Learn Why Every Christian
Effective Bible Teaching for Spiritual Growth
You Must Hear From God
To grow as a believer, a Christian must hear from God. The only reliable way a believer has to listen to God's voice is through the teaching of God's Word — the Bible. You want to know that God is speaking to your heart each time you open up the Bible — each time you sit in a church service and hear a sermon.
Now prayer is important. And so is fellowship with other Christians. But growing in the teaching of the Word of God is how you will be able to stabilize your Christian life... It is how you will become a stronger believer, knowing right from wrong. And it is the most effective way for God to speak directly to your heart!
Why Is Bible Teaching SO IMPORTANT?
There are many passages of scripture which give details about how powerful the word of God is for our instruction and teaching. Let's look at just one of those Bible passages which clarifies how the word of God should impact a believer's life:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13 NASV).
Notice that this passage describes the word of God in several ways. It is called "living" and "active" and "sharper than any two-edged sword." The Bible is a living book because it is authored by God. He put his words and the teachings of his truth in this collection of books (which we call the Bible). When we read and study and hear God's word preached, his living power invades our hearts and grows inside of us. This passage makes the point that the word of God is far more powerful than mere static words written on a piece of paper. It is an active document, because God can touch us (and keep on touching) deeply within our hearts as his words grow inside of our lives.
This passage in Hebrews also describes the word as being incredibly sharp. Notice that it is sharper than any two-sided sword. This sharpness pierces between our soul and our spirit... between our natural thoughts and our spiritual thoughts. And the word of God is "able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." This concept is continued with: "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."
When God speaks, through his word, he is able to reveal our true motives (our thoughts and the intentions of our hearts). We know he sees every hidden thing inside of our hearts. But when we read and study the word of God, we see ourselves (and our sin) much more clearly... it's as if we are looking into God's face. Being exposed to God's word is like looking into a holy mirror. And actually, that description is used (see James 1:21-25) to describe the impact of God's word upon our hearts. It is just like gazing into a mirror where we can see below the surface into our own hearts.
God Wants to Speak Directly to You Through His Word
So you can see, God's word is incredibly powerful. It is not just a book containing moral teachings that we live by. It is the living, active power of God which needs to be unleashed and allowed to touch our hearts. It is how God reveals himself more fully to us. We know it is extremely important every Christian learns to "feed" on the word of God. You want to study on your own, but you also want to be fed at your church.
If you do not have regular intake of God's word into your life, you will likely end up being a weak, anemic believer. Just as food is essential for physical growth, so God's word is essential for Christian growth. The Bible even uses terms like "milk" and "meat" and "solid food" to describe the impact of the word within our lives.
What Happens to Malnourished Christians?
If a believer doesn't feed regularly on God's word, he can become malnourished spiritually. Look at the common results of having little or no Bible teaching in a person's life:
1. He will be more likely to fall into sin... In fact, he will have a hard time grasping how devious sin really is. He will make excuses for his wayward behavior because he won't have the light of God's word to reveal right from wrong.
2. He will have limited spiritual direction in his life... And he'll always be dependent upon finding a teacher to explain the Bible... This means he will be dependent upon other Christians (instead of the Holy Spirit), and he will be unable to feed himself spiritually.
3. He will be easily seduced into a cult... It is very difficult to discern between truth and heresy if you have not been grounded on the word of God.
4. He will likely be bored with church and fellowship... People who have not fallen in love with the Lord and his word often find church uninteresting. They are often attracted to a church only if it entertains them.
5. It may seem that he has more than his fair share of problems... With whatever problems he encounters, he won't be prepared to deal with them well. And he may end up wondering why "God lets all these bad things happen to me."
Some Benefits of Regular Bible Teaching
But let's not stop here. Take a look at the positive results which happen in a believer's life when he receives regular exposure to God's word:
1. You will have a stronger defense against sin. Christians do sin. But when they do, they realize what they have done and are far more likely to feel remorse and turn away from those deeds. As a Bible taught Christian you won't be as likely to make excuses for your own wayward behavior because you will have the light of God's word in your heart, revealing right from wrong to you.
2. You will have a much clearer spiritual direction. You won't be dependent on finding a teacher to explain the Bible. When you know how to study the word of God, you will be able to feed yourself and stay in a strong spiritual condition.
3. You will not easily be seduced into a cult. It is much easier to discern between truth and heresy if you have been grounded in the word of God.
4. You will hunger for a Bible teaching church. Whenever a believer falls in love with the Lord, he usually can't get enough of God's word. You will find that mere Christian entertainment pales in comparison with learning more from the word of God.
5. You probably won't be burdened down with problems. Being in the word doesn't exempt you from problems. But when you know the scriptures, you will be much more prepared to deal with your problems. You won't be blaming God. Rather, you will be praising God in whatever situation you find yourself.
As you can see, receiving the spiritual food of God's word into your life is very important. You want to develop a personal plan of Bible study. Because most Christians have many pressures and responsibilities placed upon them from work and family life, it is often difficult to keep a regular Bible study time. And if you are a newer Christian, you may not yet know how to read and study the Bible effectively. This is why it is so important to attend a Bible teaching church. But finding a church that actually teaches the Bible can sometimes be a difficult task.
Can The Bible Be Taught "Wrong"?
Christians (especially young believers) often have a difficult time discerning if a church is really teaching the Word of God. A believer just assumes this is happening if the Bible is read and quoted from in the sermons. But this assumption may be very wrong. So let me share with you several important things you will want to watch out for:
1. A teacher can "use" Bible verses to support a non-biblical teaching. It is easy to teach almost any subject (from psychology to new age philosophy) simply by quoting Bible references to "prove" some non-biblical or topical message. This is called "proof texting."
The problem with this approach is that a skilled preacher can force the Bible to say whatever he wants. If verses are lifted out of their context, they can seem to be saying something that they really don't say. Let me give you a blatant example. Suppose someone quoted Psalm 14:1 as, "There is no God."
"The Bible says that?" Really?! Yes. That is a direct quote from the Bible. But if you look up the reference you'll see that only HALF of the verse has been quoted. The whole passage reads, "The fool has said in his heart, 'there is no God.'" Big difference. Now a teacher (or preacher) might not skew the meaning of a Bible passage to this extent, but he could still be distorting the true meaning by taking a passage out of context in this way.
2. A teacher can use the wrong passage to teach a true biblical subject. This is a common practice among Bible teachers. Perhaps they are working their way through a Bible book and come to a passage which alludes to a topic that they want to teach on. They will often bend the current passage (while using a lot of supporting references) so that it seems to say things which it was never meant to say. Sometimes a preacher will read the text and use it only as a "jumping off point" to begin preaching on a subject that is on his heart.
Even if a preacher is teaching his way through a Bible book, this may not mean that he is fully "teaching the word." If he is distorting the meaning of the actual passage that is being used as his text, this communicates to those who are listening that it is okay to use a Bible passages to "prove" anything the preacher has on his heart.
Is There a Right Way to Teach the Bible?
Yes. Absolutely. The Bible has been studied for two thousand years, and a number of well-developed methods have been created to determine how to truly and effectively teach God's book. So let's take a look at how Bible teachers can deliver good, solid and powerful Bible teaching. I'm going to address this section to pastor/preachers, because they are the ones charged with accurately presenting the word of God to the church.
How to Teach the Bible Powerfully
1. Always teach the word. Don't teach about the word, or "use" verses to prove what you're saying, simply teach IT. Open up a specific passage and read it, explaining what it means clearly so that people will understand. Whether you are looking just at a phrase, a verse or even an entire chapter, concentrate on IT. Don't focus on your jokes or your illustrations or your outline. Focus on the passage itself.
2. Teach your way through a passage. Nothing is more refreshing than for a preacher to work his way through a specific chapter or Bible verse. Going "through the Bible" or "through a Bible book" or even "through a passage" is not only one of the best ways to preach, it reassures people that the Bible is still quite relative to their lives today.
3. Teach the passage in its context. As you teach from any Bible passage, you want to research the original intent of the biblical author and explain in more detail what he is saying. Your job, as always, is to teach God's word, NOT to teach your own philosophy or theology or slant on things. If you teach God's word, he will give you many opportunities to teach out your strongly believed doctrines.
4. When you study the word, let it speak for itself. It has been said, "if the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense." We know that the scriptures have many symbolic messages under the surface such as types, symbols and spiritual double-meanings. But don't get so carried away with secondary meanings that you miss the primary and clear teaching found in each passage.
5. Don't "spiritualize" a passage and tell people what it "really means." Let each passage speak for itself based upon its context so that you do not force a private interpretation upon it. Every passage has one primary meaning; secondary meanings should always be seen as less important, unless the scriptures proclaim otherwise.
6. Learn about exegesis and use this methodology to expose the meaning of a Bible passage. What is exegesis and how does it work? To answer this, let me quote from Wikipedia:
"Exegesis (from the Greek 'to lead out') involves an extensive and critical interpretation of an authoritative text, especially of a holy scripture, such as of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible..." "The word exegesis can mean explanation, but as a technical term it means 'to draw the meaning out of' a given text." "Traditional exegesis requires the following: analysis of significant words in the text in regard to translation; examination of the general historical and cultural context, confirmation of the limits of the passage, and lastly, examination of the context within the text."
7. Be careful not to read anything into the passage, which is called eisegesis. Reading your own desired meaning or interpretation into a Bible passage is a common tactic and error of cultists. They wish to put words in the mouth of God. They want to twist the truth of what God has said. But even evangelical Bible teachers can do this without realizing it. Once again, let me quote from Wikipedia on this term:
"Exegesis may be contrasted with eisegesis, which means to read one's own interpretation into a given text. In general, exegesis presumes an attempt to view the text objectively, while eisegesis implies more subjectivity."
This form of teaching should be avoided at all costs. If you approach your study of the scriptures objectively, with an open heart, you will want to learn what God is saying in the passage. This is the task of true biblical teachers.
8. If you are teaching a topic, find the best Bible passage that deals with that subject in some way, and then teach that scriptural passage. Don't teach "around" the word; instead go through the scriptural passage, letting it be the foundation of all you say. A wise preacher will never force a passage to say something that it does not say. If you do this — even if your basic message is biblical in nature — you are using the methods of the cultists. And that is certainly not a good example to set. If your teaching method is false you are encouraging your flock that it is okay to warp the scriptures.
9. Whenever possible, draw your application and your points directly from your Bible passage itself. By doing this, it will be easier to focus upon what God is saying in his word (rather than on what you might want to say). This is much more powerful than coming up with some outline (even if all the words start with the same letter).
It is so much more powerful to make your application points (taken directly from the scriptures) into your message outline. If you do this, you won't have to rush at the end of your message to sum everything up. If your application becomes the outline of your message, people will go away remembering your points — because they came directly from the scriptures.
10. If you are using a topical Bible message be careful to organize your message from the Bible itself. If you are going to use verses found in different passages as well, use those passages as the foundation for your points. It is wise to draw each of your major sermon points from a specific Bible passage. In this way, you can tell your listeners, "Let me show you what the Bible has to say about this subject." And when you make each of your points, you should be drawing the words of your application and your conclusions directly from the passages themselves. This will legitimize your message and show that it is definitely scriptural.
11. Encourage your congregation to bring their Bibles to church. If you project the scriptures up on a screen or put the verses in your sermon notes, there is a risk that people will not feel it is necessary to bring their Bibles. You want your people to be dependent on God's word — not on your preaching. To be dependent on the word, people need to have and use their Bibles in church. If they are turning with you to a Bible passage and reading it straight from the page, they are much more likely to learn the word and be able to study the Bible at home.
12. Be wary of using too many translations in your messages. If you lift different verses from a lot of different translations, selecting the "best version" to prove each of your points, you will be subtly communicating that no one translation can be fully trusted. You will also be undermining the congregation's use of one particular translation, because no matter which Bible they purchase, they won't be able to follow along as you study the scriptures.
For years I preached out of the New American Standard Bible, believing it was one of the best word-for-word translations. When I jumped to the New King James Bible for a time, people reacted. They wanted to know if they should go out and buy that translation as well. So keep it in mind that your choice (or lack of a choice) of any one particular translation will seriously impact what people buy and read on their own.
13. Be wary of any technology that makes it more difficult for people to own and love their Bibles. I'm referring to the use of overhead projects, bulletin inserts, videos and rear projectors. While all of these technologies make it easier for seekers and new believers to understand the word, they can become a replacement for the use of a Bible.
Don't do this to the word, because it will be very unfortunate for the body of Christ if personally owned, and well read Bibles disappear from the hands of Christians. Don't confuse the presence of a pew Bible for solving this problem. Believers need to own and read their own Bibles, but if they are not consistently encouraged to open them up, the books will fade away. Many pastors don't even bring a Bible into their pulpits because they rely so heavily on their notes or their Power Point presentation. What does this tell the congregation? That the word of God is the domain only of professional ministers??
14. Always teach the word whenever you speak. Let me suggest that every time you stand up to speak to any group of people in your church, at a breakfast, at an elder's meeting, at a fellowship meeting, at a choir rehearsal, always select a specific passage and then teach it. Do this even if you have only five minutes. Do this and make your message quick and simple opening up to a specific text and teaching it word-by-word. When you do this your people will begin to depend upon the word and they will begin to stabilize in their walk with the Lord.
15. Beware of "supporting" the scriptures with secular "facts." I used to use lots of psychology studies in my sermons to illustrate how the Bible was found to be true in real life. I used them because they substantiated what people are like, and to me they supported the Bible. But one of my elders pointed out that by using these secular studies to support my message points, I was actually weakening the impact of the scriptures. I was watering down the power of God's word as if it needed shoring up by secular studies. Let the word stand as its own authority, because after all, when God speaks people listen.
16. Proclaim the word powerfully. By this I mean, when you quote the scriptures, make it plain that these are the words of God. You should say such things, as: "This is God speaking. Listen up. Look at what the Lord says to us right here in this verse. . ." Too often preachers miss the opportunity to make powerful proclamations about what God is saying. If you are sharing what you "think" God wants people to know, it will not be very likely to have much impact. But if you have done your homework and KNOW what the passage really says, then you can preach it in power.
Some Final Thoughts for Teachers
Bible teaching, plain and simple, should clarify the word and expose its meaning to our people. Whether the message is a through-a-Bible exposition or a topical exposition, in either case, the actual text of the Bible is what should be examined, studied, and its meaning explained.
The best Bible teachers will learn Hebrew and Greek (the languages which the Bible is written in), or they will have enough original language books so that they can adequately study the biblical passages to make certain they understand its meaning in the original.
James said, "Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged by God with greater strictness." The best way to be sure that you are adequately teaching God's word is to make certain that you know what it says, and then share that with your people.
How to Find A Bible Teaching Church
As believers, we need to be involved with a Bible-teaching church. You want to sit under the powerful teaching of a Bible teacher. Finding one might not always be easy in every area, but this should be your goal. Let me make a few suggestions about how to find such a church:
1. Look for a church that advertises that it teaches the word. You can usually find a number of churches in the yellow pages or in newspaper advertisements which proclaim their slant on teaching God's word.
2. Attend a church and evaluate if it is consistently teaching the word. You want to make certain that it is not teaching "around" the word, using the scriptures for proof-texting. If the preacher opens up the word on a regular basis and exposes its meanings you are more likely to have found a solid Bible teaching church.
3. Ask to see the church's statement of faith (or mission statement). This should give you a good idea about how the church sees the word of God. If it is a denominational church, they will more than likely subscribe to the larger denomination's statement of faith. Make sure that you know what this says.
4. See if the Bible believing church understands how to teach the word in power. Many Bible believing churches simply don't know how to teach the word of God in power because the pastor has never really been exposed to how to do this. If you feel you are at this type of church, you might want to share this article with your pastor.
Keep it in mind that the longer you have been in a church, the more likely the pastor will have difficulty "hearing" what he might construe to be criticism about his preaching. You don't want to be divisive or a thorn in the pastor's side. (Believe me most pastors have enough trouble already without you adding any more).
But this should not stop you from asking questions. Christian teachers, whether they are pastors or are just Bible study teachers, should know about the value of expository Bible teaching. If you were to give him this article, he might read it and say, "that's not what God has called me to do." If that happens, then you will have your answer. But if he says, "This is interesting" or "This is what I try to do in my preaching", there will be a foundation for more discussion.
Keep in mind that preaching can be a very subjective art. What the pastor often "thinks" he is doing, is not always what those in the congregation feel he is doing. If he's "always preached like this..." it may be quite difficult for him to see the difference between what he does and true exposition of the word of God.
5. Finally, you should consider leaving a church which does not want to teach the word in power. I do not recommend this lightly. This should always be the last resort, taken only after you have exhausted every other means. There are many good churches, where the pastor and his people love the Lord, yet who do not feel comfortable teaching directly from the word of God (even for topical messages). If you have presented this information, and the pastor is ingrained with using the practice of eisegesis (where he reads his own meaning into the passages) and/or proof-texting, you should then seriously consider moving on.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to go and find another church that teaches the word with power. I do not suggest that you make an immediate decision. You want to pray about your decision and give the Lord time to change your pastor or your own view of things (especially if you're being too critical). But finding another church may be necessary. Hearing the word of God preached in the authority of the Lord is very important for you spiritual health.
Leaving a church is almost never easy. Your family may have long ties and your kids may love the Sunday school, and it can be so hard to explain to them why this move is necessary. If your family has a wide opinion on which church you should attend, you will certainly want to talk it out before making any final decision. It is absolutely imperative that you and your spouse are on the same page on this decision, or the move could be costly to the harmony of your family.
If you feel that the Lord is leading you to leave your current church, let me make several suggestions.
a) Don't bad mouth the pastor or the church. Every Christian church has an anointing from God, and you do not want to say bad things about it.
b) You don't want to in any way foist discontent among the other believers in the church you are leaving. I would be wary even about telling others why you are leaving. I wouldn't share your reasons for leaving in public. If someone close to you wants to come in private and ask for your reasons, that would be a better time to share your own needs. But always state your position on what is best for your family, not what you dislike about the church you're leaving.
c) Leave the door open to return. Try to keep the door open with the church you're leaving. It just may be that you have to come back (for any number of unrelated reasons) and you don't want to find yourself facing burned over bridges.
d) If you leave, whenever possible, try to leave on good terms both with the pastor and the church. This may be difficult, but it is worth extra effort to keep feathers from being rumpled.
e) It might be better to start visiting other churches who you know teach the word before you say "good bye" at your church. It is always nice if you know where you're going before you leave.