Sunday morning Bible study is still an important part of the church I attend. I teach a class most Sundays and have served in leadership roles in the Bible Study/Sunday School program over the years. Our church has long had the policy of giving teachers and classes the opportunity to select their own curriculum. This can be a bit messy, but I have been impressed by the wisdom and creativity shown in this process.
I think a written curriculum is important. Not only have I used materials from a number of publishers, I have written lessons in the dim, dark past. The idea of scope and sequence in a series of lessons is important, but there are many ways to organize Bible and discipleship studies.
In recent years, I have come the conclusion that a teacher and class can have the best materials in the world and still have an inadequate learning experience. What makes a Bible study effective? I think there are three things to consider--presentation, participation, and inspiration.
First, the Bible study teacher does not need a theological degree to be effective, but he or she does need to do several things. The teacher needs to allow the passage to flow through his or her life. Each week, I try to read the passage early in the week and reflect on it before reading the commentary. I must know how it speaks to me before I can lead others in discussing it.
An effective teacher also must be able to ask good questions. Certainly, the teacher can provide background, context, and content, but if he or she stops there, the class is receiving only information; they are not involved in transformation.
Second, participants in the study need to be engaged. Just being present in a seat does not mean that a person is engaged. As the teacher asks questions and shares insights, the group members are challenged to make application in their own lives. If the class members are not actively involved in the process, the result is a nice time of fellowship with little or no impact on their lives.
Third, both teacher and learner need to leave space for the Holy Spirit to enter the process. Some of the best questions that I have asked were not prepared in advance. Some of the most candid answers from participants were unexpected, spontaneous, and inspired. Some of the most moving experiences were Spirit-led.
One Sunday, I was teaching a class and a participant commented, “You know, what we talk about here on Sunday mornings has very little impact on my life on Monday morning.” Rather than taking this as an attack, I immediately engaged him with questions about how we could change that situation. God had spoken through him to identify a real need in our class.
Effective Bible study is a partnership between teacher, learner, and the Sprit of God. Everything else is secondary.