I think we have a great desire and Bible study to help people be vulnerable. I think that’s a great thing. And it’s a, you know, it’s a buzzword. We want people to be real. We want people to be open. But I think we also always need to remember when are the appropriate times for that. And so if we’re studying David and Bathsheba, I don’t think we have to say when was the last time you struggled with lust? I think you could say something about…

Guthrie:  You think people really do that?

Kruger: I have seen some awkward things happen.

Guthrie: Really?

Kruger: Well and now I would say I have seen, what I’ve seen more is sometimes young pastors feel like they need to share their hard things. And then sometimes as a listener, I can never get that out of my mind. And so just to even remember, it can’t even be about ourselves that what we share. We want to be real and open about sin. But I think it’s always better to say, we all know that we fight with sin. So how do you go about finding some? What do you do? Do you have an accountability partner? Because we do need someone in our life that we say the all the junk to the, yeah. Was having lustful thought. You know, we need those people. I think it got to be, in certain cultures it can be like, oh no, they’re really open because they shared with everyone in the Bible study all their stuff. And I just think we have to be careful about that. I think it’s right to have people, we confess to. I don’t think you have to confess to everyone.

Guthrie:  I wonder if something related to this, it’s not exactly that, but a question that really puts people on the spot.

Kruger: That’s a good way to say it.

Guthrie:  Would that be another one? Maybe it has to do with confessing something they’ve done, but even if it’s, so how many days this week did you have devotions? Let’s go around. Or when are you gonna do it this week? You know, and even if you alter that to, okay, maybe we should talk about when are some times during the day you found it a good time to be able to have time in the Word or when you find that you are not, what are the things that you find you want to do instead? I mean to make it more general, but to really put people on the spot about certain things.

Kruger: Yes. It does make them go really quiet really quickly.

Guthrie:  It does, doesn’t it?

Kruger: There are just certain things. And that’s why these are all kind of the awkward questions. They just make you not wanna answer. There’s something about interesting question that makes you wanna say, “Oh yeah, I do wanna do, yeah. I wanna talk about how to fight sin. I don’t know if I wanna share this publicly.” And it does, it puts you on the spot.

Guthrie: Yeah. We don’t wanna do that. All right, so we wanna ask better questions. One thing you’ve talked about is having a question that gets people talking. It’s maybe not diving in too deep, but it just kind of warms them up to get talking, right?

Kruger: Absolutely. I love both icebreaker and warm-up questions. And I do these before we even jump into the text because I think, you know, it’s kind of like trying to stretch before you’ve warmed up. You know, you’re just, your muscles aren’t ready yet. And I think in a Bible study, people are coming from real lives. You know, someone just got thrown up on, someone’s car tire was flat too. You know, all these things are happening when they come into that space. And so what I like about an icebreaker in a small group setting, I would not do this in a bigger setting is, one, it allows every woman in the room to say something and now be careful and icebreaker questions. They need to be one-word wonders, okay?

Guthrie: Yes. Because when women start talking, you can never get them back again.

Kruger: You will lose the Bible study. And so again, if I was teaching on God’s mercy, I might say and I wanted to get us thinking why we need mercy. I might say something like, if you were stuck getting your hand, if you were caught with your hand in the car, the cookie jar, what type of cookie would you be pulling out?

Guthrie:  Okay. Very simple.

Kruger: Yes. Not intended to be overly spiritual, just…and that’s everyone can answer. And then you get to here, oh, give me that recipe later. You know, you get to have that fun.

Guthrie:  I learned something about this recently, Melissa, this gal at my church who trains public school teachers, did a workshop for the teachers at our church. And I learned so many things, but this is one particular area that I thought, okay, I want to use that. She gave us a question and she said, you find someone whose shirt is the similar color to yours. All right. So you had to get up, you had to find somebody had to engage with somebody. And the first question was something like that, you know, your favorite dessert or something like that. So very low risk, right? And not awkward to find someone who has a shirt, your same color. And she had several of those and they escalated in risk and they also ask like the last one, find someone with the same color eyes. It was very different to look at someone, you know, who has the same color clothes and look in someone’s eyes.

And then I think that question we were supposed to tell them, you know, what are you hoping to get out of today? And so that was a much more personal, more vulnerable question. But she was just demonstrating that movement. And I got a lot out of that in terms of, you know, having something to start that just gets people talking, gets them interacting with other people. But it’s not diving them too deep into personal risks too quickly.

Kruger: Yes, exactly. And I do like to link it to where we’re going a little bit, you know, because it’s getting caught doing something wrong.

Guthrie:  Exactly. Helps to set up wherever we’re headed.

Kruger: Yes. And then I’d go into, well, today we’re gonna be talking about God’s mercy. And so I wanna just open with this question. When was a time that you remember in your teen years or in your child years you got caught doing something wrong? So that wouldn’t be something that everyone has to answer. But again, we started getting to know each other a little bit. But what I want to make sure we all realize is that we all need mercy. So it’s helpful for us to say, oh yeah. And yeah, you hear funny stories about people. I did this, I did this and yeah, you can all laugh because it wasn’t yesterday. You can say it was 20 years ago when I did this or that. And so again, it just starts to open people up and find this is a safe place and to start talking about these things. And then we read the text and it kind of sets the framework for what we’re gonna be studying and why God’s mercy is so important.

Guthrie: What is a “Houston, we have a problem”?

Kruger: Both these and Achilles heels. One thing I think is really helpful. I know I feel this as a teacher. I read a passage and oh, I hope no one asks me about that one. And sometimes I think that’s the very question to pose to your group. And it’s, and now I wanna say this to teachers to make sure to say this. It’s okay not to have all the answers when you’re teaching a group. I think that’s what’s more intimidating about teaching in a group setting where there is interaction than just speaking. No one’s gonna raise your hand when you’re talking and say, Hey, can you make sure to talk about this?

One thing we used to do as our Bible study is we would keep all of our questions in the list and then we would invite a pastor to come in at the end of Bible study and we’d just throw them out to the pastor. And so just to be able to say I’m learning too or even to go the next week and say I’m gonna look up a few articles on this and then send it to the group. But it presents us all learners and I think that’s really helpful for everyone in the group to see when you have a question about the text, your group will have the same question. So it’s important for you to delve into it. And be curious about the text. That will make the best questions. So my own curiosity about what is Paul saying here is gonna lead to better questions. And so those are the ones that go ahead and just delve into with the group.

Guthrie:  And I think it women especially, I think they have a need. Like, if there’s a blank, they’ve gotta know what goes on that blank, right? And so I mean, they don’t wanna leave without everything being settled. And I have found myself sometimes letting a question linger and you know, like maybe I could have offered an answer right then and I chose not to because kind of like you talked about how we learn more if it comes out of our mouth. I think similarly that a lot of times we learn more if we’d have to spend some time or go do some research to figure it out rather than, you know, having the person who’s assumed to be the expert in the room just give the answer quickly.

Kruger: I think that’s a good point, too. Not to be afraid of the silence. I actually keep a drink with me and I will ask one of those harder questions cause we’re in, you’re moving down and they’re getting harder and I will sit back and I will sip my coffee and it’s…

Guthrie: You’re kinda communicating, I can wait.

Kruger: Yeah. Everyone needs to think, and I might reframe the question if it’s clear that no one is doing where I’m going. But I do, I watch younger teachers and I see they really struggle with space. And we all need space because again, you studied the text for 10 hours before you taught this. They just got into it.

One other thing I’ll say about the “Houston, we have a problem” type questions it means if your Bible study is Wednesday morning, you’re not preparing it at 10:00 PM on Tuesday night. You will not be able to do the work of the texts that you need to do if you’re getting it together the night before. I always try to do it the week before. I’m trying to keep ahead of it so I can really marinate. So I do say that even for small groups, these are, I know sometimes we think, oh, it’s just 10 people. But oh, it can be 10 really growing, just great discussion people, when we really take it seriously and say this is important, and to spend our time in the text so that we can ask the good question. Because sometimes the question comes on the fly, too. You know, it’s more as we’re discussing it comes, but it’s gonna come easier the more depth of knowledge the teacher has about the text.

Guthrie: And it’s going to lead you where you want to go rather than take you on a rabbit trail. If you’ve done your homework and you know where you’re headed.

Kruger: Yes, yes.

Guthrie: All right. Finally you said an Achilles heel question.

Kruger: Yes, these can be, these are similar to “Houston, we have a problem.” These can be things that are just completely might unravel your whole Bible study.

Guthrie:  Oh, I don’t want to do that.

Kruger: You know, like a passage that you get to and maybe sometimes you don’t even know it’s gonna do this. I saw this recently in a situation. Someone asked a question. We were in Genesis because we were studying a totally different topic, but someone raised their hand and asked the question that got us. It was about why God even would’ve put the tree in the garden. You know, that is not what the lesson was on. But it was, and this is more of a rabbit trail situation. It got the whole discussion completely off.

And sometimes an Achilles heel can do that because it’s a topic that you know in your group might create a lot of controversy. And so sometimes on that if you aren’t gonna have time to discuss the tough issue. And it could be something like submission and yeah, if you’re dealing with a group of women who comes from really diverse backgrounds and if that’s not the main point of the text, you know, or if it’s something that’s just not the main point in the text that you’re trying to get to that day, I think it’s fair to just acknowledge that from the front and say, “Hey, this passage has this word in it that we may feel a little uncomfortable about. We don’t have time to get to it today, but we will have a discussion on it later.” So sometimes just the acknowledgement that I know this is a tough issue and if we wanna have a whole Bible study on it, we can, but today we can’t cover it. So, yeah.

Guthrie:  I find sometimes in women’s Bible study that a question will arise. It’s a question that arises out of someone’s curiosity and it’s an interesting question. Sometimes, I have sensed it’s a way to divert from dealing with the weight of the passage or the implications of the passage for me and for everybody else personally. Because honestly, it can be more comfortable to try to debate or think through some kind of curious question we have about it rather than to just deal with individually on yet together. Wow, what are we gonna do with this? Because how are we gonna obey this? What is it gonna look like to submit to this truth, to live this way? And a curious question can kind of divert that kind of personal introspection.

Kruger: Yes. It really can. It can divert the whole group and it can change the whole dynamic of the group. Yeah. As things get, so yeah. Are you saying I can never watch this show? I mean, you know, whatever it might be that gets into, you know. And so that’s where, again, being a student of the whole model is so important when we teach any book of the Bible. Because, you know, lots of verses can be taken completely out of context and so we have to be equipped to be able to do that. And again, that doesn’t mean we wait until we’re 80. Yeah. I mean, I never mean to say when it’s important to be equipped doesn’t mean we wait, go tell your friends about Jesus today. Tell everything you know to every person you know as much as you can. So I never want anyone to wait, but keep getting trained yourself. Keep growing. Never think you’re there.

Guthrie: Well, that’s a good place to end. Melissa, thank you so much for being willing to help us as we all seek to get better at asking good questions in whether it’s a small group or large group situations. So thank you for passing along your wisdom to us.

Kruger: Thanks for having me.

Guthrie: You’ve been listening to “Help Me Teach the Bible” with Nancy Guthrie, a production of the Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not for profit publisher of the ESV Bible Christian books and tracks. Learn more about Crossway’s gospel-centered resources at crossway.org.

One way to teach is to lecture. Certainly it’s more controllable. But does it provide the best way for those we’re teaching to learn?

Creating interaction, some back-and-forth on the text and its implications, with those we’re teaching creates a more fruitful learning environment. But to teach this way, we have to develop our skills in asking good questions as well as avoiding unhelpful or frustrating questions.

In this episode I talked to Melissa Kruger, director of women’s content at The Gospel Coalition, about what kinds of questions help people to learn, especially in a small-group Bible studies. We built our conversation around the helpful articles she wrote a couple of years ago—“4 Types of Questions NOT to Ask in Your Small Group Bible Study” and “Asking Better Questions in Small-Group Discussions.” I also asked Melissa a few questions about her own development as a Bible teacher and what she looks for as she selects women to teach at The Gospel Coalition’s 2020 Women’s Conference.

Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.

Related:

Editors’ note: 

Nancy Guthrie will be recording a live session of Help Me Teach the Bible at our 2020 Women’s Conference, June 11 to 13 in Indianapolis, as well as speaking twice on the book of James. You can browse the complete list of topics and speakersRegister soon!

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