In their helpful book Effective Bible Teaching, James C. Wilhoit and Leland Ryken remind us that ineffective teaching arises at one of two levels: (1) the planning and preparation level; (2) the presentation level. In this post I want to focus on the planning and preparation level. What happens in the planning stage that causes us to be ineffective in our teaching? Wilhoit and Ryken mention six pitfalls we should avoid as a prepare to teach.
(1) Inability to come to grips with the biblical text. When we are unable to locate the main idea of a passage and bring all the details together into a coherent whole, we will have a tendency to talk about things other than the actual Bible passage. The remedy here is to spend a lot of time with the text we are planning to teach before we move on to other materials. This requires discipline because we will be ever tempted to bypass the hard work of dealing with the text and rely on what others have written about the text.
(2) Too much confidence in published materials. When we don’t spend adequate time wrestling with the text for ourselves, we will rely upon the thoughts of others in order to prepare for teaching. It is important to remain teachable and learn from other excellent interpreters, but unless we understand the text ourselves, our immersion in the thoughts of others may only lead to confusion and muddled teaching. “We need to be reminded, therefore, that teachers can never effectively teach beyond their grasp of a subject. They may be able to teach beyond their own experiences, but they cannot teach what they do not understand.”
(3) Little to no structure to the message. Becoming an effective Bible teacher does not happen by merely gathering truths from the Bible and then giving these facts to our students. We must do the hard work of tying all those truths together into a coherent message with a clear point and helpful application. Practically, this means that after we have studied the text, culled its meaning, and bolstered our understanding with further research, we must give thought to structuring the message in a way that aids learning. We must have a clear main point, a few relevant subpoints, and some useful notes of application.
(4) Giving the students too much information. Often teachers who are diligent to study make the mistake of viewing the teaching time as merely a data download. These teachers think that the more information they give to their students, the better. But if we overwhelm students with too much information, or if we do not give thought to structuring our message in a way that is most conducive to learning, then we will not be effective teachers. We may feel like we’ve accomplished something, but over time we will find that our people are not making progress in godliness; they will be only filling their minds with information.
(5) Attempting to do too much in one session. Another failure at the preparation level that is related to our last point is when we plan to do too much in one teaching session. While it’s better to be over-prepared than underprepared, it is possible to have unrealistic expectations in what you can do in a 30-45 minute session. If you are only assigned to teach once in a while, you will probably find it difficult to gauge whether or not you have planned to accomplish too much in a given session. Nevertheless, both seasoned and new teachers should guard against giving too much information or covering too much ground in one Bible study session.
(6) Failure to bridge the gap between the ancient text and one’s students. Scripture is always relevant because it is the eternal truth of God. But people must often be shown how the text is relevant to them. A good interpreter will ask what the Scripture meant in its original context and how it applies to one’s current context. Often, an interpreter who works hard to understand the text for his own mind and heart and apply the meaning of that biblical text to his life will be able to show his students how the Scripture is relevant to them.