Teaching the Bible Faithfully in Small and Large Settings (Part 2)

Cooking up a spiritual feast is no small feat. So, here are three essentials for delivering a meal to nurture and nourish your congregation.

The Three Essentials for a Spiritual Feast

In a previous article, I compared teaching the Bible to cooking a meal. For the Bible teacher to prepare a spiritual meal, he must include three “essential ingredients”: clear explanation, simple illustrations, and practical application. Explanation helps listeners understand the text. Illustrations help them “see” and “feel” the text. And application helps them obey the text. All three ingredients are necessary if the Bible teacher wants life change to take place.

In this article, I want to return to the Bible teacher’s “kitchen” and provide suggestions for effectively explaining, illustrating, and applying the Scriptures. Consider these suggestions to be the tools or “kitchen utensils” that will help you prepare the ingredients for the biblical lesson. You may not use every tool every time you prepare to teach, but I hope you find yourself returning to them regularly as you teach God’s Word to others.

Suggestions for Explaining a Text

The first ingredient of effective Bible teaching is explaining the text. Bible teachers need to explain the text in such a way that listeners leave with a better understanding of what the Bible is saying. Here are three suggestions to help with explanation:

1. Develop a solid teaching outline

One of the biggest aids to teaching the Bible is developing a teaching outline that reflects the text and is directed toward the listener. First, the outline should reflect, or follow, the flow of the text. An outline that reflects the structure of the text helps the teacher work through the biblical text in an organized way and helps the listeners see where in the text the idea or point of the outline was drawn from.

Second, the outline should be directed towards the listener. In other words, the outline should address the listener and be framed in contemporary language. Try to avoid outlines that merely describe the verses (i.e., David prayed, David persisted, David prevailed). Instead, develop outlines that are based on the text and prescriptive (i.e., we should pray, we should be persistent, and we will prevail). Good outlines help communicate the meaning of the text, keep the teacher on track, and help the listeners follow the flow of the text and the argument of the preacher. So, be sure to spend time developing a solid outline.

2. Direct listeners to the biblical text over and over again

One of the most helpful things a Bible teacher can do is point his listeners to the biblical text over and over again. Refer to the verses that you are explaining. Draw their attention to specific words. Re-read phrases from the passage as you are explaining the meaning of the text. Phrases like, “Look at verse 4,” or “Verse 20 says…” or “In verse 10, we see…” help draw our listeners’ attention back to the text and show that our ideas are drawn from the Bible. Our explanation of the text will be stronger when we help our listeners keep their eyes on the biblical text and help them notice how the text teaches what we are claiming it teaches.

3. Define theological terms and uncommon words

One last suggestion is to define theological terms or words our listeners may not be familiar with. Some teachers try to avoid using theological terminology, but I think teachers should consider teaching their listeners technical theological terms and providing definitions of those words. I am not suggesting that lessons should be theological treatises or full of dense theological language, but I am suggesting teachers communicate sound doctrine and teach their students important doctrinal terms and concepts, provided they define their terms and provide clear explanations of the concepts related to the doctrine. Additionally, teachers should define words in the text that listeners may be unfamiliar with. Lexicons and Bible dictionaries will serve teachers well in this area.

These three suggestions will aid the teacher as he seeks to explain a biblical passage. The outline provides organization and direction. The biblical text provides authority. The definitions provide clarity. All three aid the Bible teacher in explaining the biblical text in an understandable way.

Suggestions for Illustrating a Text

The second ingredient of effective Bible teaching is illustrating the text. Bible teachers need to include illustrations that help listeners “see” and “feel” the text in a fresh way. Here are three suggestions to help with illustrations:

1. Illustrate each point of the lesson

Each point or major idea in the lesson should include an illustration. Dull preaching and teaching are often the result of an over-emphasis on explanation and a lack of emphasis on illustrations. Even sermons and lessons that include explanation and application can become boring if they do not contain illustrations. So, illustrate well and often!

2. Use a variety of illustration types

There are numerous types of illustration. In my previous article, I referenced the SHARP method (i.e., using stories, humor, analogies, references, and pictures to illustrate a text). Teachers will likely find themselves drawn to one of these types of illustrations. Maybe they are naturally funny, so they prefer to use humor. Maybe they like history, so they prefer to tell stories from history. Regardless of your natural preferences, you should strive to use a variety of illustration types. Use humor and stories, as well as analogies and references. Use quotations and personal experiences, in addition to statistics and biblical narratives.

3. Avoid pointless illustrations

Illustrations should serve the biblical text. They should help listeners see the text or feel the weight of a text in a fresh way. Do not use an illustration simply because you think it is funny or interesting. Make sure the illustration serves its purpose: to teach the Bible effectively by illuminating the biblical passage under consideration.

Effective Bible teachers recognize the value of illustrations and use them regularly. If you resolve to include an illustration for each major idea or point, vary your illustration. Avoid pointless illustrations, and you will avoid the trap of teaching dull lessons.

Suggestions for Applying a Text

The third ingredient of effective Bible teaching is applying the text. Bible teachers need to develop valid applications from the text and exhort their listeners to obey the Bible. Here are three suggestions to help with application:

1. Make sure the application is connected to the text

As the teacher seeks to apply the meaning of the text to listeners, he must make sure the application is drawn from the biblical text. For some texts, the application is obvious and requires minimal “translation” to contemporary listeners. Paul’s letters, for example, often contain direct commands that apply to Christians today. Other texts, however, are more difficult to apply. Certain Old Testament laws, narratives, and prophetic literature can all be difficult to apply to contemporary Christians. Regardless of the difficulty level, teachers must work to understand the meaning of the text and then derive a valid application from that meaning. Few things are worse than forcing an application in a lesson that has no connection to the biblical text.

2. Make sure the application is relevant to the listener

Teachers must make sure the application is connected to the text, but they must make sure to direct that application to their listeners. They need to “translate” the principle or application into present-day language and provide present-day examples of what it might look like to put the text into practice. How should the truth of the text shape their marriage? Their parenting? Their job? Their friendships? Their finances? Bring the truth of the text to bear on the life of the listener in a practical way.

3. Make sure the application is grounded in the gospel

Finally, make sure the application is grounded in the gospel. Try to avoid moralistic or legalistic teaching. The key is to point to the gospel and to grace as the motivation for obedience. We encourage our listeners to obey the text because they have experienced God’s transforming grace in Jesus Christ and want to express their love and gratitude through obedience–not so they can earn God’s love or forgiveness. Allow the gospel to motivate them to express their love for God and gratitude for His salvation through obedience to His commands.

Apart from application, true life change will not occur. However, if the teacher will apply the truths of the text in a practical way and encourage listeners to obey because of God’s love and grace, they can be transformed by God’s Word.

For Nourishing and Nurturing

Every chef needs to know their way around the kitchen, and every Bible teacher needs to know his options for preparing explanations, illustrations, and applications. The suggestions I’ve made should help Bible teachers develop lessons that communicate the meaning of the text in an organized and authoritative manner, illustrate the text in an engaging and enlightening way, and apply the text in a practical and grace-driven way.

So, open up God’s Word, study it deeply, and prepare spiritual feasts for God’s people.

Published May 6, 2024

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