Personal study time is costly, especially when there’s a flock to shepherd.
You might be a teacher, with lessons to prepare. You might be a mentor, with students who need direction. You might be a parent, with children who need constant nurture. You might simply be a friend, with confused or inquisitive companions who have questions about Christianity.
Whatever the case, your personal Bible study time perpetually drifts toward “teaching prep(aration)” time.
You can’t read a passage without envisioning how you would teach it. Your mind focuses on what might help your students. Your parental concern drives your application. Your study consists of finding answers to your friend’s latest questions.
Part of your struggle is really healthy. You should seek the good of others. Application of Scripture can go in two directions: personal growth and influential leadership. Many people focus on the former and exclude the latter. You have the opposite tendency.
God may have given you – and your teaching ability – as a gift to your church (Eph 4:11-14). Talk to your elders to see if they confirm the gift and have opportunities for you to exercise it more in the church.
Whatever you do, keep growing as a teacher, mentor, parent, and friend. Just because you’re good and gifted at something doesn’t mean you can’t get better at it. Hone that skill. Shape that passion. Refine it to the glory of God.
And don’t ever feel guilty by your inclination to help others. It does not make your Bible study any less personal or acceptable to God.
What’s Not So Good
However, part of your struggle might be pretty unhealthy. You may need to revisit your definition of how to teach or lead others.
Sometimes leaders feel the need to schedule separate time just for personal growth. They think, “I’m going to have time to study the Bible so I can learn from it – not just so I can teach it.”
But the failure here is not actually a failure to learn from the Bible. It’s a failure to understand how to teach the Bible.
You can’t teach the Bible effectively without first learning from it. And your teaching ought to embody your learning. The teaching and the learning are not and cannot be exclusive to each other (as though you can do one without the other).
Look at some of Paul’s ministry methods:
- He committed himself to sharing not only the gospel of God, but his own life, with his people (1 Thess 2:8).
- His own example was his most influential persuasion (1 Cor 10:31-11:1).
- His teaching affected him personally long before he expected it to affect others (Gal 1:11-2:10).
- He taught only what he had learned. His own life – not just his ideas – provided the model to shape his students (Phil 4:9).
- He didn’t hesitate to use both his strengths and weaknesses as illustrations of God’s grace (2 Cor 11:16-12:10).
- He wouldn’t ask someone to do something unless he had been there and done it first. And he didn’t mind drawing attention to it if it would motivate the student (2 Tim 2:1-2, 4:1-8).
What do these things mean for our teaching?
First, don’t feel guilty if your “teaching prep” time invades your “personal study” time. Your teaching prep should include personal study and application, so why not combine the tasks?
Second, when you teach other people (whether formally or informally), share how the principles have affected your life. People need more than ideas; they need role models. When God wanted to teach us, he became one of us and lived out his teaching among us. We ought to follow his example.
Unless people see how you’ve learned what you teach, your teaching won’t have any bite. Your principles will sound like platitudes. Your education will feel empty. Your recommendations will ring hollow. Your learnedness will lose its luster.
I’ve seen it happen over and over. I’m counseling someone on an issue, and it doesn’t “click” for them until I share how I’ve struggled with the same issue. My children respond best when they understand that I need to grow in Christ as much as they do. My small group’s application discussion hits 5th gear after I’ve shared my own failures and my hope in the grace of Christ.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s the most difficult part of my “teaching prep,” as it requires me to hope in Christ and not my performance.
But I’ve got to share my life with those I lead. My effectiveness depends upon it.