Preparation is the key to almost anything. There is an old saying: success equals preparation plus opportunity. Teaching is no exception. Effective Bible Teachers prepare effectively. Ineffective Bible Teachers wait til the day before.
Effective Bible Teaching starts with reading, rereading, and rereading again the Bible text.
Start early. Start the day after. If you want to be really good, read a few weeks ahead. I think you do well to read mostly in one translation. By doing this, your mind will near-memorize the text based on the rhythm of the words.
Occasionally read in other translations. Notice the differences.
Encourage your people to read. At the beginning of every series, my normal is to say, “If you are not reading anything else these days, join me in reading the book of James as we study this together.” Most people need continual encouragement to read their Bibles. Nothing predicts spiritual growth like individuals getting into the Word for themselves.
You might, in fact, spend a little time in class talking about what people read. Ask: what did you learn about God? What did you learn about Christian living?
Most people say you ought to separate your daily quiet time from your time in preparation. The idea is you shouldn’t always be reading the Bible for what it says to others. You should read the Bible for what it says to you.
I’d invite you to turn that idea on its head. Start with reading the Bible for what it says to you. Then share this with others. We only have so much time. I don’t think it is necessarily a bad idea to read the text you are teaching on in your quiet time. For many Effective Bible Teachers, what they are teaching is an all-consuming life passion. Pray about that.
Read the text. Read it slowly. I sometimes read it backwards—start with the last verse, read a verse at a time from the end to the beginning. Read some context—a few chapters before and after. Read ahead into what you will be studying over the next few weeks. Effective Bible Teachers exude a familiarity with the text that can only come from living with it.
Study is essentially bombarding the text with questions. I tend to go too quickly to the commentaries. Maybe you do too. If you want to be an Effective Bible Teacher you ought to say, “I noticed as I meditated on this text. . .” more often than you say, “The commentaries say. . .”
In the writing world, we like to speak of the six writer’s friends. These are also the friends of Effective Bible Teachers:
You might read through the text six times with these questions in mind. First read with the “Who?” question in mind. Notice all the people in the passage. Ask, “What are they doing? What are they feeling? Why are they doing it? Where is this? When was this? How long ago?” Bombard the text with questions. Look for answers yourself before you depend on the commentaries.
This is not to say you shouldn’t consult the commentaries. Dr. Curtis Vaughn taught me Greek. I remember him talking about a preacher he heard once who said, “I have consulted no man’s books. I have looked at no man’s commentaries. I have not depended on the words of man. I have only consulted the Word of God in prayer for today’s sermon.” Sounds spiritual, doesn’t it?
He might as well have said, “I don’t really care what God has revealed to others about this text. I only care about what God has revealed to me.”
Here is an insight: you are not the smartest person, nor the most spiritual person to ever have studied the Word. To cut yourself off from the insights of spiritual giants down through the ages is just plain dumb. Your teaching and your people will suffer for it.
Again, we come to the word balance. Effective Bible Teachers prepare with a Bible in one hand and a commentary in the other.
Do your own study. Ask your own questions. Look for your own answers. Pray for your own insights. Then, read the best insights from others. What a wonderful word: both.
Study is about bombarding the text with questions and looking for answers—first your own answers, then the answers of others. The most important question is this:
Lord, what would you have me do about this passage?
Effective Bible Teachers are about making doers of the Word and not hearers only. They know it starts with them. Effective Bible Teachers often say, “As I studied this text, I was convicted that I need to. . .”
Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Effective Bible Teachers say the same. They set an example for their people to follow.
The example of obedience is current. It is this week. Your people want to know what Jesus is doing in your life this week. Effective Bible Teachers are being changed by the Word this week.
Effective Bible Teachers ask people to drink from a moving stream. God’s work in their life is current. The constant prayer of the Effective Bible teacher is, “Lord, what would you have me do in responsive obedience to Your Word?”
It can be no other way. Imagine the opposite. Imagine a teacher who spends four or five or six hours studying, digging, preparing and yet, is not changed by the Word. What hope do they have of seeing others’ lives changed?