Module 11 - Spiritual-learning Small Groups

Teachers’ Seminar

Module 11: Spritual-learning Small Groups


Upon completion of this module the teacher should be equipped to:

  • List essential ingredients for spiritual-learning small groups.
  • Use a variety of advanced small group teaching methods.

The Plan

Life-related, spiritual, experiential, biblical learning best takes place in small “laboratory for life” groups. Having from eight to 10 members allows optimum discussion and interaction, with enough numbers to fill in when there are absentees.

Several ingredients are vital for small groups that teach to the cognitive, faith, and action domains. They are:

  • Leaders who are more like choir directors than soloists.
  • Ground rules that foster participation without dominance.
  • Relaxed, loving, safe environments.
  • Sharing that develops relationships.
  • Free conversational Bible study.
  • Interactive, Bible-based, experience-oriented discussion.
  • Modeling and facilitation of spiritual growth and ministry.
  • Conversational prayer.

The following general teaching methods tend to promote biblical spiritual learning in small groups:

  • Share from your own experience.
  • Relate experience to the Bible.
  • Provide a free conversational environment.
  • Ask members to read Bible passages, allowing some freedom to pass if they choose.
  • Share backgrounds, word studies, and interpretations.
  • Ask members to design questions.

Several additional methods are worthy of further explanation.

Use Icebreakers

Icebreakers are short introductory questions that encourage sharing. They deal with life experiences that are easy to express and yet may lead into the topic of discussion. Icebreakers help people to get acquainted and, consequently, foster fellowship.

Example: If the lesson is on Jonah, you might ask: “Do you find anything humorous in the story of Jonah?”

Facilitate Listening

Teach members the art of listening in order to know how to “speak a word in season to him who is weary” (Isa. 50:4). In other words, help members to understand and minister to the emotional and spiritual weariness behind the words people express.

Example: A class member says, “I don’t like the story of Jonah.” Perhaps that person is tempted to run away from a duty or command of the Lord. Rather than launch into a debate about the value of the book of Jonah, a reflective listener might respond: “You don’t find the story very encouraging?” This will allow the person to talk about their experience. It is essential to listen with kindness and understanding rather than to gather material for an argument.

Members should seek to edify one another more than to get their argument across. The following quotation in reference to small companies describes the goals of interaction for spiritual learning:

“Let them keep their bond of union unbroken, pressing together in love and unity, encouraging one another to advance, each gaining courage and strength from the assistance of the others. Let them reveal Christlike forbearance and patience, speaking no hasty words, using the talent of speech to build one another up in the most holy faith” (Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 22).

The person who has trouble with the story of Jonah may need to talk about a temptation to run away from some duty or responsibility. They may need a testimony of how the Lord saved another member in a similar situation.

Encourage Interaction

When the discussion leader dialogues with an individual class member, there are only two perspectives to qualify, two testimonies to consider. On the other hand, when a group of eight members interact with one another, the potential for understanding, application, faith, and action dramatically multiplies. This fact is underscored by inspiration:

“God has so related us individually to the great web of humanity that unconsciously we draw from others, with whom we are brought in contact, their ways, practices, and habits” (Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p. 98).

The discussion leader can facilitate by asking the class to discuss the response of another member rather than commenting on the response alone. The leader can foster dialogue between members by moderating conversation.

Reinforce Expressions

One of the best ways to share information in small groups is to reinforce members’ biblical insights or principles that they have applied to their experience.

Example: In response to the question “Why did Jonah get angry?” a member says, “I think we need to search our hearts to determine why we get angry.” This would be a good time (teachable moment) for the leader to reinforce the insight with information, such as the fact that in the Hebrew text God asks Jonah, “Is it well for you to burn to yourself?” This could be followed by giving information about the hot east wind that comes off the Arabian desert and then applying it to how prolonged anger can be detrimental to health.

It is a good idea never to tell the class what they can tell you. But solid information content shared at the time of peak receptivity awakens interest and adds power to the insights expressed by learners.

Complete the evaluation below. Then check the answers.

Seminar Evaluation

Rate your skill in conducting spiritual-learning small groups by circling the number that applies. Ask another person to also rate your skill.

1. Facilitates interactive discussion between members.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

2. Models and facilitates spiritual growth and involvement in ministry.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

3. Fosters good listening skills on the part of members.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

4. Reinforces, with interesting information, thoughts shared by members.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

5. Shares personal experiences.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Below, circle the correct answer, T (true) or F (false).

6. It is always best to share solid biblical content with members prior to discussion.


7. It is sometimes good to encourage free discussion of life-related problems, even if the Bible is never mentioned.


Regarding reflective listening in a life-related Bible study, circle G (good reflective listening response) or NG (not such a good reflective listening response).

Responses to a class member who says, “The story of Jonah depresses me.”

8. “I also find that the story of Jonah depresses me.”


9. “You don’t find the story of Jonah to be encouraging?”


10. “Depression about a Bible study shows a lack of commitment. The truth satisfies.”


Answers to Questions 6 - 10

6. F
7. F
8. NG
9. G
10. NG

Give yourself 10 points for each corect answer for questions 6 - 10.

Add the circled numbers for questions 1 - 5.

Total points possible: 100 Your score:

James Kilmer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists