Teaching a scripture passage to those who have studied it is far more demanding than teaching one to those who have not studied it. I hope that by giving homework to Bible study participants, it will challenge their thinking enough that by the time they hear me teach, they won’t take my word for it. Knowing that they will think critically about my teaching holds me accountable to avoid seven common teaching pitfalls.
1. Jump everywhere
Have you ever sat down to hear a teaching on a key text, only to have the teacher briefly read the passage before spending forty minutes ricocheting through the entire Bible? A student who has spent a week analyzing a chapter of Ephesians will not be satisfied if the teacher uses the key text merely as a launching pad. She will want to dwell on it, as it should. She will have discovered that the text in question deserved forty minutes of undistracted group time, that those forty minutes would probably not be enough to resolve her questions on that text alone.
Good teaching will necessarily involve the use of cross-references, but not to the detriment of the primary text. We teachers are prone to wander, especially when our main text is difficult. The teacher who strives to develop Bible literacy must stay put. Its main purpose is not to show how the key text relates to a thousand other passages, but to teach the key text so thoroughly that it will automatically come to mind when a student encounters similar themes elsewhere. in his study.
2. Feminize the text
Women who teach the Bible to women are constantly faced with the temptation to take a passage and give it a feminine meaning. Every time we take a passage that is meant to educate people and teach it as if it were specifically for women, we run the risk of feminizing a text.
That’s not to say we can’t look for gender-specific application points in a text that speaks to both genders. Rather, we must guard against offering an interpretation and application that robs the text of its original intent by focusing too exclusively on a gender framework. The book of ruth is not a book about women for women, any more than the book of Jude is a book about men for men. The Bible is a book about God, written for people. By all means, teach Psalm 139 about women and body image, but resist the urge to teach it exclusively that way. It is not the teacher’s job to make the Bible relevant or acceptable to women. It is his job to teach the text responsibly. A female teacher will sometimes bring a different perspective to the text than a male teacher because of her gender, but not always. A student who has spent time in the text before hearing the teaching on it will know when the text is feminized.
3. Wild extrapolation
In the interest of “bringing the text to life”, teachers sometimes succumb to the temptation to add a little paint to the edges of the canvas of scripture. I admit it is interesting to speculate on the unrecorded thoughts and motives of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It may even be beneficial up to a certain point. But at some point, it goes from being useful to being entertaining, and potentially being extra-biblical.
If you’ve ever watched a movie adaptation of a familiar Bible story, you’ll understand this point – the more literate you are about what the Bible actually says about the Exodus, the less you’ll be able to appreciate Cecil B. DeMille’s extrapolation. . Imagining beyond the text has great appeal to an audience, but limited appeal to a student. Familiarity with a text before hearing it taught transforms the participant from audience member to student. A student who has spent a week immersed in the text you teach will know when you go off script.
4. Overreliance on storytelling or humor
In order to be relatable and engaging, teachers use storytelling and humor as rhetorical devices. It’s not false. Humor and storytelling humanize the teacher, help keep listeners engaged, and make teaching points memorable. It is not acceptable for a teacher to be irrelevant, boring or forgettable. But it’s also not acceptable for a teacher to become overly dependent on humor and storytelling, or to use them in a way that manipulates or distracts from the lesson. If they don’t reinforce the teaching, they will undermine it.
If someone were to break down your teaching into a pie chart, how much of the pie would these two elements take up? If you asked your students to tell you one thing they remember from your lesson, would they remember a key point or a fun story? Audiences love humor and stories, whether they support the message or not. Students love sound content made more memorable by a well-placed illustration or quip. A well-prepared student will know whether their teacher is using these rhetorical devices as filler or reinforcement.
5. Bowing to emotion
When I read the scriptures aloud from the platform, I frequently cry. I don’t know why, other than that, I find the truths of the text deeply moving. It used to frustrate me, but the Lord shows me that Bible teaching must involve the emotions. In other words, Bible teaching should awaken in both teacher and student a deeper love for God, a love that deeply affects our emotions. Loving God with our mind should result in loving God with our heart deeply and purely.
We run into problems when we intentionally target people’s emotions in an effort to create a shared experience. It’s tempting to create a lesson that starts with a joke and ends with a heartbreaking story. Why? Because it’s a rhetorical formula that works. Sometimes listeners confuse being inspired by the Holy Spirit to be manipulated by a well-crafted human message.
Loving God with our mind should result in loving God with our heart deeply and purely.
How can we tell the difference? It’s not always easy, but here’s a thought: The emotional manipulator will increase your love for her as much or more as it increases your love for god. A teacher’s job is to draw attention to the beauty of the text, not to create a moving shared experience. His job is to exalt the God of the Bible, not to build a personality cult. A well-prepared student is less susceptible to emotional manipulation.
6. Overloading teaching
One of the biggest challenges in crafting a lesson is knowing what content to include and what to omit. It takes time to develop an idea of how much content you can reasonably cover in your teaching time. Initially, most teachers make the mistake of preparing too much. This can lead to getting bogged down in a sea of grades or keeping your students on much longer than expected. Most people don’t like drinking from a fire hose, so while it’s normal to have more notes than you can teach, it’s important to have a contingency plan. of what you will cut if time is short.
Again, the teacher whose students have already spent time in the key text has an advantage. The understanding work they have already invested frees you to explore interpretation and application without having to lay down in-depth groundwork. You extend and strengthen their understanding, rather than starting from scratch. A well-prepared student will not need overloaded teaching time.
7. Play the expert
No one likes feeling stupid, let alone the teacher. As a result, teachers are sometimes reluctant to admit the limits of their knowledge. Be honest about your limits: It’s okay for the teacher to say, “I don’t know.” In fact, it can reassure your students. Practice full disclosure when more than one interpretation is widely accepted for a passage. Give an honest answer that acknowledges different points of view. This gives your students the opportunity to think about which view best fits their own reading of the text. A well-prepared student knows that a difficult passage requires caution. She will know if you have given a simple answer to a complex question. It’s far better to be honest about your confidence (or lack of confidence) in a particular interpretation.
The best part of teaching women a text they have already studied is that it holds the teacher accountable for not “stealing” it. The prepared student may spot shallow preparation on the part of the teacher. Asking more of my students from the start means that my students can and should ask me more during teaching.
Content adapted from Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. This article first appeared on Crossway.org; used with permission.