Teacher Tips by Jerry Bowling

Discussion-based teaching methods can be a vital tool in the Bible teacher’s repertoire​—but only if the teacher knows the why and how of their use. When unskilled, undirected discussion takes place in the Bible classroom, the result is often merely a common pooling of ignorance and/or a “what it means to me” approach to Scripture that bypasses the original intent of the author. But that need not happen!

The Why

Bible-class leaders who are skillful at using discussion methods cultivate openness and vulnerability in ways that lecture methods simply cannot. As the teacher figuratively steps down from a lecture-based position of authority, the vulnerability he or she reveals in discussion-based classes encourages openness and vulnerability on the part of learners as well.

Lecture-based methods focus almost exclusively on the transmission of facts. Discussion-based methods take this a step further by exploring how those scriptural facts and truth can and do interact with “real life.” Discussion methods help learners process their experiences as they explore successes and failures in connecting their inner lives with the Bible. In short, discussion-based teaching supports internalization of spiritual values as those values drive behavior.

The How

Discussion-based teaching requires that teachers be prepared to focus Bible lessons on the context of life today, particularly the “gray areas.” For example, the scriptural prohibitions against stealing and lying are clear enough (Exodus 20:15; Leviticus 19:11; Ephesians 4:25, 28; etc.). But what counts as “stealing” in the everyday gray areas of life? For example, if I make a one-minute personal phone call while at work, have I stolen from my employer? Or if I exaggerate or slightly misrepresent facts in a conversation to spare the feeling of a friend, have I sinned? As gray-area issues are wrestled with, learners realize they are not alone in such struggles.

One way the teacher encourages such discussion is by creating space where students can feel safe talking about their inner values that drive their outward behavior. No one is pressured to do so, of course. But the teacher who does so personally sets the example for learners to do so as well.

Confronting fear about changing methods is perhaps the hardest step for a teacher to take in making a successful transition into using discussion methods. Teachers need to address any resistance or reluctance they may have about their willingness to do so. Bible teachers do well to remember that learning entails change and that the prospect of such change is particularly intimidating for some to undertake.

Praying for God’s wisdom (James 1:5) is the best place to begin stretching beyond the comfortable and familiar. And God may be calling you to do just that!

The limited space here does not allow fullest discussion of how-tos. Many additional ideas in this regard are easily found on the internet.

Reflecting on Your Role as Teacher

Adopting a discussion method will require you to reflect on your role as teacher. A critical competency for teaching via discussion is that you will be assisting learners to take responsibility and become self-directing in maturing spiritually as you model that yourself. You will model not only expertise in Bible content, but also an interpersonal “fellow struggler” rapport with your learners.

Jerry Bowling, “Teaching by Discussion,” in The NIV Standard Lesson Commentary, 2020–2021, ed. Ronald L. Nickelson, Jane Ann Kenney, and Margaret K. Williams, vol. 27 (Colorado Springs, CO: Standard Publishing, 2020–2021), 120.