I. Creating interest
A current event makes a great talking point if it is pertinent to the lesson. Steer the discussion in such a way that learners talk about what they would do in a similar crisis or what different decision they would make for resolving conflict. Children and youth like to write news stories. Allow them to rewrite a news headline from the previous week. Keep the topics “G” rated, i.e. the soaring price of gas, a playoff game, the latest box office hit, etc.
Interest can also be created by taking a survey of some feature of the lesson’s topic. Be sure to discuss the results of the survey and make comments that will segue to the Bible study.
Creating interest does run the risk of getting out of control. Be sure to keep to a time limit. As a general rule, spend more time transitioning the interest level to the Bible study. Be sure, however, that learners know or at least anticipate where you intend to lead their interest.
Here are some other ways to create interest:
- Show a video clip.
- You or a class member read a monologue as if from the viewpoint of a historical figure (Biblical or world history).
- Have two members plan to perform a skit (this can really be fun, especially in the adult classes!).
- Hold a Bible drill on the verses you plan to use. All ages like to do this.
- USE MAPS! Show the geography of the Bible lesson or of a current event.
- Read lyrics from a Christian song or hymn that is pertinent to the lesson. Be sure to discuss it.
II. Building Foundations
The Bible is our sole authority for Bible study. Other resources (curriculum, guides, etc.) should be treated as support material. All resources should follow what the Bible says about a doctrine, theme, or topic. The aim, or goal, for any Bible study is to talk about Jesus and take the lesson to the Cross.
Good resources will have an intentional, purposeful outline for teaching the lesson. It’s there for a reason: to guide the learner from basic knowledge to a more in-depth examination of the topic over a course of a few weeks.
By the way, we’re talking about teaching THEOLOGY. Evangelical leaders agree that the church should be the primary agent in teaching theology to believers. With that in mind, let’s get started with the nuts and bolts of leading a Bible study:
A. Become familiar with the Scripture passage. Do your personal study from one main version of the Bible but don’t hesitate to cross reference other versions.
B. Read the Scripture in its historical context while being alert to how the Bible speaks to believers today. When God speaks, everyone – of all times in all places – should listen! Be cautious to not view the Bible as just a book of science, history, or literature. It may be these things but it is much more. The great Baptist theologian, Herschel Hobbs, wrote, “The Bible may not tell a man all he wants to know but it does tell him all he needs to know about his moral duty and spiritual destiny.” *
Teach the Bible as accurate historical narrative. Even more so, focus on the spiritual application of what God did in the lives of people of the past and what He can do in the lives of people of today. Look for lessons on people’s faith and obedience, and God’s love and glory.
C. There are numerous ways to build a Biblical foundation. Here are four that can generate discussion in class:
1. Identify themes. Look for main themes, underlying themes, and tangible themes. You might find these in one verse, in one chapter, in one book, or from book to book. Or, you might identify a theme from story to story.
2. Make lists. The Bible is full of lists, like The 10 Commandments or The Fruits of the Spirit or genealogies. But don’t overlook lists that put things in perspective or in order. A good example is the Lord’s Prayer and how it is ordered: heavenly, heaven, holiness, the kingdom, God’s will, earth, daily needs, forgiveness, forgiving each other, protection, deliverance, kingdom, power, glory, Amen. Also, lists help build to a climax, such as Acts 1:8: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world. Be sure to study the list and what it means. For example, a careful study of Acts shows that the Holy Spirit was given to the people-groups listed in Acts 1:8, in that exact order (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the world).
3. Search for Opposites. Think in terms of David and Goliath. What characteristics did David have that were opposite the characteristics of Goliath? Opposites don’t have to be good verses evil. What were the differences in Paul and Barnabas’ personal ministries? How was Mark different from Matthew, Luke, and John? Study opposites as a matter of vast and/or complimentary differences.
4. Find the Absolutes. How many ways are there to get to heaven? ONE. Was Jesus really born of a virgin? YES. Did He really die and come back to life? ABSOLUTELY! Don’t try to justify or prove absolute things. For example, an iron axe head floated in water – absolutely true but it is not a physics lesson. The 10 plagues (a list!) really occurred according to God’s plan, not by some series of natural phenomena. The Red Sea parting and dry land appearing had nothing to do with meteorology. A donkey spoke human words. A cruel Roman soldier sitting at the foot of the cross, perhaps having the blood of Jesus actually drip on him, confessed, “Truly this man is the Son of God!” Paul was bitten by a deadly viper and lived to tell about it. The Bible is absolutely true in every way. Let the absolute stand on its own and teach the meaning that surrounds it.
III. Applying Truth
The application emphasis of the lesson normally occurs toward the end but it can (and sometimes should) occur as the lesson progresses. Wherever and whenever it is addressed, do it deliberately – make sure something from the lesson can be carried away and used immediately. Here are some tips:
A. “How can the lesson help me love God in a deeper, more intimate way?” The answer will obviously be an individualized response. The teacher can suggest things like a personal project (a mini-mission project that they hope to accomplish that week) or a more regular spiritual discipline (prayer, Bible reading, witnessing). Suggest that class members spend time meditating on three Biblical ideas, words, or phrases. Pick these for them, being sure that the words or phrases compliment the lesson and are identified in Scripture. Do this at the beginning of the class. Call them what they are: key words or phrases.
B. “How can the lesson help me love people in more meaningful, fulfilling ways?” The question requires the teacher to be a mentor and model for members.
1. Be real with the class. Show your love for people. Use your spiritual strengths to teach. But also let people see your weaknesses and your own need to have your class help YOU grow. Know your limitations. Don’t try to be something you are not. For example, you are not their pastor. You are their teacher and mentor. In some cases, you might serve as a father/mother figure or a brother/sister figure. In all cases, love people through your strengths of teaching and mentoring. Lovingly help members build a relationship with their pastor, or their next teacher, or their parents and peers.
2. Use personal examples and stories in ways that demonstrate humility and not boastfulness. This really does reveal the love you have for people. Just make sure it keeps you on a level playing field with your class and that the story/example doesn’t elevate you above your class. Your story may certainly demonstrate a personal strength but be sure to balance the story with humility or even acknowledgement of a weakness.
3. Keep a class member profile book. Be sure to not store or record information that can be construed as too personal.
4. Help members meet personal needs as you attend to their relationship with Jesus. As you learn the needs of your class members, you will sense what is needed, like evangelism, discipleship, comfort, upliftment, etc. Speak the name of Jesus often. That’s why people come to class: to hear about Jesus. Model speaking about Jesus. How often should you mention Jesus? Well, the answer to that is: I’d rather be known for talking too much about Jesus than for not talking enough about Him. After all, Jesus isn’t just number one, He’s the only One.
C. “How can the lesson help me serve everyone?” This is really the essence of applying the lesson, that is, serving others in a Biblical way. Let’s break this down into the question’s two components: “help me” and “serve everyone.”
1. “Help Me.” Personal application is an immediate response to the Biblical text and, of course, depends on what is addressed in the lesson. The deep truths of God can be revealed in one’s daily living, as James said, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). An exercise of faith, then, is active. That activity can be private, such as is one’s prayer closet or private home devotions, but it can also be public in such a way that God is glorified. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” As leader of your class or small group, lead individual members to use the Biblical text in one or more of these three ways:
a. focus, with the Scripture as the center: everything a person does and decides is based on what was learned from the Scripture (as applicable);
b. fulcrum, with the Scripture as a lever: the more a person depends on the learned Scripture the more he should grow in his faith and the less he should hold on to the things that slow spiritual growth;
c. first response, with the Scripture being the first thought when normal decisions and activities are encountered in the routine of daily life.
2. “Serve Everyone.” Serving everyone really occurs over a period of time. It is a growth process for your class as a small group and for individual members of it. One lesson will likely not lead to an immediate action but it can certainly prompt people to begin to find ways to act.
It is important for the teacher to think ahead. Be alert to how future lessons (or the combination of several lessons) can challenge members to take action in some way, then lead up to that challenge by building a Biblical foundation.
Plan missional activities by asking these questions:
– What can my class realistically accomplish that is Kingdom work?
– Who in my class will be involved, and who will they involve?
– How will my class be affected and how can we follow up?
Addressing each question will assist the teacher to lead in such a way that people will make a commitment to take action. Look for consensus that all (or at least most) members will take a “hands-on” approach to the mission or activity. As people are led to take action, they will be noticeably affected. The results? They will want to do something again sooner than later.
The bottom line is: use service as an outreach, inside and outside the church. Your members can touch others’ lives by embracing a mission or project or task, like cleaning the gym, helping with dinners, or assisting with a children’s class that one of your class members teaches. You will likely have unsaved people in your class who will work alongside you. If you don’t, identify them and invite them to assist with an event or action. Invite low attenders, spouses of class members, friends of members, etc.
Ultimately, the goal is for them to hear about Jesus, too, as you intentionally do your work as an outreach.
A final thought about application: It should be memorable! It’s like the good kind of ache that comes with a great day of work. Stated another way – and please take this as a positive, application should A.C.H.E.:
Action should be involved.
Challenge should be accepted.
Homework should be completed.
Encouragement should be given.
* Hobbs, Herschel H. (1971). The Baptist faith and message. Nashville, TN: Convention Press.