Editor’s Note:

The purpose of this series is to help Christians think through the doctrine of Scripture and provide practical guidance on not only how to read the Bible but to deal with objections and attacks on the Bible.

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Every pastor who has been to seminary has taken some type of homiletics class. These classes help teach how to navigate the Scriptures and apply them with certain guidelines. The guidelines assist you in not teaching the wrong subject of the passage, or from preaching heresy. But what about those people who are teaching Bible classes and Sunday school, especially those without any formal Biblical training—how do they prepare a lesson? I’m going to give you 8 simple tips that I gleaned along the way and from seminary. Obviously, at this point, you have already chosen your passage.

1.  Take a Step Back. Locate the main passage and the main idea of that passage. No verse is placed within a vacuum; each belongs to a greater block, or passage of verses. For instance, you may desire to teach about John 3:3 and “being born again,” however, that verse is a part of the greater passage containing verses 1-8. As well, being re-born of spiritual birth must include the main idea of the Holy Spirit and His work. So, take a step back and look at the big picture—passage and idea.

2. Interpretation. This is an important step and carries the label, exegesis. You need to ask yourself several questions: what is the literary style of the writing (prophetic, letter, narrative, wisdom, etc.) and what is the culture in which it was written. Could a 1st century letter be interpreted with 21st century meanings—obviously not, as the writer had no idea what would happen in our life time. This is a big problem with the untrained teacher; he or she tends to read into the text (what we call eisegesis). A good example of eisegesis is when a teacher claims that a woman’s head must be covered in church at all times, or when praying, and a man cannot have long hair (1 Cor. 11). We believe in the literal understanding, but we need to be careful when teaching doctrine and theology. Clearly, this passage concerns the culture in which it was written. A good rule of thumb, if you’re unfamiliar with a writer or book of the Bible, utilize a credible commentary and if you come up with some new meaning of the text—generally, it’s the wrong one. We have two millennia of great Bible scholars at our fingertips; if they haven’t witnessed it in Scripture then it’s not there.

3. Make a Bridge.  Pastors are taught to bridge the text of Scripture in the sermon. The focus is always on the main idea of the text, and so, good teachers will try and build a bridge from the text to the main idea; basically, keep the main idea, the main idea, don’t go off to never-never land. If the passage is about new birth and the power of the Holy Spirit, stay focused on that idea throughout the sermon. This goes along with the next point…

4. Find the Main Principles. Ok, you already know the main idea, now you can make an outline of the principles within that idea. Let me clarify, if the main idea (let’s use Jon 3:3 again) is new birth, then some of the principles that we want to discuss are water, flesh, Spirit, womb, and the Kingdom of God. All of these are well within the main topic. Making an outline helps you stay within your study of the topic and to present it carefully and correctly. Here’s a hint, if you see a word repetitively used, the writer may be trying to get your attention. Does the writer switch pronoun usage in mid-sentence—from I, to we? One book I will always recommend is How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth, by G. Fee & D. Stuart—if you don’t have it—buy it!

5. Use Illustrations. People are visual now-a-days. The people during the writing of the Bible were more auditory; they heard and recited what they heard. We now live in a society that changes topics every ten seconds on television (commercials) to capture attention, and check our Facebook and Twitter statuses every minute. So, if you’re teaching about the Temple, find an illustration of one and utilize it in the class. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, just something simple.

6. Application. Here is one topic that has been beaten to death, but while I agree that we need application, it is down the list at number six and behind illustration—the reason—sometimes we focus so much on application that we lose the actual emphasis and meaning of what happened, when it happened, and the how it happened, of the passage. It’s great that we understand the Scriptures and should be able to apply them to our lives, but don’t over-do-it. My rule is to look for one application per main principle and then clarify the text from that application. An application should be an “Aha” sort of moment, not “That’s what the Scripture said.”

7. A Good Introduction. A good introduction is a must—you just spent a lot of time and work in study and yet you show up and say, turn to this or that page in a dry monotone voice—Wow! Sounds exciting, right?! This doesn’t need to be in Vegas lights, especially if it’s only a small Bible study, but if you’re speaking before more than fifteen people, seek a good intro. I always find a personal story, a captivating explanation about the book, letter, or idea. Show them your excitement! I live for teaching the Word and it always gets me amped, I want to show that, but also be reverent of its power and majesty.

8. Tie It Up! Boy, this is one area that I can’t stand when I hear preachers and they just end the teaching, leaving you hanging. It’s like they took you on a ride, but never brought you home—you’re left in purgatory. Every good teaching should, and I pathetically use the coined phrase, “land the plane,” of the passage. Tie up all the loose ends, by going through your study. Your teaching should match your outline and then marry it together with a good conclusion of what you said. As I have heard it stated before, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them what you told them, and then remind them of what you said.”