According to Matthew 28:20 the only way the Gospel is propagated is through teaching – one person to another, using the Words of Christ. Christianity, therefore, is a taught religion, with an emphasis on the role of teachers – Ephesians 4:11-13 teachers are “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” Teachers are desperately needed, and it is unfortunate that so few have been trained in the proper methods of conducting a good, sound, productive Bible study – both at home and with the church on a Sunday or Wednesday. The class period gives us the unique perspectives of everybody around us, offering the young Christians a chance to learn from their older counterparts, and the mature Christians to perfect their knowledge and hone their use of logic and argumentation. There is a warning, however, associated with being a teacher. “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). There are some significant responsibilities associated with teaching a Bible class:
· You are a leader, so lead.
· By the sheer fact that you are up there, people may “take your word for it.” Your errors may quickly become everybody’s.
· Because of the teacher’s position, he incurs a stricter wrath – not that Hell will be worse for a false teacher, but that he is more accountable, as the watchmen is (Ezekiel 3:16-21).
· You can do good as much as you can do bad.
· Do not dwell on the responsibility, but be fully convicted and let the Bible speak for itself.
· Let the Bible do the work.
· Be appealing to a wide audience. Speaking too “intelligently” will make students feel left out, bored, and offended, and speaking too “low” will leave everybody feeling unchallenged and unsatisfied, also leading to boredom and disinterest.
Each generation of Christians needs a new crop of Bible class teachers. As some of our most honored leaders become older and less able to bear the burdens of Christian education, it is absolutely important that younger men and women take up the task of teaching. We need skilled teachers, people who are “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). While most congregations do not have the luxury of a complete staff of trained educators, we need to realize that the task is not daunting or overwhelming. In many cases, the experience of teaching a Bible class, at any age, can be made more effective by simply avoiding the most common mistakes made by teachers:
Beginning the class by talking too much
There are two kinds of teachers who fall into this trap: those who know too little about the subject matter and those who know too much. When a teacher has not prepared adequately for a class session, he may find himself talking exorbitantly for the sake of covering up his ignorance (Proverbs 10:19, Ecclesiastes 5:2,3,7). The opposite brings the same result when a teacher who believes he knows everything there is to know on a subject continually speaks – often just to hear himself talk. We need to strike a balance, especially early on in the class. We need to know as much as we can about our material, but we should also not be so eager to tell others what we know without allowing a word in edgewise. From the very beginning of the class, emphasize that it is participatory by asking a question right away. If the class begins with too much talking by the teacher, it sets everybody else in a passive mode. Participation, involvement, and input from the class is important (Ephesians 4:16) because it takes everybody to build up the church.
Asking questions with obvious answers all the time
Some Bible class teachers place too much emphasis on obvious, elementary questions, which is why I am not a fan of the fill-in-the-blank workbooks. In an adult class, filled with knowledgeable Christians, there is no reason to spend a half hour going through twenty true/false, “find the word”, or fill-in-the-blank questions. It is boring. “No adult likes to sit in and participate in a class that is run like kindergarten” (“The Art of Teaching”, Kercheville, Focus Magazine, January 2000, p. 15). Instead of focusing on simple questions with easy answers, ask tough questions that confront the students with a Biblical truth:
· How does this affect me today?
· Why is this passage important to me?
· How can I use this in personal evangelism?
· Are there other verses that corroborate this one?
· What arguments exist that contradict this passage?
· How does this text help with problems in my life?
Too much talking by the teacher conveys the message that nobody else in the room has valuable input. Exclusively lecturing misses the point of any Bible class, which is, to mutually edify one another (Ephesians 4:16, Hebrews 10:24, 1 Thessalonians 5:14). There is no part of our service to God that is “spectator”, even when it seems to be. Consider, for example, public prayers. Even though it is one man speaking it, he does so on behalf of a group of people who are mentally involved in that prayer. Congregational singing is the same way, because we would never tolerate one person singing a solo for the church. Even when we listen to lesson by a preacher, we open up our Bibles and participate through active, engaged listening. So why would it be okay in a Bible class, that is designed to be mutually edifying and participation-based, for one person to do all of the talking, all of the scripture reading, and answering all of his own questions? “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14). Studies have shown lecturing is an ineffective way to teach, anyway. We remember only 5% of what we hear, 10% of what we read, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we hear and see, 70% of what we say, and 90% of what we say and do. Consistently lecturing prevents students from doing their own research and study, and formulating intelligent, logical answers on their own. Typically, students will do little or no preparing for a class that is entirely lecture-oriented.
Teach exactly what you taught a couple years ago
While this does not apply to everybody, and certainly not to new Bible class teachers, it most certainly means something to those of us who have taught classes for years and have covered the same subjects more than once. Avoid the temptation to just pull out your lecture notes from years ago and reuse them for a Bible class series today. Before you teach each time, even on subjects that you believe you know very well, restudy and reexamine the text or material and update it. You may have more insight now than you did years ago, or you may have missed a strong point that only age and maturity have helped you see. Show your growth and maturation by the way you teach Bible class (1 Timothy 4:15), lest your ten year old material makes it look like you have not progressed in ten years. In the end, it is amazing how intuitive students are – even the young ones – when your material is not updated. Often, when a teacher’s material is not fresh, the class can smell it and they become bored.
Teach one verse (or one word) at a time
There is a place for this kind of study, and there is nothing necessarily wrong with examining a text verse by verse, but remember that running a Bible class this way will not always help everybody understand the text better. Often, looking several verses at a time and seeing what they mean in their context will be what makes the difference. When a verse is looked at too narrowly, the point might be missed. In fact, even after twelve weeks of studying a particular epistle, many adult class students still find it difficult to label each chapter with one or two main points.
The biggest problem with verse-by-verse studying is that it makes the class feel like it is covering a new topic every five minutes. As teachers, we are tempted to look at a couple of words in one verse and do a mini-topical lesson on those words, and then move on to the key words in the next verse and do a mini-topical lesson on them. For example, one verse may only mention Satan in passing, while the context is about something totally different. If we focus too narrowly on just that verse, we might run off on a tangent talking about Satan, listing all of the other verses where he is mentioned, and end up miles away from what the verse actually means in context. Remember, each verse does not introduce a new topic – rather, each verse is simply a link in a long chain that needs to be understood as a whole and from the proper perspective. Make sure you get the overall theme of the chapter, of the paragraph, and even of the entire book itself.
Act like you are bored
Remember that the Bible is an exciting book, and if the teacher approaches casually and with great disinterest, then so will the students. Just because a particular scripture has been studied before (many times) treat it like it is fresh, exciting, and novel. Approach every Bible class from that perspective and you will always find success as a teacher. “A teacher’s enthusiasm is transferred to the student. If you are not excited about a text, you simply haven’t studied it enough. Not a thing God wrote is boring when properly understood” (Kercheville, 16). After all, “all scripture is profitable” (1 Timothy 3:16-17).
Allowing students to divert the class to unrelated topics
“Some teachers will allow class members to voice all their ‘I think so’s without centering their attention on the text or insisting that class members back up their comments with scripture. Classes like this never have a feeling of accomplishment. The class becomes more a gab session than an edifying experience” (Kercheville, 16). Remember that the purpose of the class is to grow spiritually, and this is not fostered in an unstructured environment.
Failing to correct untrue statements
The teacher must be prepared for everything in the class, including deviant or differing viewpoints (1 Peter 3:15). We cannot allow somebody to enter our learning environment and disrupt it with disturbing statements (Acts 15:24). Even though open discussion is encouraged, the Bible class teacher is not just a discussion moderator. His task is to lead the class to a complete knowledge of the truth on a matter, and he has failed if he leaves the class participants questioning. When an inaccurate statement or conclusion is made, the teacher can ask, first of all, why the person believes that, requesting a Bible verse. Also, offering a scripture in refutation is also helpful. Most importantly, do not just leave confusing or untrue statements untouched – “Well, that is an interesting point…”
Answering your own questions
This establishes an environment of non-participation. Instead, consider how Jesus made his disciples think (Luke 10:26, Matthew 13:36, 21:28). Do not be afraid of a little awkward silence!