“You can’t win a golf tournament on Thursday, but you can lose it.”
Professional golf tournaments stretch over four days (usually Thursday through Sunday), so a strong opening round is essential. But without excellent play through the weekend, a player has no shot at the trophy. He needs a good start, but he needs more.
A Sunday school class is a great venue for teaching Bible study skills. But direct instruction like this, while necessary, is only the beginning of lifelong training.
Imagine an aspiring novelist who attends an intense, week-long workshop, complete with all the instruction, feedback, and discussion one could want. A wise writer won’t just lean on this experience; he’ll use this learning, along with inspiration and ideas from ongoing reading, as he works toward a final product.
Over the long term, we all need reminders and examples of good Bible study. So whenever we teach the Bible, we should model and pass along Bible study skills.
How to Model Bible Study Skills
Most churches have numerous openings for Bible teaching: Sunday school classes, Wednesday night studies, even weekend seminars. To build a Bible study culture in our churches, we must take advantage of every opportunity.
When a teacher is intentional, modeling Bible study skills is neither difficult nor time consuming. Here are five suggestions.
1. Practice sound Bible study skills.
The other suggestions on this list are worthless if you’re not studying the Bible using a solid method. Teachers are an example of how to think about, understand, and apply the Bible. By God’s grace, make sure you’re an example worth following. (Start here if you need help learning to study the Bible.)
2. Choose your language.
Develop a “local language” around Bible study at your church so everyone knows what you’re talking about. On this blog we advocate the Observation, Interpretation, Application (OIA) method of Bible study, but the specific words you use aren’t important so long as the meaning is clear.
When teaching the Bible, discuss your observations about the text and use that word. Talk through the different interpretations that came up in your study. And so on. Repeating these words will remind the class about the different phases of Bible study.
3. Structure your teaching around Bible study principles.
If you want discussion in your class, use the structure provided by the different aspects of Bible study. Ask broadly for observations from the text, then start a conversation about repeated words, comparisons, connector words, etc.
4. Recommend resources.
When modeling Bible study skills, the resources you recommend to your class are a powerful tool for Bible study instruction.
You might prepare a sheet for students to use for notes during class. Construct something simple with Bible study principles in mind. When I taught 1 Corinthians last fall, I emphasized the main point of a passage and subsequent applications. I designed my class handout with this in mind.
Additionally, consider recommending other resources on Bible study to interested students. There are many excellent websites and books on Bible study, including the Knowable Word book by Peter Krol (founder of this website). When people are looking to read and get training on their own, you can give them reliable places to turn.
5. Provide homework.
Some students in your class will be eager for extra work, and some…will not. Be careful to structure your class so no one is excluded.
Make a special effort to connect with the people who are hungry to learn, study, and grow. Your assignments may offer just the extra boost they need.
If you can work a week ahead in your class preparation, distribute a sheet of questions for your students to ponder between meetings. As they think about the relevant Bible text, your handout can guide them through the stages of Bible study.
If you aren’t this far ahead in your planning, encourage the class to study the upcoming passage on their own. Provide them with a few general Bible study guidelines, and urge those who are interested to take some OIA worksheets home with them.