This month I am leading (as a substitute) an adult Sunday school class, while the regular teacher takes a break. I’ve long wanted to put together a Bible study series on the 7 churches of the book of Revelation (Rev 2 and 3). But without a specific purpose/reason/deadline, I often have a hard time doing anything – even if I have the time. This need for a substitute teacher finally gave me a reason. I’ve really enjoyed the personal study and prep-work for these lessons.
Recently I read a blog post about using prepared curriculum versus putting it together yourself. I thought the post made excellent points. Prepared curriculum can be good, and…not so good. I too have encountered downright silly, waste-of-time discussion questions. While working on my lesson for the church of Thyatira, one source I looked at suggested asking: “What do you remember about your childhood bed? What bedtime memories do you have?” – I guess because the message to Thyatira refers to a bed of suffering! Huh? Seriously? That is not the point being made at all, and I don’t think reminiscing about childhood bedtime has any connection to the point.
The blogger above says this in her post:
“Not everyone can put together a study on her own. It is hard work. Over the years, I have been in a lot of bible studies, listened to a lot of sermons, and have read a lot of commentaries. That is where I have learned how to put together a study. I am great at being a copy cat. While this may seem like a difficult task, I think that if someone is going to be a bible teacher, learning how to put together the material on her own is a goal she should have. Good teaching flows naturally from someone who likes to learn, and if a teacher doesn’t like to learn, what is she doing there?…” [emphasis added]
Ideally, I think anyone leading/teaching a group should have the gift of teaching and some training as well (whether informal or formal). If you have these things, putting together your own Bible studies should not be a problem. If you have these things, but are still just using prepared curriculum all the time, why? I’d encourage you to challenge yourself and try putting together your own lessons.
But, lets face it, not everyone is capable of doing this nor is so gifted, and quality prepared curriculum can be a blessing. There may be a lack of those with a teaching gift, and a good curriculum can run itself to a certain extent.
A book I suggest on Bible teaching is: Effective Bible Teaching, by Wilhoit and Ryken, Baker Academic, 1988. Note it is by Baker Academic so it is not fluffy. It basically teaches Bible interpretation skills, and then shows you how to turn passages of the Bible into lessons. One key point is developing the “big idea” of the passage. The book is a great combination of the theoretical and the practical. Something I particularly like is that they give examples of how to do what they suggest. I find this is often lacking in other books about teaching – a great idea is given but they don’t offer illustrations of it.
My process of putting together a Bible study is essentially as follows, keeping in mind that it varies depending on if I am teaching a single lesson on one passage, teaching through an entire book, or covering a biblical topic:
Pray about it. Gather all the resources (books, articles, commentaries) on the passage/topic. This assumes that you have a good personal library.
Read the said Bible passage. I’d suggest in several versions. Study the passage. Read and peruse all the sources you gathered. This starts to familiarize you with the material, and various ideas and perspectives on it. I may spend a few days or even weeks in the perusal stage. I highlight ideas or thoughts I particularly like.
I must grasp the material for myself. *This is critical. You can not effectively teach material that you have not fully understood yourself.*
Great article here from Core Christianity: 8 Habits of the Excellent Bible Teacher.
Then I get out paper and pen and start to scribble on paper, that is, put the lessons together. I review what I learned from my sources. What do I need to teach/explain? What is the “big idea”? What is critical for the students to understand? (This is NOT everything you learned, as that would be too much – narrow it down.) Thoughtful decisions must be made about the sequence in which to teach, and how to group the content together into sections.
Coming up with questions for the class is important. Some are straight forward questions to clarify what the Bible verses say – in other words, content questions. Once the main point of the passage has been revealed, I try to think of questions that require deeper thought, discussion, or involve applying the material to our lives today.
Coming up with thoughtful questions can be tough. I’ll peruse through sources that feature questions. As said, questions can be silly – but other times there are good ones. Sometimes a poor or mediocre question will give me an idea for a better one that I might not have otherwise thought of. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Well, those are my thoughts on this issue. Do you put together your own Bible studies? By the way, I don’t consider myself an expert by any means on putting together Bible studies! I’m also just getting back in the saddle after not doing much Bible teaching for several years (long story).
Oh, and one more thing! I think I also learned a lot about putting together Bible studies by leading multiple studies using John Stott guides. Stott’s guides are exceptional. You go through a series of questions that bring out the main point of the Scripture. Stott has brief thoughts and quotes interspersed throughout that clarify key points. Perhaps I contradict myself by suggesting these guides (haha) but I think they are exceptional, and will indeed demonstrate a format for putting together your own studies.
*Don’t miss my book giveaway from earlier today.