Styles of Teaching the Bible

Recently I was asked advice on teaching the Bible and also to share my experiences. So I thought I would also make it into a web page to share with the general Christian community.

I've been doing a variety of things in ministry, as I infer the Spirit leading me. But of course we shouldn't make too much of programs or techniques as all we really need is fives loaves and two fish and let God do the rest. Nonetheless there are certain tools and techniques I've found helpful as the need arises.

Within the last few years I've been involved with some churches and a Bible study group on an institutional level. I was involved with the Boston Chinese Bible Study Group leading the English group and occasionally lecturing to the assembly. The group dynamics there were oriented towards being discussion oriented, so the leading called for more or less a facilitating role as opposed to a preaching role. This led to the development of the BCBSR web site where I developed those "Small Group Bible Study Guides", with the discussion questions. (Originally the acronymn BCBSR meant "The Boston Chinese Bible Study Resources" - which were made for the BCBSG)

Discussion Oriented Studies

Discussion oriented studies are quite challenging to lead properly.

The advantage of such a study is that people generally learn faster and develop deeper convictions from a study if they are allowed to participate. And when there is concensus on applications and ideas from the Bible within the group, this tends to further affirm personal convictions as well. And also because of the different points of view, a fuller sense of the applications and concepts in the Bible may be brought out in such a group.  Furthermore, people get to know better how one another thinks and thus such studies can develop a deeper sense of fellowship and an increased awareness of one another's needs.

The disadvantage is that discussions easily can get off track, missing the point. Or they can become dominated by someone who likes to talk alot or by someone with a strong personality. And because of inexperience with the Word of God they can come to wrong conclusions, if they are unable to confirm their conclusions by cross referencing to other parts of the Bible, or other such hermeneutic techniques.

Leading such a study requires allowing a degree of independence to the group, letting it go where the discussion leads, bringing it back if it gets too far off track.  The discussion questions are the most important aspect of leading such a study. They direct they study.

Discussion questions must not be simple, stupid questions. Too many such studies are available, which have been made up by institutional leaders who hold an elitist "stupid sheep" mentality towards ordinary Christians. I find that if you ask a stupid "yes" "no" question in such a group you'll have a hard time getting an answer. For what you've managed to do is simply insult their intelligence and whoever answers is humiliated into taking the role of a stupid sheep. Ask intelligent questions. Even if they find them hard to answer, at least they will have the sense that they are being treated like mature adults, and it will challenge their thinking.

Secondly, ask application oriented questions. If a Bible study has no application, then it has no relevance to real life. The sort of faith we want to promote is not simply a mental agreement to ideas, but an application oriented faith.

Allow arguments to a degree. Keep them civil and make sure that they are not simply about armchair theology, but rather concerning an application oriented issue. (That should prevent alot of Calvinist - Arminian type of arguments) Arguments are going to step on people's pride, but then again at times people's pride needs to be stepped on if they are going to progress towards the truth. Naturally the immature will have a hard time tolerating conflicts. But to feign "unity" by shutting everyone down and denying the expression of any conflicts destroys the spirit of the discussion as well. So too much control is a bad thing in such a group, as well as too little control. Thus the leader will have to also play the role of mediator, trying to make sure that each side has their view clearly communicated. And while naturally he may take one side, or even disagree with both sides, the leader must make sure that no one is being demonized or slandered. For it is quite typical, even for leaders, to demonize and slander their opponents, misrepresenting their points of views, in order to win the argument. "Humility" in leadership is essential.


As I mentioned, I also was involved in lecturing. I lectured on occasion at the BCBSG and I also led a couple of Sunday School classes as the Greater Boston Chinese Bible Church and at the Chinese International Baptist Church, also in a lecture format. And even had occasion to preach a couple of sermons at the CIBC.

The advantage of the lecture format is that ideas can be more efficiently communicated, in accordance with the thinking of the lecturer. This is the most common form of "teaching" that the Christian community is exposed to, as they get lectured at by the pastor every Sunday.

The disadvantage is that the listeners take a passive role, and thus it becomes more difficult to motivate them to action. Is it better to teach someone to play football by watching a football game, or by playing football? Each has it's place.

There also the cultural issue. In the US the greatest problems teachers face is simply keeping their attention. The most difficult place to teach in the world is the US. Culturally we tend to be quite independent and free in our thinking, which has it's advantages as well as disadvantages. And Americans generally have little respect for authority. But this has led to the development of great teachers as they had to win a hearing and earn respect rather than simply relying on their position.

I've had it relatively easy in comparison, being involved in the Chinese community, in which people tend to respect the role of "teacher" more so than others. But such cultures tend to have the opposite problems. American teachers go abroad and will try and lead a class by asking questions. But others aren't used to that. Furthermore there's the problem of lack of feedback. If people aren't allowed or really don't want to give feedback due to cultural reasons, then there may be a lack of communication. For how do you know if you've actually communicated the message if you don't get feedback. Even communication between computers allows for feedback or acknowledgment to confirm the message was received. (There's something to be learned by that!)

In Lecturing, the most important thing of all is to TELL THE TRUTH. It is irrelevant if a person is a confident, entertaining speaker, if he doesn't tell the truth.

Secondly the teacher should FOCUS ON TRUTHS THAT ARE MOST EDIFYING. There are many things which are true, but it's probably best not to give a baby on a T-bone steak!

Thirdly the teacher should MAKE IT EASY TO UNDERSTAND for those listening with the right spirit. If you invite people to a steak dinner, they shouldn't be expected to come over and kill the cow and prepare the meal themselves. Futhermore, I propose that if a person cannot clearly make their ideas easily understood then I question whether they themselves really understand such "ideas".

HOWEVER, I say "listening with the right spirit", for there are those who simply may never come to really understand even simple Biblical concepts because of their preconceived notions of how things should be. Thus using allegorical illustrations in the Oriental style that Jesus also made use of in his teachings are easy to understand for "they who have ears to hear", while others are appropriately kept in the dark.

This distinction become particularly evident in evangelistic studies. I've been in many studies where the leader coereced non-Christians into agreeing with a simple 4-spiritual laws type of presentation of the gospel and had them "pray to receive Christ", whereas it's been clear to me that many such people responded by doing so only to be polite, or merely experimenting with Christianity. But to communicate and teach about the kind of faith that Jesus and the Apostles spoke of goes beyond simply getting people to "agree" with certain propositions. As teachers we have to communicate with the person's spirit as well as their mind. And so Jesus made use of allegories, for example, to do so.

And fourthly, as I mentioned before, to MAKE IT APPLICATION ORIENTED. It seems too many lectures are either out of touch with where people are at in their lives, or they purposely avoid applications so as to avoid controversy. For Christian's true convictions are revealed by how they actually apply the Bible. As I said before - No application, No relevance. Better to sleep through it!

Individual Discipleship

Another type of ministry I've been involved with throughout this time has also been individual discipleship. (Think "both/and" rather than "either/or") Meeting with someone one-on-one or one-on-two communicates the value of the individual. But it should not be used exclusively. For you want them to be involved with body of Christ in a broader way, as Ephesians 4 speaks of. This relationships offers one perspective, but being individual it tends to go deeper. So in teaching there's always the tradeoff between narrow and deep or broad and shallow. This is true both of content and relationships. For these Bible studies I usually end up meeting at other people's home, so as to make it most convenient for them.

As a guideline I tend to start people off on the gospel using the Jesus of Nazareth Video series, followed by Romans and then the Peter and Paul video, and then 1st John followed by 1st Corinthians. There's over a year's worth of studies. For the video series I had to develop my own written studies, which I hope to make into web pages in the future. I tried to get people into scripture memory, but most are simply too lazy. But for myself I thank God that I was discipled by Christians who were serious about scripture memory. The two things that had the greatest impact on my Christian maturity were being individually discipled and memorizing scripture.

Subtle Influence

Whereas the former had to do with a role as leader, Christians may seldom find themselves in that role. So what's a Christian to do? Unfortunately institutional programs do not tend to be oriented towards each one contributing. But such programs should be modeled after Ephesians 4:2-16, which ends "From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." But in most institutional churches "each" is not allowed to do its work. Therefore working within such programs, Christians have to find subtle ways in which to do their work. But this requires programs that allow a degree of freedom - at least a degree of discussion.

For example, this past year having changed churches I've been attending their weekly Bible study group - evangelistic. There is a little different strategy in being a participant rather than a recognized leader. But one should not underestimate the potential influence one can have as God works through each one of us often in subtle ways to influence others.

Some suggestions in developing influence in such discussions:

Faithfully attend and stay for a long term
Develop a Reputation for taking the Bible seriously and handling it correctly,
applying it in ways that are edifying.
Be concise as possible. Don't talk too long. Don't dominate.

As you develop your reputation, you may become popular. But this can lead to pride, which leads to humiliation and is counterproductive. Rather as you develop a reputation, others may ask you questions and want you to speak more. Be concise in answering. At some point you may be perceived either as a threat to the leader or the leader himself may ask you to lead. In any case, you want to give deference to the leader on an institutional level, supporting the program and his direction, even though you may disagree doctrinally with them to an extent.

I'm presently attending a church that has some doctrines that are far from my own beliefs, and while I've openly disagree with such teachings at times, most of my efforts have been affirming the things we do agree on. The affect of this have been that those other teachings have become deemphasized, slowly fading away. Realize that while people can change their thinking relatively quickly, institutions cannot and will not. If a quick change is demanded, a spit occurs and new institutions form. Otherwise institutions take a long time to change and their changes are more of a fading in and out rather than sudden dramatic shifts.

Spend your Reputation. A reputation can be like money which buys influence. There are those who hoard it for themselves and get caught up in popularity, and there are those who invest it buying influence. In speaking on things which are controversial or things that may humiliate people, but which are necessary to people's growth, many will not seriously consider your opinion unless you have won a hearing with them. But having done so, they are more open to listen. Or the other way to do it is to speak first and later on pay for it, so that although they may not listen to you at first, later on as you build a reputation they may reconsider what you said.

We see Jesus in John 6 spending his reputation. After doing the miracle of multiplying the loaves, he had a great following. But having gotten people's attention he then told them hard things that turned many off and many turned away from following him. It's just part of the ministry.

Those are some ideas.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources