Good application comes from good doctrine. Don’t be intimidated by this. The fact is, there’s nothing more practical than clear-headed thinking about theology. We all have a theology, a set of beliefs about God; they might as well be the right beliefs. The book of Ephesians is a great example of combining solid doctrine with application— chapters 1-3 cover the theology; chapters 4-6 move on to the practical application of that theology.
As I’ve said, we need how-to in our lessons. It’s something that’s all too absent from a lot of teaching in small groups and Sunday Schools today. But if you want to build people of faith, confidence, optimism and high self-esteem, don’t start with how-to. Start with good theology. Show people what’s worth believing about God, then show them how to live it out.
Talk about how God is all-loving and unconditionally accepting. Talk about the fact that we’re sinners and that God loves us and wants to deliver us from that sin. Once we know those truths, we can move on to applying those truths to our lives.
If we want to help people with their finances, we don’t start by teaching them how to buy financial software. We start with God. We first teach that God owns everything and has made us to be stewards of the things he’s given us. We talk about how the purpose of money—and of everything else God gives us—is to glorify God. We talk about what the Bible says about the poor. We talk about giving. Then, when the foundation is laid, we move on to practical steps on how to manage money.
Likewise, if you want to teach people about service, don’t start with a spiritual-gifts test. Talk about how God is a worker. Jesus said, “My Father is always working, and so am I” (John 5:17). Work is good. Work predates the fall. It was never intended to be a punishment, but to give us purpose. Then, introduce the idea that when we’re working near the sweet spot of our gifting, we find fulfillment and joy in life. Lay the theological foundation, and then get practical.
Always end with “so what?” Remember these three letters: YBH (Yes, but how?) Remember my question: What do you want us to do about what we heard today?
Josh Hunt. (2010). Make Your Group Grow.