Discussion is vital to Bible studies, small groups, and Sunday school classes. It keeps people attentive and involved, adds insights and wisdom, and helps people turn head knowledge into heart knowledge.

So why does discussion sometimes falter or fail? Why does it sometimes result in more problems than solutions? Here are five of the biggest reasons discussion can take a nosedive:

1. Pooled ignorance. People have to have a reasonable understanding about the topic at hand in order for discussion to flourish. That is why teaching and discussion have to work hand in hand - you shouldn't have one without the other. Take the time to teach the truth of the Word of God, then open up the floor for discussion about what you have learned. Failure to teach the truth results in unfounded opinions, random stories, and pooled ignorance ... and that is not effective discussion!

2. Random tangents. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that if people are talking, good discussion is happening. But an effective Bible study or Sunday School class is goal-oriented: in each class, a specific truth, principle, or application is the focus of attention. Therefore, since random tangents and directionless talk don't further that goal, they are a waste of time and are impeding the progress and purpose of the class. And remember: a person can be saying something good and true, but if it is not on topic, it has no place in the discussion time ... it is still a tangent.

3. Uncorrected error. Sometimes, people say something that is untrue, incorrect, or invalid. Our postmodern society says that everyone is entitled to their opinion or interpretation - but God doesn't. Christianity teaches absolute truth, and the apostles consistently demonstrated their willingness and responsibility to correct error wherever it appeared. It is the leader's responsibility to lovingly correct error during discussion in order to communicate and uphold the truth.

4. Power struggle. Unfortunately, some people view times of discussion as opportunities to wrestle the leadership of the class away from the teacher. This creates an ugly atmosphere in the group and derails the purpose the class is trying to achieve.

5. Gripe sessions. Depending on the topic at hand, discussion periods can easily turn into gripe sessions. Classes that focus on relationship issues are especially prone to this snare. In order for discussion to be productive, certain rules need to be established, and one of them is that complaining does not equal contributing.

Leaders have to watch constantly for these five discussion-killers. Fortunately, they are all under his or her control. It is the leader's responsibility to communicate good information so that discussion does not become a time of pooled ignorance. It is the teacher who can take a firm hand to control tangents, correct error, assert appropriate authority, and quell complainers.

With that in mind, be confident that discussion can always be what it is designed to be: a source of wisdom and insight, an opportunity for sharing and accountability, and a wellspring of friendship and love in the house of God.

© 2008 Paula Marolewski

You have my permission to reprint and distribute this article as long as it is distributed in its entirety, including all links and copyright information. This article is not to be sold or included with anything that is sold.

Author's Bio: 

Paula J. Marolewski provides challenging and interactive adult Bible studies for individuals, Bible studies, small groups, and adult Sunday School classes at Sink Your Roots. Studies include such topics as Debunking the Myths about Knowing God's Will. The site also offers free weekly Seedlings - “Little thoughts that grow big results.”