Teaching the Bible Faithfully in Small and Large Settings

By Jared Bumpers

What do Bible teaching and meal prepping have in common? The right ingredients matter. So, here are 3 ways to nourish your people with the Word of God.

Ministry and Meal Prep

I spend much of my time training young men to preach the Bible. However, I am occasionally asked to speak to those who teach the Bible in other settings. When this happens, I am reminded of the overlap between preaching in the local church and teaching the Bible in other settings. This makes sense, as these are different aspects of what Tim Keller would call “the ministry of the Word” (Preaching, 2). Whether talking to an individual, a group, or a local church, the speaker is ministering the Word of God to the people of God.

In this article, I want to focus on those who teach the Bible in small and large settings. So, what makes an effective Bible teacher? Just like the perfect dish requires essential ingredients, I think there are three essential “ingredients” of faithful Bible teaching: clear explanation, simple illustrations, and practical application. If any of these elements are missing, the teacher is missing an opportunity for life transformation to occur and the “spiritual meal” will be incomplete.

Ingredient #1: Clear Explanation

The first non-negotiable of faithful Bible teaching is clear explanation. Bible teachers should seek to communicate the Bible in a clear and engaging way so that listeners can understand the biblical text in a greater way after listening to their lessons. However, before a teacher can explain a biblical text in a clear way, he or she must first understand God’s Word himself or herself. We cannot communicate with clarity if we do not understand the text ourselves. Thus, Bible teachers must use sound interpretive principles to discern the meaning of the biblical texts from which they are teaching.

There are at least four aspects of the text that must be examined: the literary nature of the text, the grammar and syntax of the text, the historical-cultural background of the text, and the major theological and Christological truths of the text. In other words, Bible teachers must consider the genre and literary features, grammar and syntax, historical-cultural background, and theological themes and Christological focus of the text. Once these aspects of the text are examined, the teacher should be able to summarize the main idea of the biblical passage in a sentence or two.

The faithful Bible teacher will then work to explain the main idea of the biblical passage in the clearest way possible. He or she will define theological concepts or obscure words. He or she will explain confusing concepts and complicated arguments. He or she will show how the particular details of the text relate to the larger section or story. In short, he or she will explain the text in clear, plain language so listeners can understand the meaning of the biblical text. Once the teacher is convinced that his or her listeners understand what the Bible is saying, they can move towards illustration and application.

Ingredient #2: Simple Illustrations

The second non-negotiable of faithful Bible teaching is providing simple illustrations. Bible teachers want their listeners to hear and understand, but they also want them to see and understand. Illustrations essentially function as “word pictures” that allow listeners to “see” the meaning of the text and its significance. Additionally, illustrations help listeners feel the text, as they have emotional force. Illustrations can be cerebral, helping listeners understand the text, but they are also emotional, helping listeners feel the weight of the text.

One of my favorite approaches to illustrations is taken from Hershael York and Bert Decker’s book Preaching with Bold Assurance. They use the acronym SHARP to provide five techniques for illustrating a text: story, humor, analogies, references, and pictures (159). By telling a story, using humor, making an analogy, referencing common knowledge or current events, or showing the audience a picture, Bible teachers can help their listeners gain greater insight into a text and feel the importance of the text in a fresh way.

Ingredient #3: Practical Application

The third and final non-negotiable of faithful Bible teaching is practical application. While some teachers of God’s Word may be satisfied with merely passing along biblical information, the effective Bible teacher is aiming for life transformation. Understanding God’s Word in a better way is certainly a key part of effective biblical teaching, but the best teachers do not stop there. Why? Because the goal of teaching God’s Word is not merely gaining more information. Instead, the goal is a greater understanding of God’s Word and an alignment of the listener’s life with God’s will. In other words, the best Bible teachers hope their listeners gain new information about God and His ways, but they also hope their listeners experience the life transformation that comes from God and His Word alone.

So, how can listeners experience the transformation that comes from God’s Word? By applying the biblical text to their lives. Therefore, those who teach God’s Word should spend time thinking about how God’s Word applies to their listeners and providing examples of what it might look like if they put the truths of the text into practice within their own lives. When I talk about application in preaching, I usually talk about three types of application: generic application, motivational application, and specific application. The first type, generic application, answers the “what” question: at the broadest level, what should listeners do in light of the text? Next is the motivational application, which answers the “why” question. At the heart level, why should listeners do what the text says? This type of application aims for the heart and attempts to motivate the listener to implement the principles of the text. Lastly, the specific application answers the “how” question. At the most granular level, consider how listeners can put the principle into practice in their lives. If Bible teachers help their listeners understand what the text is calling them to do, why they should do it, and how they can do it, the listeners will be in a better position to implement God’s Word into their lives and experience the change that God’s Word brings.

To Nourish and Nurture

Every good recipe includes the necessary ingredients to make the dish. You have to crack some eggs to make an omelet, right? The same is true of teaching and preaching God’s Word (not cracking eggs, but including the right ingredients!). The three essential ingredients of effective Bible teaching are clear explanation, simple illustrations, and practical application.

If the Bible teacher will commit to clearly explaining the text so listeners can understand it, simply applying the text so they can see and feel it, and practically applying the text so they can do it, they will experience the life-changing power of God’s Word.

Published April 15, 2024

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Jared Bumpers

Jared Bumpers (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Preaching and Evangelism at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also oversees the FTC Cohorts. In addition to his roles at MBTS, he serves as one of the pastors at Fellowship KC in the Parkville area.