Teaching the Bible in Church

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?

It is not always easy to fit in teaching the Bible during services. The average church service has a lot going on such as praise and worship music, prayer, encouragement, admonition, fellowship, and so on. The Bible lists 26 spiritual gifts, most of which find application in a service (Romans 12:6 - 8, 1Corinthians 12:7 - 11, 12:28 - 13:1, 14:26, Ephesians 4:11 - 15, 1 Peter 4:7 - 11). Teaching is only one of these gifts!

Congregations should hear messages on the six "elementary principles of Christ" such as repentance from dead works, faith toward God, the doctrine of baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1 - 2).

Additionally, God's love, His law, His grace, marriage, child rearing, and "coming out of the world" all have a place in church teaching. Nevertheless, Christ taught us to live, ". . . by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4, ESV).

Lesson from the Synagogues

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 Torah, the first five books (Genesis to Deuteronomy), are read every year. On any given week, the same Bible verses will be read in nearly every Synagogue throughout the world. In addition, corresponding passages from the prophets are also read (called the Haftarah). This is an amazing accomplishment, considering the diversity of synagogues throughout the world.

Keep a Record

Since no universal Biblical reading system is likely to be forthcoming, church congregations need to establish their own system of teaching so they can teach all of God's word. Many churches frequently teach a series of messages on a particular book of the Bible, covering it from beginning to end. This is wonderful but something is lacking.

What's lacking is a record of when each book is covered! Congregations have good reasons to cover certain books of Scripture at certain times. Whatever plans your congregation uses to study the Bible, appoint one or two people to keep a record of what you study. It only requires a few dollars for a nice notebook and a few hours per year.

This record should include all the congregation's teachings such as main messages, Bible studies, men's studies, women's studies, and so on. Make the entries when a study series is completed. Church administrators can look at past history to decide what to teach next.

Teaching it all

The simplest method of teaching all of God's word is to use a big part of every service for study, beginning in Genesis, ending in Revelation, and starting over again. This method would include leaving some amount of time for teaching as well as questions and comments from the congregation. Each part of the Bible would get "equal time."

God inspires the messages people need to hear at various times. The congregational leaders or all the members should pray, considering what the brethren need to hear, and then plan Bible study accordingly. Publishing the study schedule in advance allows brethren to read in advance and then ask questions at the service.

Possible Formats

One of these methods for teaching the Bible will likely work for your church or fellowship, depending on its size and how much time you have at each service.

1) Bible study is the main message. This works very well if there are few gifted speakers in a congregation. One or many people read the scripture and discuss what it means and how they apply it in their lives. The moderator or facilitator needs to make sure they stay on the topic and offer to talk to anyone later about issues unrelated to the study or not of interest to most of the congregation.

2) Bible reading or discussion is a specific portion of the main service, with another time used for topical teaching, exhortation, etc. Some congregations encourage their young people to read the Scriptures.

3) A regular Bible study is a separate event immediately before or after the main service. The disadvantage is that not everyone comes to this study. The advantage is that those who want to learn can go, and the studies can usually be more in depth than those taught to the entire congregation. Participation by the brethren is generally much greater in a separate study.

4) A different day of the week is used for regular Bible study. Again, even less of the regular members are likely to come, but if the studies are good, non-members will often visit and learn.

5) Set up separate men's, women's and young people's studies that are conducted at various times. Again, this sacrifices uniformity in the congregation's learning, but makes studies more relevant to individuals, so the impact on those who attend is often much greater. It is well known that people tend to talk more when they are with those of their own gender or age group.

Try multiple teaching formats and see what works for your congregation. No matter what format is used, the brethren will learn truth because they are reading and hearing God's words. Certainly, there will be some incorrect comments made, but there are also errors made by the most experienced teachers and preachers.

Interaction is vital

People learn so much more when they want to know something before they hear it explained. Most of Jesus' ministry is answers to questions from the educated highly Jewish leaders, His disciples and the common, often uneducated people. Matthew 5 - 7 and John 13 - 17 are the only long messages of Jesus in the Bible. Acts and the Epistles also contain many questions and answers.

Interaction allows multiple points of view and corrections to be made. These discussions spur people to want to do more study. The problem with a single speaker during service, by far the most common form of conveying God's word during church, is that it doesn't encourage further study but rather future listening to that speaker.

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 Bible translations differ significantly. . Learning to read manuscript and translation notes in study Bibles are good for everyone. The major doctrines of Scripture are understandable from any translation.

Make sure everyone is heard

Time is not well used if a significant part of a study consists of people speaking too softly for others to hear them. The facilitator should ask them to speak up or at least repeat their comment so all can hear it. A handheld microphone and someone to walk it to those who need it is a vital part of interactive teaching.

A study facilitator also needs to stop multiple people from talking at once. If he cannot do it by asking them, the microphone is again a good way to designate who "has the floor." While it may seem harsh to insist that a quiet person speak louder or that one person be quiet until the first finishes, it is much worse for a person to stop coming to a Bible study because teaching time is wasted by others.

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