Teaching the Bible

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How can the preaching and teaching of the Bible be accomplished during church services? How can individual members be allowed to participate in services that are both edifying and encouraging to all the believers in attendance?

Reading from the Bible (the Old Testament) was a part of Synagogue worship when Jesus attended (Luke 4:16 - 17; Acts 15:21) and it still is today. Synagogues have a system in place whereby the entire first five books (Genesis to Deuteronomy), plus parts of other books, are read every year. On any given week, the same scriptures will be read everywhere throughout the world. However, if you use this system, you will never cover large parts of the Old Testament or any of the New Testament. Some people augment this system with other readings, but most Christian congregations simply set up another system of Bible teaching that makes sense for them.

Bible reading can be the main part of a new service if there are few people with the gift of teaching. People who are used to "being preached to in church" may find some difficulty in going to church without a sermon, but this usually wears off after a few weeks.

If the topic is published beforehand, brethren can read the scriptures ahead of time and will usually be ready with questions and comments. Some groups have people stand to read, others remain seated. Some use a microphone while others do not. Some have only adults read, others see it as an important activity for children to participate in. Most importantly, the scriptures need to be read so that they can be heard. Some allow questions and comments after a few verses, while others wait until an entire chapter or section is completed.

No matter what format is used, the congregation will learn truth - because they are reading God's words. Certainly, there will be some incorrect comments made, but this is a chance for the experienced person to correct errors, and a chance for everyone to exercise discernment. There is no need to have everyone read from the same translation. It is an advantage for people to read silently along from different translations. That way, it is easy to notice and discuss places where translations are significantly different.


Spreading the Word

Most people are used to extensive, one-way preaching in services - usually called a sermon. If groups do not have someone to give a sermon, they may play a pre-recorded message from a CD or DVD. With the advent of the Internet, the option also exists to listen to messages LIVE over the Web from church groups that provide such services. Such presentations of God's word, however, do not allow for the questions and answers so frequently found in the Bible. A speaker can sound like he knows so much and cause many new believers to trust in his words - until someone asks good biblical questions about his teaching - questions that he may not be able to answer. Christ and the Apostles were able to answer the hardest of questions that were asked of them. That is the sign of a good teacher.

Obviously, few teachers are as gifted as Christ and the Apostles. However, it is better to have a teacher who is truthful and willing to admit what he does not know, than one who is powerful, eloquent, or charismatic.

The goal of teaching is to ask God to use people to teach what He wants taught at each service. Even poorer live speakers are often better than tapes. People clearly pay more attention to live presentations. In addition, there is no possibility of asking the speaker questions when a tape is played.

If your congregation progresses to the point where you are teaching many new people, experienced teachers who can expound a topic at length are sometimes needed. One way for brethren to learn to deliver quality live messages is to give "book reports" or "article reports" on truthful, inspiring literature. This approach maximizes speaking opportunity and reduces the amount of research work (only one source is used). Another approach is for teachers to take lessons from their own experience and explain them in the light of Scripture.

Services should be edifying and encouraging to all. They generally should not be used for detailed discussions of complex or controversial doctrines (such as the exact nature of Jesus Christ before His human birth, the Hebrew calendar, speaking in tongues, etc.). Such doctrines are important, however, and can be held after services or as a separate Bible study.

Exhortation (encouragement) is different from teaching the Bible. A person who exhorts says little that his listeners do not already know, but encourages and motivates them to do a better job of what they already know they should do. Some people clearly have the gift for exhortation, and some do not. A person who encourages others must be able to do so in love.

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