Next Sunday morning, I will begin teaching a fortnightly Bible Study at a church in South Dallas. The City of Hope is a small, but growing congregation, serving the South Oak Cliff neighborhood.
Preparing to teach a Bible Study shares some commonalities with preparing a sermon, however a Bible Study is not a sermon.
In his 2017 article explaining the difference between sermons and studies, renowned Christian blogging pioneer Tim Chailles points out that “…a Bible study is helping people to know what a passage says while preaching is appealing to people to live what a passage says.”
The purpose of a sermon is to feed and fuel your heart so that you are led to apply biblical principles and teaching to your daily life. A sermon nurtures the growth of holiness in your life. A sermon shows you how to live what a particular passage teaches.
The purpose of a Bible Study is to educate and edify your mind so that you learn nuts and bolts of the Christian faith. A good Bible study increases your knowledge and wisdom. Bible studies teach you what a a passage says.
Three underlying keys to preaching and teaching are:
1. Knowing your audience. Different audiences have different needs. Yes, we all need Jesus. Yes, we can all benefit from a Bible-focused sermon or study. Knowing your audience helps steer you in the direction you need to go in order to feed and shepherd the people God has entrusted to you for such a time as this.
2. Relying on God first and foremost. Start with “God what do YOU want me to teach?” versus “What do I want to teach?” Once you know your audience—-at least have a feel for who you are preaching or teaching to—then you can start to seeking God’s wisdom and guidance. He knows what people need. Trust Him for the answer. Look to the Lord first and foremost, whether you are preaching or teaching.
3. Employing God’s word as your primary source. Depending on the Bible as the main source for a Bible study seems particularly obvious to me. However, experience has proven to me that this not necessarily true. I’ve sat in Bible studies that focused on a Christian book—and even a secular book on occasion. I think studying books is great. But please—-call it a book study if that’s what you want to do—and do it sometime other than during church. I’ve also sat through a sermon or two when a pastor was hawking his book. I’m glad you wrote a book. I’m fine if you want to mention it during your sermon. But it shouldn’t be THE SERMON.
The Bible IS enough. The Bible is AUTHORITATIVE. For Christians, the Bible is our PRIMARY textbook. Whether you are preaching or teaching, please employ the Bible as your primary source. It has all the nourishment for the heart and mind any Christian needs.
Sermons and Bible studies are vital sources of nourishment for maintaining a well-balanced, healthy Christian diet. Sermons fuel the heart. Bible studies feed the mind.
Preparing for a Bible Study requires identifying a theme and determining which book of the Bible you are going to teach. You can also teach other things that may be more topical in theme—I’ve taught young adults on topics like love and dating and I’ve also taught different groups of grownups about the Fruit of the Spirit, Spiritual Disciplines, names and characteristics of God (the Father), Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Preparing for a Bible study involves utilizing many of the same tools and resources that preparing for a sermon relies on. As I detailed above, the difference is the objective of one versus the other.
1. Identify the book of the Bible you are going to use as the foundation of your Bible study. The Bible contains 66 books divided into two halves—the Old Testament and the New Testament. 39 books make up the content of the Old Testament. The New Testament consists of 27 books. Each book plays a unique role in revealing who God is to us, as well as showing us what His plan and purpose for our life is.
2. Decide on the primary Bible translation you are going to use throughout your Bible study. There are more translations than ever before. Knowing the difference between a good translation and a paraphrase is crucial, or you’ll risk teaching people something less than or different than the Word of God. A translation sticks to the original text as its chief source. Paraphrases—as the term implies—rest on human interpretation as its main source.
Among the sea of translations are excellent modern language versions of God’s word. The big difference between most translations is how they communicate the original text. All of them are based on the earliest texts we know to exist. Remember, the Bible originally grew out of oral traditions—-one generation teaching another generation—handed down faithfully through the ages.
Word for Word translations pride themselves for translating the ancient words of Scripture into modern languages. Thought for Thought translations strive to capture the main idea of a verse or passage. Both are accurate. Both are reliable iterations of God’s word.
Knowing your audience will help you decide which translation is best for who your are teaching. However, I tend to lean toward using the text you are most familiar with and hold in your hands most frequently. Because I preach and teach I also prefer the word for word translations over the thought for thought versions. Why? I simply want to be as accurate as possible because I am accountable for what I preach and teach.
3. Employ study resources to help you prepare the lessons. There are loads of commentaries, apps, websites, books, articles, and blogposts dedicated and devoted to the effective and accurate teaching of the Bible. Use them. Identify different tools that help you learn the meaning of words—because words matter. Find out what those who came before you concluded from their sweating over the biblical text through reading commentaries and scouring other sources that they left behind as a legacy. Leverage technology for your study. There are excellent and websites that clearly and concisely explain God’s word.
4. Enlist the wisdom and guidance of trusted friends. Odds are you know people who love the Bible. They have invested considerable time meditating on God’s word. Engage them in conversations over coffee or breakfast. Ask them their thoughts on what a passage says or means.
5. Pray. Actually, this should come before everything else. Talk to God. Ask Him to guide you. Petition Him for His wisdom. Plead for insight. Remember, the Holy Spirit is here to help you.
Friend, I am inviting you to join me in praying for this upcoming Bible study that I will begin teaching Sunday. Pray I use my time wisely. Pray for God’s insights to lead me. The Bible study will hopefully help attendees learn more about who God is and draw them nearer to Jesus. The Gospel of John is going to serve as our launching point for this study. Pray for good attendance and open ears, hearts, and minds. Pray that the teaching would be engaging and equipping. May what is taught nourish the listener’s minds and encourage their souls.
Thanks in advance for your prayers. I trust that you were fed and fueled by this post. May the week ahead be filled with every spiritual blessing from God above.
Peace and love,
The Devotional Guy™