How to Lead a Manuscript Study

There are few things more fulfilling than playing a role in the transformation of someone’s life. Manuscript study is a powerful tool that God uses to change lives; leading one of these studies means that not only do you have the opportunity to be transformed, but you also have an up-close seat to watch God change the lives of those you are leading.

Step 1: Preparing to Lead

A great study is the product of great preparation. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is to “wing it” or to spend too little time preparing. The following are a few guidelines for high-quality preparation:

1. Be transformed by the scripture. If you have not encountered God in a passage you are preparing to lead, you can’t expect your group to encounter God. If you have personally met the Lord, the study will be much more powerful and authentic!

2. Spend about two times the length of your study in your prep. For example, if you’re leading an hour-long study, as a general rule it is wise to spend at least two hours in prep.

3. Use the inductive method in your own personal study. Go through each of the steps of inductive study: Observe, Interpret, Apply.

  • Observe the passage as thoroughly as you can.
  • Write out a list of interpretation questions that will help unlock the meaning of the text; and then work on answering your questions.
  • Brainstorm at least four application questions that flow from the passage; and then apply the passage to your life!

4. Write a summary of the text in your own words that will launch your group into application. The summary should be short (about a paragraph long) and summarize the key tensions and core message of the text. It’s not simply a paraphrase! The summary provides a transition into application.

Step 2: Set the stage

A welcoming environment is key for group Manuscript study.

As your group gathers, be a great host! Pass out copies of the passage and set ground rules that will create a safe space in the group. After welcoming everyone and introducing the rules, pray for your time. As you begin the study, share any important background and contextual information about the passage. Read the passage out loud, and then move onto the next step!

Step 3: Observe together

A Manuscript leader should foster attentiveness to the text. You can do this by giving the group time to read the text on their own and mark their observations and questions.

After a few minutes, bring the group together and invite everyone to share. A good question to use is, “What did you observe in the text?” This can be the most difficult aspect of the study, but the better the observations, the better the study! If you need to, invite group members to share in pairs before the whole group to get the conversation flowing. As people share, you can maintain the boundaries of observation by gently and graciously correcting non-observations.

Step 4: Ask Questions

Manuscript study should promote curiosity about and around the text.

As you prepare to lead the study, always assume there is more to learn and explore in a passage. You’ll model this for the group! The first step to asking a question is to put your finger on what intrigues or bothers you. Look for the tensions in the text and don’t be afraid of those tensions! Turn your interests into questions.

During the study invite the group to share their questions and allow their curiosity to drive the conversation! Be sure to write down their questions and pick the best questions (which might not be your questions!) to return to in the group discussion. Again, you can have the group share in pairs to help get things moving!

Step 5: The Interpretation Discussion

Manuscript leaders become facilitators of dynamic conversation about the text during studies. As you guide the conversation, go in the order of the text so the group can follow along easily. Also, integrate your prepared questions with the groups’ questions as you facilitate. Be sure to familiarize the group’s conversation along the way in order to maintain clarity in the conversation.

Be sure to stay in the text – let it answer the questions instead of moving into broad speculation. Your best friend is the question, “Where do you see that in the text?” This will keep the biblical, historical and cultural contexts in the foreground. Context is crucial in answering questions well.

Keep your eye on the clock and don’t let time get away from you. Think about popcorn popping: you take out the popcorn before it finishes popping. It’s okay if you feel like you have to move things along before everything wraps up, this will keep the energy and momentum going.

Step 5: Application

A Manuscript leader also discerns God’s invitation for the group. As you wrap up your discussion, summarize the passage. (You should have written a summary in your preparation process. It takes some time to develop your summarizing skills, so keep practicing and extend grace to yourself!)

Choose one of your application questions to pose to the group. The goal is to discern which question is most relevant to the group’s conversation. It is best to pick one so that you can focus the attention of the group. Once you pose your question, invite your group to share in pairs, spend time on their own, and/or share with the whole group. Be sure to let them know you’ll be revisiting and debriefing their applications next time as a way of discovering what God is teaching the group!

After application, thank the Lord for what He did and that He has invited you to partner with him! Well done!