How to teach a Sunday School class with nothing but a Bible
Would you like to help teach a class at your church but are not sure you could do it effectively? Do you currently teach but feel like you rely too much on curriculum? Is your church spending money on Sunday School materials every quarter while at the same time feeling the need to trim the budget? Teaching Sunday School is not as scary or as difficult as it might seem. And all you need is a Bible.
Read the Bible every day for yourself
This is the first step... and it's essential. You cannot give to others what you do not already have yourself. Our church members are smart. They can usually tell when someone has slapped together a “Saturday Night Special” versus when someone is teaching out of the overflow of a life spent in God’s word. If you will read a couple chapters a day, every day, and meditate on what you read, pretty soon you will be able to teach a class with minimal preparation.
Keep good notes as your read the Bible every day
If you keep notes as you go they will be there the next time you come back to teach on that passage. This again greatly helps reduce preparation time. You’ve already thought through it once (or more than once!) so you’re already a step ahead!
Learn to develop good, open-ended discussion questions
One of the most frustrating things for church members sitting in a class is when the teacher asks a question with a one-word answer. Everyone knows the answer but no one volunteers to give it, until someone just wants to get the awkward silence over with and move on. What is the purpose of asking questions with one word answers? It hardly accomplishes anything. Instead, learn to ask open-ended questions. Some of the best start with the word “Why…” Ask questions that make people think and draw out further discussion. Go deep with your people.
Learn to be OK with silence after you ask a question
One of the temptations in teaching a class is to answer your own questions if no one speaks up after 30 seconds or so. Resist this urge. Silence is a good thing. People are re-reading. Their mental wheels are turning. They are processing. So embrace the silence. Don’t give in to it. Someone will eventually speak up and try to answer your question. And they will probably have a more insightful answer for having had the time to think through it.
Let the discussion, not your monologue, drive the class
Now, of course some classes are not set up for a format such as this. But if you are leading a class where you can have everyone sit in a circle facing one another, or around tables, you can utilize this format to your advantage. Resist the urge to dominate the discussion. If the members of your class feel like they are driving the discussion they are much more likely to feel like it is “their class.” They will take ownership of it much easier. Not only that, but if you do most of the talking your people will come to rely on you, and not the Bible, as the main source of benefit from the class. Then when you have to be gone and try to find a substitute it will be hard to find a volunteer, and some may not think the class was very good in your absence. Don’t create an atmosphere where you are the star of the show. Let the Bible be the centerpiece. Let the members drive the discussion.
Be willing to say someone is incorrect, but do it in love
Just because someone says, “this is what this verse means to me,” doesn’t mean that is a legitimate way to interpret that verse. The authority and inspiration of the words of Scripture lie in the author’s intended meaning, not in our perception of it. In other words, if God intended for a passage to mean X, it does not honor him to say “it means Y to me.” Inevitably, in a Bible class, someone will offer up an interpretation that will be incorrect. What do you do when this happens? First of all, don’t make them feel stupid or unappreciated. Respond in love every time. But at the same time, what you don’t want to do is give the impression that we create our own meaning. That’s what lawmakers do with the U.S. Constitution today and we’ve seen how dangerous that can be. You want an atmosphere where everyone feels like their opinion is valued, but you also want to create a humility where we are all submitting to the Word. We are all trying to help one another come to the right understanding of each passage. Truth is not up for grabs. It’s objective, and outside of us, and right there on the page.
There’s a place for a lecture type class and a place for a discussion-driven class. But discussion-driven classes have some distinct advantages…
They put less pressure on the teacher in terms of preparation, and expectations from the class
The lowered pressure means it’s easier to find substitute teachers or others to teach on a rotation
Since the leader is more of a discussion facilitator, the Bible becomes central and the teacher less so
They foster a greater amount of participation, which means active instead of passive learning for class members
They make it easier to do away with expensive curriculum and to center everything on the simple text of the Bible