What Makes a Quality Bible Study?
Involvement is the key to learning that lasts.
When's the last time you stole Bible learning from your teenagers? You wouldn't do this intentionally, but consider that the one who does the talking, searching, doodling, and presenting is the one who learns. How often have you reserved this privilege for yourself by studying during the week and then pouring out your knowledge to your pupils? Discover how to give this privilege back to your students by involving them with the Bible.
I don't see why we can't just teach the Bible. Why do we have to do all this method stuff? I'm for serious Bible study. Youth should be too.
For too many teachers, "serious Bible study" means lecture and verse by verse "what-does-this-mean-to-you" Bible study. These methods are valid, but they are not the only ways to be serious about Bible study.
Teach as Jesus Taught
I can think of no more serious teacher than Jesus Christ himself. Look at the variety of ways he taught, and invite him to show you how to teach as he taught:
- Jesus invited others to talk. "Who do people say that I am?" Jesus invited talking by moving from general to specific, from others' opinions to one's own. Perhaps this helped people grow comfortable before addressing tougher questions. Jesus then asked the personal question: "Who do you say I am?" (Matt. 16:13, 15).
- Jesus asked questions. Sometimes Jesus used questions to help people draw conclusions, such as when he spoke with the rich ruler about eternal life (Luke 18:18-29). Other times Jesus used questions to correct thinking, as when he talked with religious leaders about authority (Matt. 21:23-27). Jesus did not answer his own questions. Instead he used questions to lead his listeners toward truth.
- Jesus moved from the simple to the complex. When Jesus talked with the woman at the well he began with water, compared that water to eternal life, and finally explained the Messiah (John 4:1-26).
- Jesus demonstrated the value of each person. He spent time listening to and understanding people, regardless of their background. He went to their homes. He accepted Zacchaeus, the hated tax collector, when no one else would. Rather than judge him, Jesus let God's love transform him (Luke 19:2-10).
- Jesus compared spiritual truth to everyday experiences. Jesus frequently spoke in parables. These "earthly stories with heavenly meaning" made spiritual truth clear: "The kingdom of God…is like a mustard seed" (Luke 13:19).
- Jesus used assignments and challenges. He sent the disciples out in pairs to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God. Notice the specificity of his instructions in Luke 10:1-12. He later challenged his followers to share his gospel with the world (Matt. 28:18-20).
- Jesus taught by life example. He served by washing his disciples' feet (John 13:1-7). He taught baptism by being baptized (Matt. 3:13-17). He respected people by taking time for children (Matt. 19:13-15). He saw the good in each person by talking with ignored people (John 4:9).
- Jesus explained his examples. After washing his disciples' feet, Jesus urged his disciples to express the same loving action (John 13:12-17).
- Jesus gave evidence to end doubt. Doubt is frequently a plea for solid answers. So rather than scold Thomas for his religious questions, Jesus gave him the evidence he needed to believe (John 20:24-28).
- Jesus quoted Scripture (Bible memory). Jesus defeated Satan's temptation, and Satan's improper use of Scripture, with correctly used Bible quotations (Matt. 4:1-11).
- Jesus expressed emotion. He wept upon discovering Lazarus's death (John 11:35-36). He showed anger toward the money changers in the temple (Mark 11:15-17). He agonized over his approaching crucifixion (Luke 22:44).
- Jesus responded to emotion. Jesus responded to his mother's worry by explaining why he stayed in the temple (Luke 2:49). Jesus comforted his disciples by assuring them he would prepare a place for them (John 14:1-3). At the Last Supper Jesus tempered Peter's overconfidence by telling him what to do after failure (Luke 22:32).
- Jesus forgave. After Peter denied Jesus, Jesus forgave Peter and challenged him to feed his sheep (John 21:16).
- Jesus prayed for himself and his students. With tenderness, compassion, and understanding of their challenges, Jesus prayed for his disciples, for all his followers, and for himself (John 17).
- Jesus affirmed correct conclusions. When the high priest asked if Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus agreed that he was (Matt. 26:64).
- Jesus spent time with his students. He called twelve people to be his closest disciples (Mark 1:17-20). He talked with them while they traveled (Mark 11:20-25), rested with them (Mark 6:30-31), shared the Last Supper with them (Mark 14:12-26), and more. He also spent time teaching others who were interested in him (Mark 6:34-44).
- Jesus gave object lessons. Jesus used a coin to teach about taxes (Mark 12:16-17). He used the stones of magnificent buildings to explain the intensity of the end of the age (Mark 13:1-4). He used a fig tree to illustrate both faith and his return (Matt. 21:21, 24:30-36).
- Jesus used waiting and silence. Jesus calmed a potential catastrophe by waiting for would-be stoners to answer his question about sin (John 8:1-11). Jesus was silent before his accusers, perhaps realizing that words would do no good in that situation (Luke 23:9).
- Jesus promised the power of God. In John 14:1-3 Jesus told his believers they could depend on him to prepare a place for them in heaven. In Acts 1:8 he promised the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus gently but firmly corrected misunderstandings about God. He helped his disciples see that children weren't a bother to serious religion but a demonstration of it (Matt. 19:13-15). He rebuked his disciples when they spoke or acted wrongly (Mark 8:33).
- Jesus demonstrated truth. Jesus walked on water, which showed God's power over nature and fear (Matt. 14:22-33). He ate with sinners, which showed God wants closeness with everyone (Matt. 9:11-12).
- Jesus asked people to express their needs. Even though God already knew what people needed, Jesus asked them to voice their need (Matt. 20:29-34). This voicing led people to trust God to meet those needs.
- Jesus gave the bad news and then the good news. After describing the woes of cities who had not repented, Jesus explained the good that would happen for those who did turn to him (Matt. 11:20-30).
- Jesus gave specific instructions. After his resurrection and before he ascended to heaven, Jesus gave specific directions about where to wait for the Holy Spirit and what to do when he arrived (Acts 1:4-9).
- Jesus used case studies. He explained righteousness to the Pharisees with a story about two people in church (Luke 18:9-14). Another story began "There was a man who had two sons…" (Luke 15:11).
- Jesus drew and wrote. Jesus wrote in the sand while waiting for the accusers to decide which one of them had no sin (John 8:6-8).
- Jesus listened and encouraged others to listen. As a twelve-year-old he himself learned by listening to teachers in the temple (Luke 2:46). He reminded his followers to listen to understand (Matt. 15:10, 11:15, 13:18).
- Jesus made divine demands clear. He commanded demons to leave innocent people (Luke 4:35). He expected his followers to obey God (Luke 14:28). He explained that going to church wasn't enough, that we must let God change our everyday actions and attitudes (Matt. 23:27-28).
- Jesus admitted what he didn't know. Jesus told his disciples that only God the Father knows the day and hour of Jesus' return (Mark 13:32).
- Jesus used lecture very occasionally. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is the one long lecture of Jesus recorded in our Bible.
No matter how Jesus taught, he guided his pupils to discover, understand, and live his truth. He involved them in the learning experience.
What implications do Jesus' methods have for your teaching? How might you teach more like Jesus taught?
Search Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts 1:1-11 to study the way Jesus taught. Focus on Jesus as you plan Bible studies for your students.