30 Tips for Teaching a Bible Class

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1. Read the text as if you have never read it before.
2. Read the text multiple times looking for repeated words and phrases – may help you see broader themes.
3. Find the connection between stories (Gospels, OT narrative). There is usually a flow or connecting theme that makes sense out of the order of things. This is true of Epistles as well.
4. Form your own opinion before going to the commentaries. Commentaries can be crutches if used as first resort. Spend some time with the text first rather than time with what others have said about the text. You are teaching the scriptures and that is of primary importance. Commentaries are valuable but not as a crutch or time-saving/corner cutting device.
5. Ten minutes worth of solid, thought provoking questions can be better than an hour of lecture.
6. Never underestimate the importance of background (audience, location, author, etc) to the text you are studying.
7. Determine what information you want to cover can most likely be generated by discussion and what information cannot. That will help you determine how much to lecture and how much to get through asking effective questions.
8. Know more than you intend to teach.
9. Use illustrations but only one or two that really make the point of the class and make sure to come back to that illustration at the end and tie up loose ends.
10. Don’t belittle anyone’s comments.
11. Try to find the connection/nugget of truth in comments that aren’t quite on the mark (Why did that person say that and how did they think it connected with the question).
12. Give credit to the class. Try to remember who said what and refer back to their comment during the class rather than repeating what they said.
13. If you want more discussion, encourage it. Appreciate it when it happens. Thank people afterward for their comments.
14. The biggest way to kill discussions is by making the classroom a dangerous place to answer questions or give input. This is mainly regulated through how the teacher responds to incorrect answers.
15. Be positive. It is alright to rebuke and admonish but make sure you balance it with encouragement. People don’t want to get bashed over the head week in and week out. The Gospel is a message of hope. Let’s make sure people realize that when they leave your class.
16. Make sure you get the big picture. How does this passage fit the surrounding text? What is the context? For example, if you were doing a class on prayer you might point to Mark 11 where Jesus talks about praying in faith and a mountain being thrown into the sea. If you strip it from its context you miss the fact that Jesus is probably referring the temple mount where he had just cast the money changers out of the temple and basically proclaimed a curse on the temple (represented by the curse of the fig tree). There is more to that verse on prayer than meets the eye than if you do a simple word search on asking or faith and find that passage.
17. Be a resource for others. You won’t have all the answers but be aware of some valuable resources people can turn to if they want more information.
18. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. But let them know if you are willing to take the time to find out. Make sure you follow through on that if you say you will.
19. Be consistent.
20. Be early.
21. Be hungry.
22. Be humble.
23. Don’t fear the truth – people will ask questions and we may get out of our comfort zones from time to time but that is healthy. Never fear the truth and honest, sincere inquiry of your class.
24. Try to follow the flow of the text rather than pre-determined chapter breaks. The text doesn’t always break down as evenly as the chapters indicate. Determine what you will cover in a class by the flow of the text and what fits together and don’t assume the chapter breaks are all that helpful.
25. Different genres are not read or taught the same. Get a helpful book like Gordon Fee’s How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth to understand how a psalm is different than a Gospel and how an epistle is different from apocalyptic literature. There is much to be unlocked in the text from a cursory understanding of these things.
26. Try teaching inductively rather than deductively.
27. If you haven’t studied Greek or Hebrew use it sparingly and try not to make your major points off of it. Sure a commentary may point it out but sometimes, let’s face it, commentaries don’t always get it right.
28. Use commentaries written in the last 25 years from a reputable series. Not all commentaries are created equal.
29. Use handouts effectively. It is nice to have something you can take home with you to look at later.
30. Email your class members regularly – send them your notes after class. Remind them of what chapters or topics are coming up. Keep people informed and connected.

8 Responses

  1. Matt,
    Wonderful post and thoughts about teaching Bible class.
    I enjoy reading your blog so mcuh brother.
    I pray that God will continue to bless your life.
    I hope you have a wonderful week.
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry

  2. Matt –
    I loved the list! As someone working in education ministry, I need to be reminded not only of those principles myself but also to share them with others. Thanks for all you are doing in ministry!

  3. Excellent points and ideas, Matt.

    I especially like #30: using email as a way to supplement class sessions. I haven’t gotten to class blogs just yet, but want to.

    #23, about not fearing the truth, is so important. To my pleasant surprise, I have sometimes mentioned a hunch about a passage only to find out that others were thinking the same thing.

    Are you sure about #28? No, John Calvin didn’t know all the fads of our day. But compared to his work, a lot of today’s commentaries seem awfully thin. Same goes for J.B. Lightfoot, J. N. D. Kelly, J. M. Creed, etc. I agree that not all commentaries were created equal. I just think that in some cases the older ones are actually better.

  4. Thanks Frank,

    I am going to stand by #28. There are archaeological finds, papyri, etc that can have a bearing on the text that were unheard of even 50 years ago. Trying teaching Romans without a newer commentary. If you use Nygren you end up teaching Romans from the perspective of it being an epistle with no occasion, which ends up missing much of the meaning or Romans. The newer commentaries make use of the Edict of Claudius, etc. Try studying Galatians with a commentary that doesn’t make use of E.P. Sanders and the “New Perspective on Paul” and you end up with some pretty big misunderstandings of the text.

    I am not saying there is nothing to be valued from older works. I am saying don’t rely solely on either (old or new). But if I had to pick one or two (depending on the book of the Bible), I would almost always pick a newer one. There are exceptions but they are just that, exceptions.

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