“My Take on Bible Classes”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations
There’s no doubt that I’m a better teacher than preacher. My first love is the lectern rather than the pulpit, and I “get” teaching Bible classes in a way that I’ve never gotten preaching sermons. Also, I’ve always been satisfied with the way my Bible classes have gone. Generally, they’re characterized by robust discussion, and interesting insights come from many participants.
However, I know that many have a much different experience teaching Bible classes than I do. Comments are hard to come by, their content is poor, and each class leaves the teacher frustrated and unfulfilled. I thought it would be worthwhile, then, to explain my approach in the hope that it might help others.
Believe in Your People
I come to every class assuming that the students collectively know more about the Bible than I do and are wiser than I am. Their biggest problem isn’t ignorance and foolishness; it’s insecurity. They are not confident in their ability to figure out the text for themselves.
I am! I believe that God’s word is for God’s people. If a group of earnest Christians can’t work its way through a passage and arrive at sound conclusions, our whole theory of religion is wrong. The narrative of the class is their journey of discovery, not my sermon masquerading as a Q&A.
Help Your People
I’ve had a lot of training in how to read and interpret texts. Most brethren haven’t. When presented with an open Bible, many of them will get a deer-in-the-headlights look. Remember: they can do this! Your job is to show them how.
The most important work of the Bible-class teacher is to guide the inquiry of the student. When you help them work through a text, they learn not only what the text means but also how to work through a text for themselves. To this end, I always teach using a workbook I’ve written, even if the class is a textual study. The workbook frames the discussion, not by offering the right answers, but by offering the right questions.
Sometimes when I’m teaching a class, the blank stares of the students tell me that I’ve asked the wrong question. Probably, I’ve skipped some analytical steps, which is a great failing of mine. Then, it’s my job to work back, to find the right question that will get their analysis of the passage started.
Trust Your People
If the teacher is doing their job right, the class should arrive at conclusions that are different and better than the teacher’s own. I enjoy teaching classes in part because I like learning from the class. If the teacher isn’t interested in learning, the class will sense this and let the guy seated in the chair of Moses do his own talking!
This means that the teacher must be willing to allow exploration in different directions and, especially, to deal respectfully with disagreement. I assume that if somebody is willing to take the relational risk of disagreeing with me in public, they probably have a point. I’ve overstated my case or missed something. In such cases, I strive to reformulate their objection better than they did as a way to locate the flaw in my own thinking. If the teacher treats the objector kindly, thoughtfully, and fairly, they generally will be satisfied with the exchange, though it never hurts to check with them after class to make sure.
Sad to say, many congregations have Bible classes that are boring and frustrating. This is a terrible shame and a waste of a shining opportunity. The folks in the pews can do a little bit to fix this, but mostly, it’s the role of the guy up front. When we teach with the right approach and attitude, we can build a culture of good Bible classes that show everyone what it means for us to be people of the Book.