Monday, May 30, 2011

Building your Bible Study

You are preparing to teach a Bible Study. If you are like many people, the anxiety that comes with public speaking can be downright debilitating. Far too many lose their essential message - and their audience - in the maze of poor presentation. But you don't need to take a preaching class to build a dynamic, memorable Bible study. Let's walk through some important "design" assumptions, and then a practical blueprint that will set your study on a solid foundation.

Assumption 1 - Attention Span
Consider the age of your audience from the outset. You approach Bible study with adult men differently than with a youth group. How long should your Bible study last? According to a variety of research, attention span can be linked to chronological age. So, if you're speaking to a Middle School audience, you can plan to teach for around 15 minutes. Go beyond that and you will begin to see the donut-glazed looks staring back at you. If your study has to be longer than your audience's age, then use the "Look" section to recapture some interest. More on that later...

Assumption 2 - Retention Span
Consider the learning style of your audience. Lectures still hold value for college educated adults, but fall on the media-addicted, youthful deaf ears. Be prepared to incorporate visual elements, audience participation, or video clips into your study. Learning experts agree that you increase retention by incorporating various stimuli. On this note, also remember the Primacy / Recency Effect (or Serial Position Curve), which states that people most often remember the first and last things that they hear. In other words, if you want your main point to "stick," state it clearly at the beginning and end of your study.

This is a good place to encourage you to keep your primary point simple and sharp. It is better for a crowd to hear one main point - thoroughly explored, illustrated and applied - than to hear 3 points that they completely forget. From the outset, ask yourself this question, "What main scriptural point do I want these folks to remember tomorrow?" Build the rest of the study around this thought or statement.

Assumption 3 - Divine Presence
A seminary preaching professor gave 4 anonymous sermons to his students to review and to rank in order of preaching mechanics and potential audience impact. One sermon landed at the bottom of every students' list, while the other three were debatable among the class. After a lively discussion, the professor revealed that the three sermons most preferred were delivered by ministers who were known to be morally corrupt, or cult-like leaders. The sermon which was unanimously ranked lowest was deliver by Dr. Billy Graham in a stadium address which saw thousands of listeners come to faith in Christ. The professor emphasized that divine unction, or the presence of God's Spirit in the life of the teacher trumps sermon mechanics or delivery style every time. Better that you would prayerfully walk with Jesus and have a technically poor presentation than for you to "wow" a crowd with your words without the Spirit flowing through your life.

Now, given these three baseline assumptions, how should you go about putting your Bible study message together? Let's use Lawrence Richard's helpful HBLT tool as the framework for our study. And we'll use the theme of "forgiveness" as an example of a Bible study message as we walk through each step.

1. Hook -
A good "hook" captures the attention of your audience, activates their prior learning, and heightens their anticipation for hearing what you have to say. Your hook should easily allow you step into your message by leading into your seminal statement. Tell a story or show a video clip and follow it with the very point you want them to remember. For example, if you're teaching on forgiveness, show a clip like this, and then make the statement, "Forgiveness is powerful. When withheld, it destroys; when given, it heals." Or use a discussion question that gets the audience involved in your subject. On the theme of forgiveness, ask, "Which is better, forgiveness or revenge? Why?"

2. Book -
After you state your main point, move straight into the scripture verse or passage that you want to study. It's okay to keep your scripture confined to a single verse as long as your point is in line with the larger context of the passage. Don't cite a verse just to make your point. The verse should make the point for you. For instance, Ephesians 4:32 is a simple verse on forgiveness. This is the time in your study when you define any important words that could be misunderstood, or you explain a bit about the context in which the verse was written. This Ephesians verse begs the question, "How can you describe the kind of forgiveness God offers to us in Christ?"

Opening scripture with your audience also ensures that if they forget every word you say, at least they have access to God's Word for a lifetime.

3. Look -
Now you will want to build a bridge between a scriptural truth and your audience's context. How does your theme translate into their experience? How has this message been misinterpreted by their culture? When, where and how do they relate to this concept? If you're teaching about forgiveness, you can offer an example to illustrate how forgiveness has healed and restored a relationship.

Remember the assumption about audience attention span. If your teaching time has reached the age of your audience, use an open discussion question, a video clip, a live testimonial from the crowd, or some other device to shake them out of listener-fatigue. This will buy you a bit more attention as you move toward the end of your study.

4. Took -
If you are teaching scripture with the goal of life-transformation, then you must include this component of application. The "took" is the take-away, or chance for your audience to consider what difference this truth will make in their lives. I will often end a Bible study by putting two questions to the audience (and often on the screen in front of them): What is God saying to you right now?, and What should you do about it? Allow your listeners time to listen to God before they transition to whatever is next.

Some people find closing their message to be the hardest part of teaching. Can you remember hearing someone teach who didn't know how to end? They go on and on and on, and you want to help them stop, but you can't! Know how you will end your message, and when you get to that moment, make your concluding statement with clarity and conviction. Remembering the Primacy/Recency Effect, it will help your audience to hear your seminal point one last time. And then say, "Let's pray."

Or if you are teaching on John 19:30, you could say, "It is finished." :-)

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