Monday, September 11, 2017

The Reference Desk | Writing and Publishing a Bible Study

Once a month, you’re going to hear from some of our authors or from our team on how we study the Bible, what resources we use, and what questions we ask. Submit your questions related to these topics by filling out the form here! This month, we asked Amy Lowe, the manager of the Adult Ministry Publishing team, to share some tips on writing a Bible study. 

I don’t know why you’re interested in writing a Bible study, but let me tell you, this is no small endeavor! I’ve spoken to writer after writer who told me writing Bible studies was much harder than they anticipated. Don’t let that scare you, but rather let that put your mind at ease when it becomes hard. You are not alone. It is hard. Why? Well, for many reasons, not the least of which being that the enemy doesn’t want more Bible studies written. He would so much rather you put down your pen and do easier work that is less meaningful for the kingdom. Another reason is because writing a Bible study is serious. It is the handling of God’s Word. (Teaching is serious and we do not want to fall under the category of false teachers: Titus 2:7-8; James 3:1; 2 Peter 2:1.) Writing a Bible Study is taking God’s Word and studying it, personalizing it, putting different pieces together, and weaving an idea together. It isn’t cookie cutter. And it gets personal. If you are like me, God will first begin by teaching the message to you before He ever lets you write it down, and sometimes the lessons are difficult to learn.

So you may be asking, where in the world do I begin? Every author’s process is different, but here are some suggestions to get you started.

First, pray about it. Pray, pray, and pray some more. God will lead you to what you are supposed to write about. Keep your eyes open to what He is teaching you now, what is pulling on your heartstrings, and what is resonating with you personally. Then, dive in and see if that idea has legs.

Go ahead and ask yourself some tough questions as you are praying about writing Bible study.

  • Why do I want to write a Bible study?
  • Do I want to lift up God’s Word and point to Jesus or make myself famous?
  • Is God leading me to write a Bible study? Why a Bible study rather than a book?
  • Would I write this Bible study even if no one else ever reads it or teaches it?
  • Who am I already teaching on a regular, consistent basis?
  • Am I willing to put in the time to study?

So, the natural next step then is to study. Study, study, and study some more. Study your Bible. Study different and reliable Bible translations. If the verse or passage has Bible study notes, read them. If it points you to another verse or passage of the Bible, go there. Allow Scripture to teach Scripture.

Next look to commentaries. Find some good, trustworthy commentaries and read. (Here’s a great post from Trevin Wax with tips for choosing commentaries.) Read lots of them—not just one. This is actually my favorite part of the process—enjoy it! I really could stay in this mode for a long time. Study, and after you’ve studied for a good long while, you will know when it is time to start writing. For me, when I am studying I am constantly typing up notes. Typing up ideas. Typing up quotes. Then after I’ve explored every important lead, I look at my notes all together and see what emerges.

Then, start to write. Just start writing. Remember, you can always edit later and use that delete key. Once you get started and in a groove, it will become much easier. Let the Bible lead your writing. Be careful to avoid building a Bible study around a story or personal illustration. Instead, unpack and write the Bible study first. Your personal examples and application will bubble up as you dive deeper into the study of God’s Word.

Educational Model

At LifeWay, we think of Bible study like an educational model. The Bible study writer is the teacher and she is trying to drive a point home with the reader each day.

As a teacher, you don’t give the student all the answers. Rather, let them discover the answers for themselves. Help them do that. Don’t be afraid to ask them to do some work to get that answer. If they do the work, and discover it themselves, it will stick with them longer.

When writing a Bible study, you must maintain a delicate balance between the Scripture, your commentary and guidance, stories from your own life to help illustrate what you’re pointing to in Scripture, and questions to guide the reader in thinking through the Bible on her own. The participant wants to know more about you and what God taught you through this message, but you also don’t want to over share or make the study all about your personal journey. If you are going to err, err of the side of giving them more Bible because God’s Word has eternal impact and transforming power. There is beauty in the weaving together of all the elements as you go—Scripture, commentary, stories, and questions.

If this still seems overwhelming, we like to quote a longtime LifeWay editor who used to say that people have the attention span of a gnat, so to put too many points or ideas in front of them at one time is probably too optimistic. Keep it simple. Keep it to the point. If you’re writing a daily study, try to emphasize one main point each day. The goal is to have the person finish that day’s homework and know the main point.

The Outline

If you are having trouble with how to map out a day of Bible Study, this may be a good tool to use:

Some folks call it different things; I’ve heard lots of them. Another is: Hook, Line, and Sinker. Whatever you call it, it’s an easy outline to think about as you write. Let me explain.

Hook – From the beginning what is going to get their attention? Sometimes it is a Bible verse, sometimes it is a quote, sometimes it is a question, and sometimes it is a story. Whatever it is, the goal is to keep them interested and reading. What is going to pull them in and make them think, “Oh, I need to read this!”?

Book – Take them to the Bible. What does the Bible have to say about the topic? Take them there and let them discover it for themselves. Note: some people write this part first and then the Hook and Took fall into place after they work on this part. This is typically the longest part of the day of study.

Took – What is the application? How are you going to make the idea stick? How will the reader “take” it home? How does the application apply to others (the church, the community, the world) and how does it apply personally to the reader? This could be a prayer you ask them to pray, something you make them write down or memorize, an action they can take, etc. Do whatever helps them drive the point home and keep it tucked in their heart.

You don’t have to do this kind of model every time—you don’t want it to become so prescriptive that the participant gets bored, but pull this out as you need it when a day of homework writing gets hard.

The Questions

Questions are important, and asking good questions is more of an art than a science. These tips may help you as you think of questions to ask your participants.

  • Don’t get too deep too quickly. Ask about the text first. Then dig into the more personal questions once you’ve gained some trust between you and the reader. Think of it like a conversation with a person you’ve just met.
  • Remember your reader is smart. Don’t ask questions that will insult them—questions that are too easy. Give them some credit.
  • Steer away from answers that you can only get from one particular Bible translation—remember that the participants may be using different versions of the Bible so don’t make the answers dependent on the translation you are using.
  • Use different kinds of questions and activities each day/week of study. Don’t be predictable. Once you start you will realize the kinds of questions you gravitate toward most. Then try to mix it up and not only use that one kind you prefer. Use charts, graphs, and open-ended questions. Be creative.

When You Are Finished Writing

When you are finished writing, let others review it. And put on your thick skin. I know, it is hard, but I promise, you want that feedback. Take the feedback and listen. Incorporate it. You will be glad you did. Show it to both friends and even leaders in ministry to see how the message hits them and then edit accordingly.

Teach It

Now that your study is written and has been reviewed, teach it. Teach the message to a group of women or many different groups of women. See how it works as a study with other believers. See how God works through it. This is the fun part. And believe me, you will continue to be taught through it as well. That’s how God works. He will bring something new to you each time you study because that is the nature of God’s Word. If possible share your study with others and have them teach it too. See if the way you write Bible study resonates with a broader audience.

Other Tips 

Writer’s Conferences – Attend a writer’s conference. There are many good ones out there. They not only help you in the process of writing, they also provide great networking opportunities to meet others in the business.

Self-Publishing – This can be a costly process, but it is a way to get your message out to people. It also helps you track sales. You can produce and sell on your website and wherever you speak.

How to Get Published

I wish I had a magical three-step process to offer you here. For so many reasons, though, getting published through a professional publishing house is not cookie cutter. Each publishing house is different and thus requires different types of requirements in order to get considered. Here are some tips, though, that will help you in the process.

First, many of us recommend that you try to get an agent. An agent is great for many reasons, some of which are: 1) they help you prepare your proposal; 2) they know the publishers and have relationships with them; 3) publishers are more apt to sit up and take notice if a proposal comes through an agent rather than an unsolicited way.

Second, build up your own reach and voice. That can be done through a number of ways including but not limited to: social media, blogging, your relational network, churches that you’ve served in ministry, radio or news coverage, publications you’ve been included in, etc.

Third, create a comprehensive proposal. You can look up some sample proposals but the nuts and bolts of them should include: personal biographical information on the author, synopsis and outline of the idea, sample chapter (or week of study), similar books/messages out there in the marketplace and why this message stands out from the others, a list of influential people who will help spread the message of this book, and social media stats.

Books to Read:

  • Design for Teaching and Training by LeRoy Ford (a teaching book, but it applies to Bible study as it discusses how people learn)
  • Created to Learn by William R. Yount
  • Gospel Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax
  • Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words by Bruce Ross-Larsen (great for quick self-editing if you need help with grammar questions)
  • Platform by Michael Hyatt


Friend, I don’t know what your end game is in this whole thing. God has called so many of us into deep waters with Him. The blessing for you may not be under the bright lights of ministry, but rather with your nose in the Book. Maybe He has you writing a study just to help you or just to help the women in your circle of influence. If that is the case, I pray that may be enough for you. God will work through you as you follow after Him and His leading. Keep taking it one step at a time. Serve the women God has placed in front of you and I promise you will reap a blessing through it. Blessings on you as you follow after Jesus.

The post The Reference Desk | Writing and Publishing a Bible Study appeared first on LifeWay Women All Access.

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