SMALL GROUP PREPARATION GUIDE
Preparing for a small group can be a challenging thing, especially if it is your first Workshop on Biblical Exposition. We want you to work hard and do your best. But we also don’t want you to feel overly anxious or fearful about what is going to happen in the small group.

Of course, the best way to understand the concepts in the Small Group Preparation Worksheet is to attend a Workshop and participate in instructional sessions specifically on them. At your first Workshop, we won’t expect you to have gotten it all. Still, you might want to try to prepare well. And so, to help you feel at ease, we have created this document. Read through it. It will clarify some of the lingo and the intention of the questions on the preparation worksheet. You can also visit older Workshop pages and listen to some of the audio. And as always, let us know if you have any questions.

You can also download this Small Group Preparation Guide [pdf, 159kb].

   1. What is the author’s structure of this passage? Please a) show sections with verse references, b) state the author’s emphasis, and c) explain what strategies you used to see this structure.

2. How does the context inform the meaning of this passage? Answer this question using a) the literary context (the passages on either side), b) the historical context (circumstances and culture of the audience), and c) the biblical context (connections to other places in the Bible).

3. In light of the emphasis of this passage in its context, state the author’s main idea for his audience (in one short sentence).

4. What parts of this passage connect to the gospel of Jesus Christ? What particular facet of the gospel is in view?

5. In light of your gospel connection, what argument (one short sentence) will you make to your audience? What applications from this argument will you make for the believer? The unbeliever?

6. What is your preaching (or teaching) outline?

Other Frequently Asked Questions


1. What is the author’s structure of this passage? Please a) show sections with verse references, b) state the author’s emphasis, and c) explain what strategies you used to see this structure.
The author’s structure is a way of talking about how a passage in the Bible is organized. Beneath the surface of each passage is an underlying arrangement of material, an outline or logic or shape that the author has used to organize the passage. You might think of it as the author’s outline. And each part of the passage has a role to play in that structure. When we ask you to identify the structure of a passage, then, we are asking you to identify the underlying shape. It might be a grammatical or logical structure (common in discourse), or it might be a plot or literary device (common in narrative), or it might be the separation of the passage into stanzas (in poetry). However you determine the author’s structure, you should mark the sections of the passage, including the verse numbers. Please note that we are using the term structure to refer to the organization of a passage. For the structure of a whole book, the term macro-structure is more appropriate.

The structure will reveal an emphasis, a main point that the author is making and has communicated through the structure. Isolate this emphasis and try to capture it in a phrase or short sentence. Additionally, explain how you arrived at this structure and emphasis. We are looking to see how thoughtful you are about your work, about how you try to find the emphasis of a passage.

What about Genres and Text Types?
Genres are categories of literature that have distinctive characteristics and, as a result, require some particularized reading strategies. Most people would not read a newspaper the same way as a novel, or a recipe, or a letter, or song lyrics. The Bible has several different genres within it, including: Old Testament History, Prophetic Literature, Wisdom Literature, Apocalyptic Literature, Gospels and Acts, and Epistles. While each Workshop will focus on a genre, and usually a specific book as a representative of that genre, the worksheet questions are based on principles, and so are applicable to any genre.

Text types are a slightly different idea from genres. They are both categories of literature and even use some of the same words (e.g., narrative), so it can be a little confusing. Genres are a bigger category and take in to account things like content, place in history, form of literature, and rhetorical purpose. Text types, however, refer only to the form of the passage. In the Bible, there are three major text types: narrative (or stories), discourse (or speeches) and poetry. Importantly, each of these text types appear in each of the genres. That is, there is narrative and discourse and poetry in each of the genres listed above. Because text type refers to the form or shape of the passage, it is most often useful when talking about structure. Each text type has specific structures and requires specific tools for finding those structures. Of course, you should always begin by reading and rereading your passage (in at least a literal translation). Then, use the following strategies:

  Discourse (or speeches): This text type is most common in the speeches within Old Testament History books or the Epistles (which were most likely preached material). It is a single person speaking and tends to have a logical flow to it. As such, to find the structure in discourse, you want to trace the logic or reasoning of the passage. You might try grammatical analysis (such as identifying the verbs or noting how some clauses and ideas are subordinated to other more dominant ideas), or tracing the flow of ideas (sometimes called arc-ing). Key words and transitional words are also very important. And as with every text type, you will want to pay special attention to repetitions.

Narrative (or stories): This text type is found mostly in the Old Testament History books, some of the Prophets, and the Gospels and Acts. The structures in narratives tend to revolve around things like plot (or story arc), characters, or other literary devices (e.g., time of day, change of location). Perhaps the most important literary feature is plot, which has a distinctive shape: 1) setting (including introduction of characters, time, location), 2) conflict (or rising action, an inciting incident that demands a correction or solution), 3) climax (the turning point of the story, the point at which the resolution is set in motion and becomes necessary or inevitable), 4) resolution (the actual playing out of the solution in the conflict), and 5) new setting (or stasis, having shifted because of the plot arc, that paves the way for the next plot arc).

Poetry: This text type is found throughout the Bible, but primarily in Wisdom Literature, Prophetic Literature, and Apocalyptic Literature. The key to finding structure in poetry is understanding how the stanzas work. Many English translations break poems into stanzas, usually with vertical spaces between the lines. However, the editors are not always right! You might try finding how the stanzas separate by noticing repetitions, changes in imagery, changes in voice/point of view/person (e.g., first person, second person, third person), changes in the type of parallelism (i.e., how the lines relate to each other in the pairs or triplets of lines), or other literary devices (e.g., alphabetical).

2. How does the context inform the meaning of this passage? Answer this question using a) the literary context (the passages on either side), b) the historical context (circumstances and culture of the audience), and c) the biblical context (connections to other places in the Bible).
For each genre, the best way of finding literary context and the context of the whole book is to read the whole book over and over again. Get a feel for the major themes and arguments of the whole book. Get a feel for the story arcs and arguments in the major sections. But mostly, just keep reading!

For historical context, it might be good to consider the following:

  Old Testament History: Old Testament History, for the most part, refers to the history of Israel. The book you are studying will be the best source of particular historical contexts. But finding references from other books throughout the Old Testament covering or addressing the same period in history might also be helpful (e.g., in the Prophets or Psalms). For example, some of the Psalms give a particular historical context. So, when studying the story of David in 1 and 2 Samuel, you might actually be able to look at the poetry he was writing at the time. Additionally, it can be very helpful to look at the previous period in history and note what problems it has. For example, 1 Samuel is, in part, the story of how Israel got a human king. Looking at the previous period in Israel’s history at the end of Judges helps put the transition from judges to kings in perspective.

Wisdom Literature: The Wisdom books are, for the most part, somewhat separate from historical context. Song of Songs and Job, for example, do not really give us any clues as to their place in Israel’s history. There are some good clues in Proverbs, but it is less clear that the historical context has a role to play in the book. Some of the Psalms can be tied to historical situations in other books, but certainly not all of them can. So, ask yourself what you can learn from the Scriptures about the historical context, but be very slow and measured to rest your interpretations on it.

Prophetic and Apocalyptic Literature: The Prophetic and Apocalyptic books of the Old Testament are, for the most part, tied into Israel’s history in the Old Testament Narrative books. As such, you might be able to find helpful references to particular people, prophets and kings of Israel and Judah, in especially 1 and 2 Kings. It might be very helpful to look at the reign of a particular monarch and get a sense of what problems Israel and Judah are facing to understand the agenda of the prophets in the Prophetic books. Remember, the first fulfillments of prophecies are almost always in the history of Israel and Judah themselves.

Epistles: The best source of the historical context of the Epistles is generally the Epistle itself. Look at the beginning of the letter and the end of the letter for clues about the particular the setting in history. Look throughout the letter for references to named people or locations. In the Pauline Epistles especially, look at the specifics concerning opponents or false teaches. Ask yourself: ‘What is going on in the city/region of the recipient?’ Also look in related passages. For example, if you are studying 2 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians might give you some good clues. If you are reading 2 Timothy, both 1 Timothy and Ephesians might provide some help. And finally, the Acts of the Apostles is a very helpful resource. Look for corresponding references to places and people mentioned in Acts. This historical data is rarely going to be the key to reading a passage, but it almost always helps put the situation of the letter in context.

Gospels/Acts: The Gospels are slightly more complicated because we know very little about the authors (remember that the Gospels are technically anonymous, though the traditions are very old and likely authentic) or, more importantly, we only have speculation as to where they were written and to whom. It is quite likely, in fact, that the Gospels were meant to be distributed widely throughout the ancient Mediterranean and so should not be tied to the particular situation of a particular church in a particular place. To be clear, this hint is entirely in reference to the historical context of the Gospels. Issues concerning that field of Biblical Studies called historical Jesus as well as the cultural context of the ancient Mediterranean are still very much relevant and should be reconstructed from the Gospels themselves.

3. In light of the emphasis of this passage in its context, state the author’s main idea for his audience (in one short sentence).
The author’s main idea is a way of talking about the big idea of a passage as a whole. The main idea of a passage is the main point of the author. It is usually descriptive, a statement of which the author is trying to persuade his audience. As such, as you work on articulating your main idea, please keep in mind that 1) it needs to be specific enough to the passage that it clearly comes from the particular passage (and not any other passage, 2) it is for the first audience (we’ll get to modern readers with argument later), and 3) it should be one single sentence that is both short and clear, and captures the main idea of the passage. The goal is NOT to cram as much of the passage into your main idea or aim as possible, but rather to focus in on the main point and main purpose as clearly as possible. Also keep in mind that, sometimes, the main idea of a passage is not merely a descriptive statement. Rather, it might be phrased as an aim because the author’s primary point is a call to action (usually stated as an imperative). In any case, our hope is that you will supply your best attempt at the main idea as a way of demonstrating that you understand and can articulate the central point of the passage.

4. What parts of this passage connect to the gospel of Jesus Christ? What particular facet of the gospel is in view?
These two questions are getting at the idea that every part of the Bible, every passage of Scripture, in some way relates to the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf., Luke 24:13-49). The first question is asking in what way your passage—or really what parts of your passage—connect to the gospel. Your passage might anticipate the gospel. Your passage might be looking back and reflecting on the gospel. The important thing here is that the connection is legitimate and textually driven. We want to avoid the subjectivity of allegory or over-spiritualizing our passages. For this, you might do well to consider several strategies:

  Simple Observation: This is the easiest strategy to employ as, sometimes, the gospel of Jesus Christ is just explicitly stated in your passage. This happens occasionally in the Gospels, but more frequently in the Epistles. Just make sure you treat the gospel the same way the author did.

Prophetic Fulfillment: Sometimes, the best connection is made explicitly, but in relationship to a prophecy or its fulfillment found elsewhere in the Bible. In the Prophets, for example, messianic prophecies are stated that have both a proximate historical fulfillment and an ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. The Gospels and Acts and the Epistles often take a look back at such prophecies. When you have such a connection in your passage, explore whether this is a way of connecting to the gospel.

Historical Trajectory: This is one of the harder strategies to use as it requires having a fairly good grasp of redemptive history. Each of our passages describes something with a historical context that exists on a timeline of all history, from creation to new creation. At the center of this timeline is the death and resurrection of Jesus. As such, your passage might include some kind of historical anticipation, some marker in history that inches closer (forward or backward) to the death and resurrection of Jesus. You might think in eras of or epochs of salvation history and ask how your passage plays a role in the trajectory of history that is aimed at the cross.

Typology/Analogy: Analogy is a broad set of comparisons (both of similarity and contrast) between two concepts. Typology is a kind of analogy used in biblical literature. It may compare people, objects, institutions, or other things. Importantly, there is a kind of progression in the comparison, where the final person or object is escalated in value in some way. In other words, a type is a pattern or a shadow that in some way points to an ultimate expression of it. And, for the purpose of connecting to the gospel, the type is a shadow cast by a particular face of the gospel. Moses was an important prophet that anticipates the ultimate prophet in Jesus. David was a good king that anticipates the ultimate king in Jesus. And again, it is worth noting that there are always aspects of similarity and dissimilarity present in analogies and typologies.

Biblical Theological Themes: Themes are larger ideas that, themselves, progressively develop throughout the Bible. In this way, they might be seen as following the historical trajectory strategy as well as combining large sets of multiple typological or analogical connections. Major themes include kingdom, exodus and exile, priest and temple, and covenant. There are several others. Consider how one of these themes might be present in your passage and, as a result, how that theme then connects to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Gospel-Based Teaching: Sometimes, your passage really revolves around ethical action. It can be hard to see the gospel of grace in passages that so easily lend themselves to a message of obedience. The important thing here is to get the ideas in the right order. When we are saved, we are given the righteousness of Christ (justification), a righteousness that depends on faith (Phil 3:8-9; cf., 2 Cor 5:21). Works of righteousness do not save us, but they are how we are commanded to live in faith for our own good (sanctification), having been saved. When we come across the teaching or ethical demands God makes of his people, we need to understand these demands in light of the gospel.

The best way to demonstrate the legitimacy of a gospel connection, especially in the Old Testament, is to make sure you have a passage (complementary to your own) that drives the connection. Just be careful that you teach the gospel from your passage and not the connected passage.

In addition to showing the connections, you need to also reflect on the facet of the gospel that is in view. In other words, to what aspect of the gospel does your passage connect. Or what angle on the gospel does your passage take? As you might expect, the gospel is both an incredibly simple, and yet complex and multi-faceted concept. The heart of the gospel is, of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus as a substitutionary atonement for human sin, providing eternal life in relationship with God. But there are other angles on the gospel that might be more relevant to your passage, including: The Incarnation, the Ascension, the Second Coming, and the life and miracles and teaching of Jesus. There are also implications of the gospel like repentance, faith, and obedience. And there are also results of the gospel like forgiveness of sins eternal life. Any one of these might be the strongest, textual, legitimate connection from your passage to the concept of the gospel.

5. In light of your gospel connection, what argument (one short sentence) will you make to your audience? What applications from this argument will you make for the believer? The unbeliever?
The argument of a sermon or message is the fundamental and abstract statement of what the speaker today is trying to convince the audience today. In expository preaching and teaching, it will certainly be intimately related to the author’s main idea for his original audience, but you might think of it more as that most basic idea of which you are attempting to persuade your listeners. It should be well reasoned and, perhaps, articulated as the result of a proof. Also, importantly, the applications (and implications) will also likely be related to the argument. These applications should be tailored to two specific parts of your audience: the believers and the unbelievers, thus taking into account how your passage relates to the gospel and not merely its meaning for the first audience.

For example, if the author’s main idea in Luke 14:13-14 is that the first audience needs to consider how they view social hierarchy and thus serve the poor who cannot repay them, my argument for believers might be something like: ‘you need to really consider whether you are serving those less fortunate than you, both in the church and outside, without expectation of honor or repayment as this is the example Jesus sets.’ I might shift the phrasing of this argument for the unbeliever to be something like: ‘consider how you are in need of Jesus Christ, who came to serve (and save!) by dying on a cross and rising again, and we have no hope of repaying him—it is not something we could have done ourselves.’ And my applications might range from inviting people we might not otherwise consider inviting to dinner, to getting involved with mercy ministries, to adopting an attitude of sacrificial service in the church, to following up on this idea that Jesus came to save us without expectation that we ‘repay’ him or ‘earn’ that salvation. [Please note: this is not intended to be a definitive, or even good, interpretation of the passage. It is, rather, intended to be an example of the kinds of things to think and present while considering the idea of argument.]

6. What is your preaching (or teaching) outline?
A preaching or teaching outline is sometimes called a homiletical outline. It is simply a way of organizing your sermon or message. It should be derived from your work in the passage and should be related to the structure of the passage. While our structures are behind-the-scenes work, the homiletical outline is shaped and prepared to help your listeners follow along your presentation of the passage for your church audience. While some might include detailed notes in a homiletical outline for teaching, your homiletical outline in the Workshop needs only to be the outline itself, the headers you might attach to each section of your sermon or message.

You might be wondering: ‘Do I really have to write a homiletical outline?’ Yes, you are required to write a homiletical outline. We did not previously require this, but it is now expected. People in ministry fulfill a lot of teaching roles. Some find themselves in preaching or teaching settings where a homiletical outline would be helpful. Other teachers lead ministries of the local church, write curriculum, train lay leaders, etc. Whichever way you are doing Word work, it is incredibly important to think homiletically!

Other Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few other questions about which we thought you might be wondering.

What is the difference between main idea and argument/applications? [Questions 3 and 5]
If the main idea is for the author’s original audience, then argument and applications (or implications) are our way of talking about the goal of the passage for our people today. Another way to think of it is that the main idea is the passage applied to them/then, and the argument/application is the passage applied to us/now.

What should my handout look like and why do I need to bring several copies?
Your handout should include your answers to the questions on the preparation worksheet. It is most helpful for small-group discussion if your handout is on one page (front and back, preferably typed). The art of being clear and concise is invaluable for preachers and teachers! Providing copies for your small group will make interaction more fruitful as they peer-review your work.

What should my presentation look like for my small group?
Your five-minute presentation will consist of simply presenting the content of your preparation worksheet, including your homiletical outline. The discussion that follows will build on that work with the hope of giving you one or two things on which to work. These Workshops are designed to equip preachers and Bible teachers with tools to study the Bible for the purpose of teaching it. To that end, we cannot delve in to assessing your choice of illustrations, your tone or speed of speaking in public, etc. The Workshops focus on skills in studying the passage in order to get it right so we can get it across.

How should I prepare to help others in my small group?
In addition to presenting your two passages, there are other passages being presented by your peers. It is a good idea to prepare all of the passages (in addition to those you have been assigned). These passages can be found on the schedule. Try to read each passage. Look at the context. Try to formulate a sense of the main idea in the passage. The better each person is prepared on each passage, the better the feedback and discussion will be. Or to put it differently, because you would like feedback from people who have really studied your passage, we will all do well to study all the passages to give the best feedback.

This is my first time. How am I supposed to prepare without having received the training?
We are glad you are coming to the Workshop! This page and the resources on our website are meant to help you prepare. We’d all love the chance to hear instructions before completing our homework, but that would mean attending a three-day Workshop without doing the homework. We have found we can’t really grow in our teaching unless we bring our own work to review. So, whether you are a first-timer or a repeat-attendee, everyone will tell you there is always more to learn at every Workshop.

What if I get it wrong?
This is the last question listed here, but often the first question on everyone’s minds. It’s okay to be nervous. We all worry about handling God’s Word well. As Christians, we recognize the learning process is ongoing. We can always be stretched in new ways. Part of the hope of having interactive instructional sessions and these small group discussions is that the instructors and small group leaders learn new things as well. Our small group leaders are trained to foster a collegial environment where we will each be encouraged and challenged to grow. Most of us are not used to peer-review of our work, but we will all find it is invaluable to helping us grow as Bible teachers. So, enjoy the Workshop!

Why don’t you provide a sample completed worksheet?
We have found that two things happen when we give sample answers. First, it limits the scope of answers that participants give. That is, without intending to, participants limit themselves too much to the confines of (the types of) answers we give in the sample worksheet. We’d rather handle the discernment necessary for doing this work in discussion in the small group rather than limit the work up front. Second, sometimes participants view the answers we give on the sample worksheet as what we view as ‘the right answers.’ We hope that we are still making progress and will do a better job on our worksheets every time we approach a passage. We certainly don’t want anyone thinking we have perfected any particular passage. We are still growing too!