Principles for Teaching an Effective Bible Study


In the first article, we explored three principles for starting an effective Bible Study. Once the preparation work has been completed and the study begins, it is time to focus on the preeminent priority—teaching the Bible. To quickly grasp the importance of Scripture in the life of God’s people, consider these words from the Apostle Paul:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Tim 3:16-17

The truths that must be learned, the correction that must be received, and the training in righteousness that must occur in order for God’s children to be sufficiently equipped for every good work all flows from Scripture. This article will explore four principles for teaching an effective Bible study so that the teacher and the people in attendance may receive the truth, correction, and training God intends for them to receive.

Principle #1 — Select Your Starting Point
Effective Bible teaching must have a definite starting point. This is a simple step for expositional teaching. In this case, a teacher will often select a book of the Bible and start at the beginning. Each subsequent lesson will pick up where the previous lesson left off until the book is completed.

Topical teaching is a little more difficult when it comes to locating your starting point. The Bible is rich with wisdom and truth from God on every topic. Therefore, the teacher must be diligent in determining which Bible passages, in their appropriate context, are most needed to inform the thinking of believers on that given topic.

God’s sheep need to hear God’s truth, not the teacher’s thoughts.

It is important to note that topical teaching can be just as effective as expositional teaching in preparing the saints for every good work. However, there is at least one potential danger that must be addressed. The temptation for a teacher to search the Scriptures for a passage that supports a pre-determined point that they want to make on a topic must be resisted at all costs. Approaching the Bible this way can lead to eisegesis (reading into Scripture) rather than achieving true exegesis (reading out from Scripture). God’s sheep need to hear God’s truth, not the teacher’s thoughts. Instead, passages that deal with specific topics should each be examined in their context to determine what it is that God has to say about a given issue.

Principle #2 — Determine the Main Point
Effective Bible teaching must have a definite main point. The main point is the foundational argument that the teacher is striving to make through his lesson. If the main point is weak or absent, or if there are too many main points, the lesson will lack effectiveness. That does not mean that a lesson won’t have many implications or application—it’s likely they will—but a definite main point is crucial to teaching an effective Bible study and helping people grasp biblical teaching.

Thankfully, teachers are not left to their own devices when determining a main point. By the grace of God, the arguments of biblical authors writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit have been preserved in Scripture! An effective lesson will have a main point, or main argument, that most clearly reflects the author’s intent.

Here are some practical thoughts to consider when crafting and communicating a main point:

  • The main point should be communicated early — A listener’s attention is most focused at the beginning of a lesson.
  • The main point should be a summary of the entire passage in view — A main point must cover the entire passage in view, otherwise listeners will end up with questions about verses you didn’t intend to cover. A simple solution in this case would be to present the listeners with a smaller passage and refer to the larger context in your lesson if needed.
  • The main point should be repeated — Appropriate repetition of the main point will help listeners remember it better!
  • The main point should be age appropriate — Consideration of the intended audience will help you determine the length, word choice, and concepts that should be included for maximum retention.
  • The main point should be your primary argument — When you teach, you are presenting truth claims from Scripture. To reject an accurate main point derived from Scripture is to reject what God requires of men and women.
  • The main point should be viewed as a responsibility for the hearer — Every person who hears a truth claim is responsible to search the Scriptures and determine whether the truth claim being presented is in keeping with God’s truth.
  • The main point should be an exhortation — When crafted effectively, a main point will not just present biblical truth but call men and women to observe it obediently, whether that obedience is to do something or believe something.

Principle #3 — Stick to the Structure
Effective Bible teaching must possess a definite structure and stick to it. Those who know and love Scripture will affirm the reality that there is an infinite number of observations and insights that can be obtained from God’s Word. Thankfully, God has gifted his children with an eternity to increase in the knowledge of who He is! But the practical fact that Bible teaching occurs in venues where teachers set an approximate time limit and show restraint and discernment in which details they select to communicate.

Building a strong structure and sticking to it is one of the best tools a teacher has to stay focused on the task at hand: pressing the truth of the passage upon the hearts of the listeners. It is also necessary to help listeners understand how the details of each verse will relate to the passage as a whole. Consider the following illustration. Imagine that the details in a passage are like various articles of clothing a person might wear. A lesson without a structure is like providing a person with various pieces of clothing and then instructing them to organize them in a closet space without any cabinets, shelves, or hanging space. All of the information becomes overwhelming because there is nothing to attach it to or organize it with. But a lesson with a definite structure provides the same person with an assortment of clothes and a closet specially built to organize and store every article.

So how does a person create a robust structure that flows from Scripture and supports the author’s primary argument (articulated in your main point)? This is where two types of outlines are helpful: an exegetical outline and a homiletical outline. Simply defined, an exegetical outline provides a summary of ‘what the text says’, and the homiletical provides the structure of ‘how one communicates what the text says.’ When both outlines are well crafted, it maximizes the effectiveness of teaching.

Principles in Practice
For those who are interested to see what this might look like in practice, consider the following example from 1 Peter 3:1-12.

Starting Point — In an expositional study of 1 Peter, the previous lesson left off at 1 Peter 3:1. After thorough study, it is determined that the passage for the next lesson will be 1 Peter 3:1-12.

Main Point — Win one another God’s way because you have been called and empowered to do so for His glory.

Simple Exegetical Outline:

  • Peter exhorts wives to be subject to their own husbands (1-6)
  • Peter exhorts husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way and show them honor (7)
  • Peter exhorts believers to refrain from evil and do good to one another (8-12)

Simple Homiletical Outline:

  • Win your husband (1-6)
  • Win your wife (7)
  • Win your fellow believer (8-12)

In conclusion, effective Bible teaching is challenging, but not impossible! With the right tools, a person can grow in their ability to teach Scripture in a way that honors the Lord and accomplishes its God-given purpose.

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