Teaching The Word of God
Elder Keith Ellis
There are several aspects to teaching the word of God. I just want to deal with a few of the basics. I believe that once God has blessed us to understand His word we have a tremendous responsibility to be good stewards of it. And the knowledge which we will gain can be a dangerous thing if we do not control it properly. To me, a good definition of "wisdom" would be "to rightly control the knowledge God has given us." So let us pray above all that God will help us to exercise wisdom in handling his word.
Hopefully our motivation for teaching is a proper one. If we hope to do it for money or fame, then our motives and intents are not in accordance with God's word. If our motive is anything other than love for God, His children and the advancement of His cause, then we might want to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.
We hear all the times folks say "action speaks louder than words." In many cases this is true. The first thing we need to be aware of is that we must practice what we preach (see Romans 2:21). This is a lesson that is echoed throughout the Bible. If we say one thing, and practice something contrary to it, then our teachings will carry little weight, if any. The Apostle Paul realized this fact and taught it to the church at Corinth;
"But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." 1 Corinthians 9:27
All of us have seen examples of what Paul is saying here. Not too long ago a popular evangelist who was known to preach against adultery very strongly was caught doing the very thing he preached against. After that, what the man had to say did not carry any weight with those who had followed him in the past.
So being an ensample or example is a very important ingredient in being a effective teacher. When Paul was writing to Timothy about this very thing in regards to practical godliness he says:
"These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit,
in faith, in purity." 1 Timothy 4:11-12
This is just one example of several places in the Bible teaching this very thing. Do not think this will be easy. The devil will work overtime to try to get you to stumble. So be on guard.
If we can get past this first test then we are ready to move forward with our teaching.
Secondly if we have the desire to teach we must be familiar with the subject matter. Now not to discourage anyone, but it seems sometimes people who have no business trying to teach the Bible are placed in charge of a Sunday school (teaching is honorable, but Sunday schools are unscriptural) or study group. Sometimes the result can be confusion and division in the church. So this is not to be taken lightly. This is a very serious matter we are approaching, though teaching is an honorable one.
It will benefit all concerned if we take the time to prayerfully approach the subject matter. Hopefully we have been asking the Lord for what He would have us to teach. It is when people take up their own agendas that trouble again arises in the church or study groups. We should always be prayerful for the body of people we will be speaking to, whether it be for two or two thousand. As God prepares a message in our hearts, He must also prepare the hearts of the hearers. Grace is needed on both ends, for the speaker and for the hearers. God is the dispenser of grace. Look at this:
"The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord." Proverbs 16:1
Notice WHERE preparation is made!
Sometimes you may have the liberty to prepare a message days before your Bible study or church service. At other times the message will be withheld from you until time for the Bible study or church service. If we are seeking the leadership of the Spirit of God in these matters as we should be, then we will be actively seeking God's message for His children. Remember faith is an active ingredient in the teaching process, but do not think you can teach on something you have not learned at some point. Yes, God may put the subject on your heart at the last moment, but keep in mind that he will not give you a subject in a manner you have not learned.
Yet there are subjects we will never fully understand. Some people tell me they do not understand everything about the trinity of God. Even though I may not understand it fully, I believe it and know enough about it and its supporting Bible text to preach it to the people. If any man tells you he knows everything about anything, then it is usually a good indication that he knows nothing ( see 1 Corinthians 8:1-2). Remember what I mentioned about wisdom? Confine your subject matter to what you have learned and do not make the sacrifice of fools.
Once you are ready to deliver your subject it is important to consider some external things. By this I mean the manner in which you speak and carry yourself. When I first began speaking several years ago I had the bad habit of speaking very rapidly. Not only this, I would also move around a lot and use excessive arm movement.
Both of these pulpit manners were very distracting to the people. In fact, some told me they were distracted by my body movement and would stop trying to listen to the rapid speech I was using. And others who were not distracted by the body movement told me they could not understand me because I was talking too fast. Now I have no objection to displaying zeal when speaking, but if it goes beyond reasonable bounds, it will hurt the cause, not help it.
I prayed about my pulpit manners. I asked God to make me the kind of speaker He wanted me to be. Eventually I was able to slow my speech down and limit the body gestures. I have had people tell me that the difference is remarkable. It may be helpful to you to tape yourself and listen to it. Doing this will help you pick up any bad habits you may be doing unawares.
I believe that in the beginning my manners were formed by watching those around me. I was doing what came naturally, but it is not always the best thing to do.
Nonetheless, we must learn from the beginning to speak clearly so the people can understand what we are saying. Also keep in mind that sometimes we may have children in our audience. We should remember we have a responsibility to teach them as well.
This leads us into the next aspect of teaching. That is to teach on the same level with the people. It does not matter how learned you may be, or how great your gift is. If you speak over the heads of the people then what good does it accomplish? We may impress someone with the big words we use, but if God's people are not edified and instructed then all our fancy words are of no use.
We must try, with the best of our ability, to determine the levels of maturity we have in our audience or group. If we have several lambs, or those who are young in the faith, then we should be prepared to teach on their understanding level. If we have a house full of sheep, or those who are mature Christians, we need to keep in mind to teach on their level. Though it is good for the children of God at all levels of maturity to be reminded of the simplicity of Christ and the milk of the word, there are times when they will need meat. So be prepared to speak to both groups. This is explained in a parable about the kingdom of God in Mark 4:28:
"For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear."
When the gospel of God, which is seed, is sown into the good ground of the heart, it will grow until it reaches maturity if it is watered and nourished.
So far we have identified our responsibilities in teaching. We are to be good examples if we are to teach. We see that we should teach from proper motives. Also we need to prayerfully ask God to lay the subject matter on our hearts and that we can rightly learn the subject matter. Also we need to pray for our audience. We know that we should be in control of our speaking manners to speak clearly and concisely, and to keep our body language in check. Next we saw that we should be able to discern the maturity of our audience and speak on their maturity level. So understanding these things then we can move on.
Once you have a subject, you need to know a few necessary things in order for the message to be effective. Now whether you are a preacher or a regular church member, or whether you are in the pulpit or in a small study group these principles will apply.
* State your subject, and read the supporting text.
* Identify the main points you want to teach one at a time.
* Illustrate the points with simple and familiar ideas.
* Find a related story or text from the Bible for each point. Give the Bible references. If you have time, read them.
* If possible, use a personal experience related to each point.
Tell them what you have experienced as it relates to the teaching point.
* Tell the people how to make a practical application of the point, how they can apply what you have taught them to their everyday lives.
* If you are in a study group, where you can do it, the visual aid of a chalk board can be helpful for certain subjects.
If you are in a Bible study group of course you will want to open the floor for discussions and questions. Do not be afraid to say, "I don't know," to a question that you do not have the answer for. In Bible study groups it is important that the one who is leading the group be able to recognize possible arguments and defuse them. Disagreeing can be healthy to a certain extent, although you should be ready to extinguish it if you think it may grow into bitter disagreements. The way in which you carry yourself and the confidence you display will go a long way in keeping these unhealthy arguments from happening.
We had a Bible study in my home every week for about ten years. We always remembered to ask God's guidance and presence of the Holy Spirit. I do not remember a single argument. Though at times there were some honest differences of opinions, there never was an argument. I think fighting over the Bible is very dishonoring to the Lord, and very unproductive. If you cannot control a study group it is likely there will be more harm done than good. The idea of a study group is to grow in knowledge and in grace. May we come closer to the Lord and the bond of love between the group members be strengthened. I think the devil lies in wait for a group to get together where the leader is not qualified to the task.
When you have weekly sessions it can be of benefit to the group members to have them read next week's text in advance. This will better enable them to join in on the discussion and share their meditations with the group. At times though it is difficult to follow a set program. I find sometimes that by asking the members if they have anything they want to discuss (Bible topics) we have enjoyed many blessings of the Spirit of God by remaining open to His leadership. This manner of subject selection can be very helpful in keeping the young members involved.
You may want to limit the time in which you teach. Usually a one-hour session is plenty for everyone to digest. Hopefully you will know when the Spirit shuts the discussion off and respond accordingly. It will pay to realize when the Spirit has not given liberty on a particular subject or discussion. Sometimes it is better to do or say nothing than to move out without the blessings of the Spirit. This is rare, but it does happen.
Now some people like to use notes when they speak. I personally do not. The one time I did try to use them I felt constrained. I also felt that I could become dependent upon them very easily. With me it is matter of depending on the Lord and not on notes. In over ten years I have never had anyone tell me that I should use notes. I remember the time when a particular preacher of another belief was invited to speak at a big meeting. It was discovered after his arrival he had lost his notes. His only recourse was not to speak. This is a sad case, but true. I figure I do not need notes when I am speaking one on one. Have you ever had anyone start a conversation with you and pull out notes so he can remember what to say? There have been times when I could not have used notes even if I had them. My advice is to learn the word of God and hide it within your heart (Psalms 119:11) When the time comes, God will supply that which is needed, just as He did with Moses. This is a matter of faith.
Also it is important to keep in mind, if we are following the leadership of the Spirit of God, that we may deviate from our subject. This happens when God is manifesting a secret of the heart of an individual. You will learn when this happens from experience. The expressions on the faces of the people, when you say something, will give you an indication when this happens. Let me give you an example.
Several years ago my brother, who is a private pilot, and myself went flying one Saturday. I had been many times before this, but this particular day I was very uneasy. I kept thinking about what would happen if the plane were to crash and I were to die. This went on for about half an hour, but I never said a word to anyone about it. I finally resolved in my mind that "whether or not I die in a plane crash, my destiny is in God's
hands." This comforted me and I did not think anymore about it. The next day during the preaching service our pastor looked right at me and said, "You are right, your destiny is in God's hands whether you die in a plane crash or not." I never told a soul what had happened the day before, but God knew my thoughts. This was very uplifting and edifying. So now when I hear the preacher move off his subject I do not become alarmed. Even when I am not preaching and I go to church, I expect the Lord to confirm his word to me in this way. And I can honestly say this happens quite often to me (see Hebrews 4:12).
As was briefly mentioned above, watching the reactions of the people you are speaking to is sometimes a good indication that you are getting through to them. When I first started speaking I never would look up, but always kept my face down. Now I find if I make eye contact with the people that it helps me and them.
Say for instance, if I were speaking to an audience and I saw the older members were restless and some were thumbing through their song books, or not paying attention, and I saw there were some young people who were on the edge of their seats paying close attention to what I was saying, it would tell me that maybe some adjustments were necessary. Maybe I was giving out too much lamb food and was neglecting the sheep, the more mature members. So maybe I should go a little deeper into my text for the benefit of the others. I just use this as an illustration. Experience is a good teacher, and you will learn in time that watching the people will benefit everyone concerned. You will also learn how to react accordingly.
Now as far as teaching in the family environment is concerned, I believe it to be of the utmost importance. There are several methods you may chose from to discuss the Bible with your family.
The easiest way to get your family involved in the beginning is to eat together as a family at your dinner table. You can offer thanks to God for the food and for His blessings in your life. This is an effective form of teaching. In time you may want to ask your children or other members of the family to take their turn at offering thanks. Usually this is a good time to discuss the things of God with your family. The content of your prayer can often help to "break the ice" and get usually silent family members drawn into the discussion. This may seem a strange setting for teaching at first, but you will find that God will bless your efforts as you establish this method on a permanent basis.
I can only speak from experience on this point. If I had it to do over I would have started gathering my family together at the dinner table much sooner. How quickly your children grow, and then the opportunity vanishes.
These are just a few of the basic principles of what I believe to be necessary to teach God's word. As I said, it does not matter whether you are a preacher or a listener, or you are in the pulpit or in a study group. These principles apply to everyone.
Keep in mind that teaching or preaching is sowing the word. It takes time for the seed to take root and grow. Do not expect immediate results. Sometimes you may touch a subject that someone else had sown before, and you may have the joy of being in a reaping role (see John 4:37).