Skip to main content

Mere Orthodoxy exists to create media for Christian renewal. Support this mission today.

Fostering Conversations that Count: Becoming an Excellent Discussion Leader

April 4th, 2007 | 3 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

While I have blogged a lot about "ideas" here at Mere O, I have very rarely offered the sort of posts that might be viewed as "practical" to anyone.

Like most specialties, "discussion" is part art, part science. Good discussions are often attributed to the charisma of the leader, but far more often good leaders have identified, practiced and then personalized the basic principles and activities that lead to great discussions.

But because such principles are often unarticulated, it is difficult to call someone an "expert discussion leader." There are (to my knowledge) no such degrees in effective discussion leading.

But that's not going to stop me from staking out territory as an "expert" (I use the term loosely) in the field of leading discussions. My credentials: four years in the Torrey Honors Institute, where from my sophomore year on I was consciously aware of the discussion dynamics and worked diligently to affect the conversation for the good. Two years leading discussion with high school students at Torrey Academy, many of whom had never been in a discussion before. Three weeks of intense discussion leading at Wheatstone Academy (compliments to the Zeit Studios guys for the snazzy new website there) over three summers, and a lot of time spent thinking hard about how to train others to lead discussions during my brief stint with them.

Other discussion leaders can boast more hours leading discussion, especially my esteemed professors in Torrey Honors. But they have as of yet not formulated or clarified what makes them so great as discussion leaders (and they truly are the best I've ever met), so I take it upon myself to do so for them.

The principles and ideas that I am going to articulate in this blog series will be helpful, I hope, to educators who interact in academic circles, to businessmen and those who work for non-profits, and for pastors, youth pastors and other Christian educators who are working in a non-academic setting. I won't be surprised if many of the ideas and principles will also illumine this enterprise of blogging that so many have taken up.

Not only that, but I hope to clear up some misconceptions about the nature and role of discussion within Christian education. It is my hope that this series become a valuable resource to those who are training the next generation of Christian leaders and churchgoers.

To the series, then. Beware: it will be a long one, but it is my goal to have it finished by the middle of next month (roughly one post per weekday). If you don't see anything here that you think should be covered, let me know.

Discussion Fundamentals

  • What is discussion?
  • The Goals of Discussion
  • Why Discussion?
  • Should We Only Use Discussion?
  • The Biblical Basis for Discussions
  • Balancing Questions and Answers in Discussion
  • The Discussion Worldview
  • Role of the Discussion Leader in a Discussion
  • Common Objects of Love: The Text and Topic in the Discussion
  • The Crucial Role of Questions
  • Setting Clear Expectations

Advanced Discussion Leading Principles

  • Rules of Improv As a Model for Discussion
  • Using the Body: How Environment and Behavior Affect Conversations
  • The Obstacles to Great Discussions
  • The "Whole Text, Whole Class, Whole Discussion" Principle
  • Actors and Directors: Leading a Discussion Without Anyone Knowing It
  • Practical Tips for Having Great Discussions
  • Dealing with Problem Students
  • Saving "Failed" Discussions
  • Wise Leading: Virtues of Excellent Discussion Leaders
  • Wise Following: Virtues of Excellent Discussion Participants
  • Balancing Strengths and Weaknesses in the Classroom
  • Designing a Long-Term Winning Strategy for the Classroom (or, Know Which Strategy to Use and When to Use It)
  • Implementing a Culture of Conversation

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.