10 Truths for (Being Awesome at) Teaching the Bible
I had the opportunity to lead a discussion with a room of folks who are passionate about being better at preaching and teaching the Bible. I wanted to give a framework for some thoughts I have collected over the years about preaching and teaching. And so I organized a list of 10 truths that I believe will help you be an excellent preacher and teacher of the Word. It helped spark a really solid discussion, and so I wanted to share them here as well.
Here are ten truths for being super awesome at teaching the Bible.
Truth 1: We preach out of the overflow of what God is doing in our lives.
One of the biggest traps a teacher can fall into is that sermon/lesson prep replaces their personal time of spiritually connecting with God. You can’t get water from a dry well. If you’re dry spiritually, you don’t have much to offer your people. The most critical element of powerful Bible teaching is a life lived close to God. E. M. Bounds once said, “Dead men give out dead sermons, and dead sermons kill. Everything depends on the spiritual character of the [teacher].”
Truth 2: Scripture well-taught is culture proof.
Every couple of years you read it online or hear it in a podcast. Someone will say “You know, as a medium, the sermon is just kind of culturally dead. They just aren’t relevant anymore.” Why do you think people say this? I believe in an age of short attention spans, incredibly high-quality visual entertainment, and an endless supply of options to choose from, some people are prone to feel like solid Bible teaching can't compete. But a well-taught, Scripture-rich, theologically sound Bible study is still the primary way for the church to consume God's Word collectively
God’s Word isn’t like the media we consume. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Does Peter’s sermon at Pentecost still ring true? How about Spurgeon? What about the sermons of Edwards? SM Lockridge? Billy Graham? They still hold power because they are God’s Word communicated well. Scripture, well-taught, is immune to the changing tide of culture.
Truth 3: The Word is better coming out of your mouth if it has passed through your heart.
One of the most significant casualties of the fast-paced world we live in is time to let the word marinate. We are overcommitted and overstimulated. But the Word that has passed through our heart, a word that we have had time to think about, to turn it around and look at it from all angles, to wrestle with, is a word that is seasoned. Stott very famously said, “The best sermons we ever preach to others are those we have first preached to ourselves.” Before you teach the Bible to your students, allow it time to impact you as well.
Truth 4: You build your reputation by what you do “on the stage.” But you can destroy it by what you do off of it.
Great teachers can be undone by who they are off the stage., or away from the front of the group. I'm not talking about moral failures, though that is undoubtedly true. I'm talking about your personality. Your attitude. How you interact with people. I know average preachers and teachers who are such likable people that what they say in front of the room is more effective because of who they are away from it. Work to build relationships outside of your time of preaching and teaching.
Truth 5: Bible teaching that doesn’t call for a response leads to hardened hearts.
When God commissioned Isaiah, one of the critiques of Israel was that they had heard God, but didn't understand. They saw, but they didn't perceive. God said the people's hearts had become hardened. God was all around them, had coursed through their history as a people. But they had stopped responding to Him. They had taken Him for granted and had become hardened to Him.
When people encounter God and don’t respond, their hearts become hardened to God. When this happens over and over again, you find yourself with a group full of people who have become apathetic to the things of God. Our teaching should always be concerned with calling people to a response of some sort. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 says, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
Truth 6: Preaching and teaching is hard work. If it weren't, everyone would do it.
Can we just acknowledge that preaching and teaching the Bible is hard work? Paul understood this. In Colossians 1:28-29 Paul said, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” If preaching/teaching isn’t hard, you may not be doing it right. And yet, and yet! There is nothing like it! What a privilege it is to bring the Word to our students. But if you don’t feel a burden for teaching, if it feels mundane or boring, if you don’t put great care into what you are teaching, I would strongly encourage you to reevaluate your efforts and your commitment to teaching.
Truth 7: You must assume the majority of your audience is biblically illiterate.
Study after study shows us that the overwhelming majority of Christians live detached from the practice of regular Bible reading. We can’t assume our students know the stories of the Bible. We can't assume they know the big-picture narrative. We can't assume they know the genres of Scripture, and so on. We must preach and teach as if they are blank canvases. We must consider what it means to build biblical literacy as we teach.
Truth 8: Humor in a sermon or lesson is like your mother-in-law: a little goes a long way. Too much may kill you.
If you’re funny, be funny. But be wise about it. If you’re not funny, don’t try to be. But you don’t have to be Debbie Downer either. It is more desirable to be winsome than funny. Smile as you teach. Be warm. Look for conversational humor, but don't push it. And don't act like you're auditioning for your next stand-up act.
Truth 9: Poor teachers copy. Great teachers steal.
Please, don’t tweet this without context. LOL! There is a famous phrase: “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” What does this mean? It means this: anyone can copy someone else. Any can imitate someone else. A lazy preacher or teacher copies the style of someone they admire. Worse yet, they use their words. This is terrible. Anyone can copy. But a great artist “steals.” A great artist looks at the heart behind a work of art. Or a specific technique. Or the sense of composition. They look at it, they are inspired by it, and they take it and remix it and rework it and reinterpret it . . . They take the concept, and they make it their own. And when it has become truly theirs, they have stolen it.
Great preachers and teachers steal. And so you don’t look at Keller, or Piper, or Beth Moore, or Matt Chandler, or Robert Smith, and copy them. Look at them and be inspired by aspects of their preaching. Their delivery. Their cadence. The mannerisms. Be inspired by them. And then take an element of their teaching and rework it until you have made it your own. Until you have “stolen” it. Learn from others. But don’t copy them.
Truth 10: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
Colossians 3:16 says “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The Word must dwell in us and our Bible teaching. Chuck Swindoll once said, “If I ever wrote a book on preaching, it would contain three words: Preach the Word. Get rid of all the other stuff that gets you sidetracked; preach the Word.” Teach the word. Our best illustrations may inspire, but they won't transform. Our funniest jokes may entertain, but they have no power to wake someone’s soul up from slumber. Our thoughts and views on Scripture are important, but they are not Holy and life-giving.
Teach the word. And grow in your ability to do so. Hopefully, this article helped. And if it did, I'd love to hear from you.