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Potted Proverbs: Cross the Ball – Don't Score the Goal!

It’s a familiar scene to anyone who knows football. The soccer player who tries to “go it alone” runs at the defence, takes a wild shot, and completely misses – while his team-mates, completely unmarked, stand by helpless. The furious team coach is yelling from the touchline: “Pass the ball, don’t score the goal!”

One of the most important lessons I learned early on in my unusual career as a home group leader is contained in this pithy potted proverb. It’s one of many I’ve collected over the years, and will blog on here over the next few months.

Everybody knows that Discovery is the best kind of education. I will always learn something more thoroughly if I’m put in the position where I discover it for myself, rather than if someone just tells me. But it’s remarkable how many of us fail to work it out in practice.

If someone comments on a Bible passage and tells me what it says, I will register it. I may agree or disagree. I will wonder if it’s your opinion, rather than what the Bible passage is actually saying.

But if I am prodded, provoked and encouraged to say what I see there, then it does a whole load of different things. I learn how to teach myself from God’s Word. I encourage myself: Expression deepens impression as the saying goes. And I actually apply it to myself much more deeply. The experience of discovery is so much more exciting than listening to a lecture.

If you are a conscientious leader you will have done your prep on the passage. You pretty much know what the big idea is – the main point that we need everyone to grasp in the middle of all those other little observations. And because we’ve thought about it, and maybe even read a commentary or two, it’s crystal clear in our minds, and so obvious to us when we look at the bible passage.

But then we get frustrated that no-one seems to get it, or traumatised by the silence. So we end up blurting out the answer before the cogs in their minds have really begun to turn properly.

This is something that the Lord Jesus understood. When he was asked directly, he gave a full and complete answer – but much of his teaching had that ‘self discovery’ element to it. An intriguing story was told, or a forehead-wrinkling question was asked, or an awkward piece of Old Testament Scripture was quoted, and then he walked away saying over his shoulder: “He who has ears to hear let him hear.” Waiting for the penny to drop in its own time.

Frustrating as it might be, if you’re a good leader, you’ll know that your group will grow more, be more encouraging, and learn more deeply and thoroughly if you let them score the goal, by passing them the opportunity with a careful question.

And there’s the big skill to develop. Asking questions that open up the passage for us in a way that connects with our lives – not just as an academic exercise in prising out good thoughts from a Bible passage.

So, not “What does v 16 say?” but ” “What does v 16 say to us if we’re feeling like we want to give up?” 

And not “What does  v20 say about God?” but ” “What surprises you about God in v 20?” 

So please. Don’t be a glory hunter –  cross the ball, and watch with delight as your group members do a dance of delight after seeing the ball hit the back of the net.