How do you Balance Talkers and Listeners?

Bad things can happen when there is a seminary-trained person at a small group Bible study: especially if that person is the leader.  The combination of expertise, night time after work, and leader-as-speaker syndrome too often quiets the other voices in the room.

I’ve been on both sides of this problem: the talky expert and the quieted voice.  Neither one is good.  Communal Bible study must happen as community, not merely in community.  Participation, not mere presence, makes for community.  If it occurs otherwise, then it is probably a lecture–and likely a boring one at that.

How do you balance the voices in communal Bible study, honoring both expert and non-expert?

About Laura

My name is Laura and I am on a journey, pondering the implications of God's glorious design of humanity and integrating every aspects of this design into a description of whole life health.
This entry was posted in in the world and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to How do you Balance Talkers and Listeners?

  1. Alan Knox says:

    Laura,

    Since our meetings are interactive, we’ve discussed this very question. One of the things we’ve recognized is that we need to change our definition of “expert” and “non-expert”. I’m already working on a blog post to explain what I mean, but suffice it to say that anyone can be an “expert” at something, and everyone’s perspective is important for the community. That doesn’t mean that every interpretation is valid, but that every perspective is important.

    -Alan

  2. Laura says:

    “anyone can be an “expert” at something, and everyone’s perspective is important for the community.”

    Agreed. After I wrote this post, I pondered some more over at my other blog, thinking about quieting the expert and encouraging the non-expert. The conclusions were quite similar to yours:
    – Experts should exercise self-control.
    – Experts should hone listening and questioning skills.
    – All can/must become experts through adequate preparation.
    – All ought to hold all participants accountable for community.

    Now putting it into practice so I don’t dominate Tuesday Night Bible Study…ah, there’s the rub.

  3. Pingback: The Assembling of the Church | Talking too much or too little

  4. chad says:

    Some of the folks that I have see have problems in this sort of a setting really come out online. Perhaps the communal study also having a separate piece (via twitter hashtag or a blog) online might encourage others to contribute.

    It is also important for the leader to realize these moments, and to pastorally handle the “talkers”. Coming from a community that practiced this style of bible study for years, I found that the people start to police themselves, but the leader needs to control things at times.

  5. Laura says:

    Being I’m both the talker and the leader, the first step appears to be self-control 🙂

    I like the online dialogue idea. I’m thinking texting might also fit in here.

  6. AndrewB says:

    Is handing over or rotating the leadership a possibility?

  7. Laura says:

    Absolutely. We’ve rotated leadership in the past, but have become lazy.

    One of the issues, quite honestly, is my seminary training: whether I desire it or not, in this context, I’m looked at as a leader. I’m okay with that, but would like to share the chair, so to speak. This means diligence on my part (something I’ve slacked off on) and on their parts (likewise for them).

    We’ll probably talk about this tomorrow night. If so, a reflection/report will show up here Wednesday or Thursday.

  8. Mark says:

    I like how the question has been addressed thus far, good stuff. In my mind, it’s all about the leader. The leader must define whether they’re leading a Bible study or giving a mini-sermon. Understanding that distiction and setting the tone based that will help set the level of the group interaction. The individual group members must define their reasons for being there; are they there to learn or to teach? Each one must learn to be comfortable in both roles (and learn to BE in the role they are currently assigned to). The key for the leader is to recognize that everyone in the group has a very different knowledge-base and the voices/opinions of the beginner are as valueable as those of the expert. In fact, the less one knows the more they should speak out because through their voice they will reveal spiritual or scriptural weak spots…and the expert should serve as them in their growth. Finally, it is up to the leader to speak one-to-one to both the silent-types and the chatty-types to try and get them to “ramp it up” or “tone it down”. That’s not an easy thing to do.

  9. Laura says:

    “The leader must define whether they’re leading a Bible study or giving a mini-sermon…The individual group members must define their reasons for being there; are they there to learn or to teach?”

    Well put. I like the clarification of responsibility for all involved: it is not merely up to the leader, but also the members.

    Last night, we put this into practice and it went well. I will probably write on this a bit later (though someone from the group who reads this blog could comment…hint, hint).

  10. Tyde Tualaso says:

    Proverbs 1:

    5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
    and let the discerning get guidance-

    6 for understanding proverbs and parables,
    the sayings and riddles of the wise.

  11. Laura says:

    Tyde, This is such an important point, for if we are seeking to be wise ones, we must learn to listen well. (I’ve found that my blathering on gets in the way of proper listening…that’s one reason I’m working on talking less :-).

  12. Bruce says:

    Quick to listen, slow to speak… As a leader, there are things which are valuable to learn. Namely, how to be an effective leader or teacher. There’s where the real value and motivation comes to listen intently, at least for me. In this case, listening carefully to find out where people are, what they are understanding, what they are confused about and how effective, or not, you have been in communication. Put another way, the leader/teacher can learn a great deal about leadership and/or teaching by focusing on the students. Which ideas landed, which led to confusion, which led to boredom, etc. I can only figure this out when I shut up and really listen to others, not simply compose my next retort while pretending to listen to others. In this sense, the teacher is really a student, just of a different subject.

  13. Laura says:

    Bruce,

    As always, your wisdom prevails.

    “Which ideas landed, which led to confusion, which led to boredom, etc. I can only figure this out when I shut up and really listen to others, not simply compose my next retort while pretending to listen to others. In this sense, the teacher is really a student, just of a different subject.”

    So, the main issue for me is being quite intentional and not letting my tiredness draw me away. I may need prodding…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *