A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How to be a Better Bible Teacher: Correspondence


All teaching is relational. In the ancient Jewish world, Rabbis developed father-son relationships with disciples so that they wouldn’t merely learn information, but would become like the rabbi. Jesus said, “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher” (Matthew 10:25), and, “Everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). The old master-apprentice system of learning a trade developed a relationship in which characteristics of the master’s style would be apparent in the apprentice’s work, establishing traditions of craftsmanship identifiable for generations.

Better Bible teachers understand the importance of developing these relationships and seek to create correspondences with their students. If preaching is “truth through personality” (Phillips Brooks, Lyman Beecher Lectures in Preaching at Yale, c.1875), teaching is too. There is only a little difference between preaching and teaching. Just as a preacher cannot hope to succeed in the pulpit without developing relationships with members of the church and people in the community, so a Bible teacher, no matter the forum, cannot hope to succeed without developing these relationships. Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

Those who teach over the Internet (Blog, email, etc.), etc. ought to go farther than just sending and grading lessons. I remember my dad’s involvement in World Bible School when I was a child. I felt we knew his students who lived across the world, because he corresponded with them in letters, not just imparting Bible information, but also developing personal connections. We talked about them at the dinner table. Bloggers ought to allow questions and comments, and deal with them kindly (even disagreements). If your ministry is to teach one on one, spend time talking about life, work, and family. Let your students get to know you, and get to know them so they can see how you live the truth out in daily life. Bible class teachers are shepherds to their little flocks. Bible class teachers ought to write notes, send cards to their students, or at least be available for discussion outside class time. Over time you’ll see a little of yourself in those you’ve taught. Hopefully that part of you, you see in them will not just be you, but the One who lives in you (see Galatians 4:19).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How to be a Better Bible Teacher: Three Qualities of Great Teachers


While studying at Heritage, I took a class called Teaching the Bible. It was a valuable class, and I thank bro. Steven Guy for doing a good job teaching it. We studied the discipline of teaching from a variety of angles, but what settled into my mind the deepest was the lesson about three areas of focus good teachers need to consider. They are content, style, and relationship. A teacher is usually naturally strongest in one, strong in a second, and weak in the third of these qualities. It’s different for every teacher. However, if a Bible teacher fails to nurture his strengths and work on his weaknesses his effectiveness will suffer, and he may eventually fail altogether.

Content is what the teacher has to say. One of our textbooks in the class was bro. Charles Hodge’s little work called simply, Teachers. On p. 14 he wrote, “Teachers do not fail as teachers; they fail as students!” Great teachers are first good students—people who love to learn and are willing to put in the time necessary to have something to say worth listening to. If you are or want to be a Bible teacher, and this is your strength, you’ve already got the most fundamental quality. Keep it up! If this is your weakness, please understand you can’t succeed until you understand that the teaching opportunity, whether classroom or otherwise, is the icing on a cake that first took time and effort to bake!

Style is method and personality. When you’ve prepared yourself with plenty to say, how will you organize and present the knowledge? Great students aren’t always great speakers. Those who are strong in style can make an hour-long lecture feel like minutes. Students really appreciate that, and will flock to learn at the feet of a teacher who can communicate knowledge through personality. People respond to enthusiasm, shared experiences, stories, and relevant illustrations. If this is your strength, keep on living it out—the way God has blessed you to be able to share yourself with others inspires them, and helps them to learn how to envision themselves doing what’s right. If this is your weakness, spend time listening to teachers who are strong in this area. Imitate their methods. Start keeping a notepad in your pocket and write down all the stories you hear, and little thoughts about daily experiences. Do these things and your ability to teach in a way that keeps students’ attention will increase.

Students need to know their teachers love them. It’s hard to learn from someone you think doesn’t care whether you succeed or fail. This is why the Christian system of teaching is discipleship. In Jesus’ time on earth, the Jewish rabbis (teachers) accepted promising students called talmid (disciples) who followed them everywhere they went and in addition to hanging upon their rabbi’s every word, they imitated every aspect of his life. This is how Christians are called to relate to Jesus, as disciple to teacher. Our culture doesn’t normally accommodate such a way of life, and that’s unfortunate, but it is still essential that an effective teacher develop genuine relationships with his students. There’s an old saying, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If this is your strength, nurture it. Your students appreciate your genuineness. If it’s your weakness, well, the solution starts with something as simple as learning the names of your students, being available for questions, or for lunch, etc. Go the second mile, because the point of teaching is the changed lives of your students. There are no shortcuts!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How to be a Better Bible Teacher: Practical Advice


The first of these thoughts were inspired by a Lambert Book House blog some time back, so credit where credit is due. Teaching the Bible is the most important work in the world. We meet Christ in his written word, and there is no other path to salvation. Whether it’s in casual conversation around the house or neighborhood, in personal home Bible studies, or in the church Bible class, there are a few things, well, more than a few, but if you remember a few of them and put them into practice, you’ll be a better Bible teacher for it. So, here’s some practical advice:

Know the lesson. If it’s something you put together yourself, know it well. If you’re using published material, spend an hour or two getting very familiar with it. Choose one main point you want to get across. Too often Bible teachers try to teach too much (guilty as charged). If your students learn one Biblical lesson from a session or class, you’ve succeeded.

Think about what the students need to think about. Try to anticipate their questions in advance.
Read everything you can find in the Bible about your subject, and decide which passages included in published materials is the most important. If you search the Scriptures thoroughly, you’ll often come up with passages you think do the job better. Don’t hesitate to write those down and use them instead. If you’re putting together your own material, take care not to use verses out of context.

Start class by making the students think. Starting with a question or a story is a good way to do it. A faithful Bible teacher is responsible for building links between the hearer and his or her God. Don’t just answer questions, show them how you got the answer. Try to teach them how to think, and if they will value your guidance and think for themselves, along with prayer and study, the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.

Pray.

Recognize the patterns in Scripture. I like the way F. LaGard Smith put it in the Cultural Church: Purpose, Principle, and Precedent. Every Bible teaching flows out of God’s eternal purpose, is built on unchanging principles of truth and righteousness, which manifest in the precepts we are to follow. Understanding the depth of Bible doctrine in this way helps us deal with the hard to keep commandments a little better. Just like children, we want to know why.

Ask open-ended questions to stimulate discussion. Josh Hardin wrote, “The teacher acts as mediator for the discussion. He or she makes sure everyone stays on the subject and that the class continues to move forward. The teacher also makes sure that the students see the problem with a biblical mindset and think through it in God’s way. Certainly, there will be some answers that are not quite right. The teacher can see how the student might have arrived at that idea and guide them back to looking at it in the proper light. Once a discussion has gone far enough, the teacher can summarize the good things everyone has said and move on to the next questions or passage of Scripture.” Rather than asking simple yes/no questions (that end discussions), ask deeper questions, and don’t fear silence.

End by giving your student(s) something to think about. A “cliff-hanger,” or, dare I say, homework.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to be a Better Bible Teacher: Essential Qualities


The Bible says, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1Corinthians 12:18 ESV). There are a few passages in the New Testament that teach us our gifts for spiritual service are from God (1Corinthians 12, Romans 12, etc.). There are some gifts of miraculous power, such as gifts of healing and prophecy that were temporary in nature and no longer function in the church (1Corinthians 13), having accomplished God’s purposes for them, but all of us have gifts from God to use in his service. One of those is teaching.

Scripture and experience have made me certain some are gifted teachers and some aren’t. There are others who could be, but won’t be, because they won’t develop the gift they have. Even though we have gifts from God, those gifts need to be developed and mastered through continual use (1Timothy 4:14-15). Just as a gifted athlete has to exercise, practice, eat right, and rest adequately in order to achieve excellence, so gifted teachers must persistently devote themselves to the craft of teaching to become all God has in mind for them—and to bless their students with all they deserve. Just as an athlete with less talent can sometimes surpass the more talented by working harder, so the best teachers will always be the most devoted and diligent.

The essential qualities of a better Bible teacher are these: (1) a faithful walk with God characterized by prayer and study; (2) a love of truth and drive to seek it and accept it even if it means having to abandon long-held and beloved beliefs; (3) the willingness to apply Scripture teachings to his own life and model them, then (4) the willingness to carefully observe the world of his fellow man so he can make relevant applications of Scripture in his lessons; and finally (5) enough respect for tradition and freedom from it to understand the times and know how to use the best methods. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bible Study Offers...


We do what we do, because it gives us (we think) some kind of payoff. We avoid doing things, because of (perceived) cost. Most Christians study their Bibles at least a little, because they know there is a spiritual payoff, or at least, because they think it’s what “good Christians” ought to do, so they do it as a matter of discipline. Either way, I think most Christians do some Bible study and are aware it’s profitable. What I want to do is encourage you who study some to study more, those who don’t really study your Bibles to start, and those who aren’t Christians to see a few of the “payoffs” reading the Bible has to offer.

In the Young Adults Bible class Sunday a discussion arose about how to view Bible study. Is it a spiritual discipline or expression of relationship? The author of the study we’re using in class defined discipline as doing something you don’t want to do. That’s basically right, but I’ll add, it takes discipline to do right now things we want to do, but would rather do later. There’s a natural tendency to procrastinate when the task, even a highly valued one, seems like more trouble (cost) than something else that would take less effort in the present (payoff). That’s why some who value the Bible and believe in reading and studying it don’t do it as much as they would like to. Bible study is both spiritual discipline and relationship. Prayerfully reading Scripture is conversation with your heavenly Father. Through it his Spirit will draw you ever closer to him in personal relationship. That’s one payoff you can’t get from anything else. Not studying regularly and prayerfully is reason #1 why some believers complain, “I just don’t feel close to God.”

Bible study offers knowledge (2Tim 3:16-17). The apostle Paul wrote, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph 3:4-5). Bible study offers wisdom. Right now I have my mp3 cd of all the Wisdom Literature (Job-Song of Solomon) in my car and am listening through it. You’ll scarcely face a point of decision in life that isn’t addressed in the wisdom literature in the Bible. The Bible offers you the payoff of having the wisdom to make the right decisions at those pivotal forks in the road of life (and the not so pivotal ones each day). Bible study offers relationship. The way to know God is through his Son, Jesus Christ (John 14:7), and we get to know Christ through the written word (John 5:39). Through baptism into Christ as an act of saving faith we receive the indwelling of the Spirit (Acts 2:38-39), God’s very presence in our lives. The payoff is bigger than this life, so much more than you can get from anything else. It may take discipline to study the Bible when and as much as your ought to, but the cost of not is too high to accept.