As you begin writing the questions for your study, it is important to realize there are several types of questions:
1. Approach questions.
An approach question is asked at the beginning of the study before the passage is read. It can spark a discussion in three ways:
First, it helps the group members warm up to each other. No matter how well people may know each other, there is always a stiffness that needs to be overcome before people will begin to talk openly. An approach question helps to break the ice. For example, in this study on Matthew 20 we might ask: “When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
Second, an approach question gets people thinking along the lines of the topic of the study. Most people will have lots of different things going on in their minds (dinner, an important meeting coming up, how to get the car fixed) that will have nothing to do with the study. A creative question will get their attention and draw them into the discussion.
Third, an approach question can reveal where our thoughts or feelings need to be transformed by Scripture. This is why it is especially important not to read the passage before the approach question is asked. The passage will tend to color the honest reactions people would otherwise give because they are of course supposed to think the way the Bible does. Giving honest responses to various issues before they find out what the Bible says may help them to see where their thoughts or attitudes need to be changed. For example, in our study we might ask: “Do you feel successful? Explain why or why not.”
2. Observation questions.
As you studied the passage on your own, you observed many important facts related to who, what, when, where, why and how (see chapter five). Some of these facts were more significant than others in helping you to interpret and apply the passage. Now you want to help the group to observe these significant facts. Do this by turning your observations into questions. For example, in Matthew 20 the following observations are likely candidates for questions:
Observation: The main characters in this passage are Jesus, the mother, her two sons and the other ten disciples.
Question: Who are the main characters in this passage?
Observation: The mother asks Jesus to allow her two sons to sit on his right and left in his kingdom.
Question: What favor does the mother ask of Jesus?
Observation: Jesus states that the Gentiles define greatness as having others serve you. He defines greatness as you serving others.
Question: What definitions of greatness does Jesus give in this passage?
Good observation questions should cause the group to search the passage and its context. They should no be so simple or superficial that they can be answered with one or two-word answers.
3. Interpretation questions.
After you observed the facts of the passage in your own study, you sought to interpret the meaning and significance of those facts. You began to understand the main point of the passage and how the parts of the passage contribute to that main point. Now you want to lead the group to understand what the passage means.
Do this by turning significant interpretations into questions. (Caution: Be sure your questions allow the group the freedom to arrive at their own interpretations, even if their views differ from yours.) The following examples from Matthew 20 illustrate how you might do this:
Interpreation: The setas on the right and left of a host were positions of honor. The two sons wanted the second and third highest positions in the kingdom.
Question: What would be the significance of sitting on Jesus’ right and left hand in his kingdom?
Interpretation: Jesus uses the word cup as a metaphor for suffering, especially the suffering which leads to death. Jesus would die, as would the two sons as a result of their close following of him.
Question: What is the “cup” from which Jesus and the two sons will drink?
Interpretation: The ten disciples were indignant because they wanted the highest positions in the kingdom but the two sons had tried to get to Jesus first.
Question: Why do you think the ten disciples were indignant toward the other two?
4. Application questions.
After you observed and interpreted the passage in your own study, you also sought to apply it to your life. Through careful reflection and prayer, you saw how your attitudes, relationships and actions should begin to change. Now you need to help the group to think about how they should apply what they have observed and interpreted.
Do this by turning some of your applications into questions. But be sure that the questions are flexible enough to allow the main idea of the passage to be applied in a variety of ways. For example, in the Matthew 20 passage you might do this:
Application: This passage should begin to affect the way I treat my family, the people at work and those who live around me. For example, at home I should be more willing to do those jobs which no one else likes to do, such as washing dishes and carrying out the trash.
Question: How can you serve those around you in your family, at work or school, in society?
Applciation: I should begin cultivating the attitude of a servant this week. I will volunteer to do the dinner dishes at least twice this week.
Question: What specific act of service can you do for someone this week?
Application: If I demonstrate a willingness to do menial tasks, others might start giving me the jobs that no one else wants to do. They might take unfair advantage of me, just as I have previously taken unfair advantage of others.
Question: If you seek to become a servant to others, what difficulties might you encounter?
Application questions should be closely related to the main points of the passage. It is better to have three or four scattered throughout the study than simply one or two at the end.
5. Overview and summary questions.
An overview question allows the group to view a passage or book as a whole before they study its parts. A summary question helps to draw together the main points of a passage or book after they have been studied.
a. Overview: Try to visualize the people and the setting in Matthew 20:20–28. Describe what you see.
b. Summary. What has this passage taught us about the true meaning of greatness?
6. Combination questions. Sometimes it is best to have a question which serves more than one purpose. These often generate more discussion than a simple observation or interpretation question.
For example, a question can combine observation with interpretation: “Why do you think the ten disciples responded as they did toward the other two?” (This question required the group to observe how the disciples responded, but also asks them to think about why.) Or the question may make an observation and then follow it with an interpretation or application question: “Jesus states that he did not come to be served but to serve. How can you follow his example this week?”
Also, you nay preface a question with important background information: “The seats on the right and left of a host were positions of honor. How does this help us to understand the mother’s request?” Such questions are often more efficient than those which maintain a rigid distinction between observation, interpretation and application. They also help to give direction to the study.
(Nyquist, J. F., & Kuhatschek, J. (1997). Leading Bible discussions (electronic ed. of completely rev & expanded ed.). Logos Library System; Lifebuilder Bible studies. Downers Grove: InterVarsity.)