by Dr. Ken Matto

One of the most dynamic ministries available in the church today is that of teaching God's Word to a body of hungry Christians. The Sunday School teacher can exercise as much influence over the Christian as does the Pastor. These principles are also applicable to any situation where you will be teaching the Scriptures which could include home groups. There are many Christians placed into the teaching role but believe they are unqualified. There is some truth to this because not every believer has the ability to teach nor should be teaching. God gives a warning in James about this:

(James 3:1 KJV) My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

The word "masters" may also be translated "teachers."

This study is based on personal teaching methods and observation of many different styles of teaching. While this is by no means the ultimate study, I will suggest some principles of teaching which will enhance your style and delivery. It will help increase your value as a teacher. A good teacher is a great asset to every true church and is welcomed by every education department. Unfortunately, good teachers are far and few between because there is much lack of commitment on part of some teachers, also Sunday School teaching is not viewed as a church dynamic. If you will apply these principles, your class will do a 180 degree about face. Let us look at some of the principles.

In many churches there is a severe lack of Bible based teaching. We have all kinds of guides based on psychology, sociology, and other topics. The Bible must be the source in every class. Many Christians are very biblically illiterate and it does not help them to grow in their faith if the Bible is used only as a support book for the study guide instead of the study guide being ancillary to the Bible. I raised an objection in a class once when a study guide author took a verse out of context to make his case. The teacher thanked me for my observation and then went on to say that we will use the verse the way the author used it. It is dangerous to put man's word above God's Word. If you use the Bible, your people will grow, if not, they will shrink. Stand on Scripture whether your class agrees or not.
Prepare your lessons about four weeks in advance. This removes the tyranny of the urgent in preparation. I keep about 60 sermons prepared in case I get a call on Saturday night or Sunday morning to preach. Jay Adams suggests that preachers prepare their messages about 6 months in advance. He is correct because from the time you will finish your study which will be given 4 weeks from the time of initial preparation, God will add to that study and will smooth out any rough edges or replace invalid points. You will have much time to ponder the study, and by time you deliver it, you will have a concrete message or study for your class. Do not make the mistake to think your message is of less value than the sermon. You are in essence preparing a two-way sermon, which has equal value.
I once taught a class of pre-teens and the first thing I did in September was to put my telephone number on the blackboard and told them to write it down. My intention was to be available to them any time they needed me. The Sunday School teacher cannot follow a pattern, which is to teach and run, and not to be seen till next week. A teacher must be willing to put themselves in the marketplace for all students to question them and gain clarification on a teaching.
As a teacher we must realize we will not know everything nor are we expected to. When you are certain of a doctrine, then teach it but if something arises in class and you are asked to comment, but you are not sure, tell them. A class respects a teacher who does not know everything. Here is a great opportunity to gain the respect of your students. You simply tell them you do not know the answer but you will make an attempt to unravel the mystery for them. If you do and it turns into a prolonged time of study, then give the study in class because if one student is concerned about it, others are too. If you can answer the question, then call that student, telling them you have found an answer to their query and will present the study to the entire class.
The entire Bible is the Word of God and no part is to be ignored in teaching. This comes from a belief that the Old Testament is no longer valid for the church today. Those churches that teach only the New Testament are teaching half a Bible and will no doubt be built on doctrines extracted from isolated verses. Do not be afraid to teach the Old Testament at your church. If someone objects, let them, but just continue to teach. God the Holy Spirit can still open the spiritual eyes of the most obstinate believers. If the Old Testament is invalid, then why do we revere such passages as: Psalm 23; Isaiah 7:14 & 9:6; Genesis 1-3, etc. Do you see how foolish it is to say the Old Testament is invalid for the church today? When someone objects, ask them that question and give them the verses. The Bible is one cohesive unit, not two different sections in opposition.
Don't just teach your students, challenge them to grow in the faith. Challenge them to inculcate the material into their lives. Impress on them that the Bible is the living Word of God, not just an ordinary book. Most students have been inundated with commentaries to the point they may not be able to tell the difference between Scripture and commentary. This is a sad but true situation, especially for those who use study bibles. Many tend to confuse the notes with Scripture and you must challenge them to be obedient to the living Word of God. Challenge them to do something during the week and then come back and report to the whole class about it. Give a short time for the students to convey to the others that God's Word is alive and vital to the growth of the Christian. Once the students hear this, their excitement will build and a new spirit will pervade the class.
One problem many teachers face is silence in the class. When a question is posed, do not be intimidated by the silence of the class. Many teachers are and they tend to answer the question for the class. When this is done a few times, the class will be programmed to believe they need not worry about answering because the teacher will do it for them. This stunts the growth of the students. The whole idea of teaching is to impart knowledge to the hearers, not to do the learning for them. Have you ever been in a prayer session where everybody waits for the other person to start praying? When the teacher does not answer the question and waits for the class, they will be more serious about doing their studies at home.
Make a conscious effort to get feedback from your students on both the material you are teaching and your presentation. Many times we do things unconsciously. I remember the first time I preached, I kept using the word 'okay" after every change of point. My father came to me after the service and told me about it and I have never done it since. That was 1982. Feedback is important for your own growth. Do not scorn the negative feedback, turn it into positive inclusion in your life. Some may criticize the material you are teaching because it is exposing their pet sin, but the Lord will give you discernment in such matters.
Although you are the teacher, keep in mind that the Holy Spirit dwells in every saved person. This creates a situation in which you may be corrected on an issue, and usually this happens in front of the class. This is the best way because if you teach error and you are instantly corrected, your class will not be subject to that teaching until you correct it next week. I remember when I was first saved, I was teaching on Abraham and I said that Abraham was a Jew. A seminary student instantly corrected me stating that Abraham was a Chaldean. That one incident caused me to check twice before I espouse any doctrine or teaching. It was a great help but a blow to the pride of a new Christian. Dr. Robert A. Cook made a chuckling statement once, he said, "I wish I knew as much today as I did my first year in college." Isn't that apropos? I miss him!
Ninety per cent of teaching is listening. A good listener will asses the mood or spiritual level of his class. Being a good listener allows you to know where your people hurt the most and where their concerns lie. After you listen and evaluate, then next quarter you will be able to prepare materials which will help in those areas. If you become a good listener, you will also increase your confidence base. People will begin to have much confidence in you as a counselor and friend. If there is one thing that is needed in the church, it is a good listener. Many Christians do not want material things from other Christians but they just want to be listened to. This makes for a great opportunity to help build them in their Christian walk. Listening is a lost art which must be recovered. Most listening today is based on the attitude of "hurry up and finish talking so I can talk." My sisters and brothers, these things should not be.
You are teaching something and suddenly someone blurts out that the doctrine is incorrect. Now you could say something like: "It is not", "prove it," or "I did the study and you didn't" or some other sharp rebuke. These quick answers will engender strife in the class and may cause a student versus teacher relationship which may destroy the spiritual atmosphere of the class. Proverbs 15:1 states, "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. Let us establish a hypothetical situation. Suppose you are teaching on the doctrine of imputed sin and a student says that it is an archaic doctrine without any foundation. You may answer the objection with: "That is an interesting point, how did you arrive at that conclusion?" Or, "would you care to explain your theory?" Or, "in my opinion you may be incorrect but let's turn to the Bible and see what it says." By turning to Scripture, you will be removing human speculation and putting the burden of proof on the Bible. If their is error and the person is sincere, they will admit it and you have avoided an argument. I have been in Bible studies where arguments started at the outset of the study and did not cease until the study ended. I went home disgusted many times. Healthy confrontation is good for the teacher because it keeps us on our toes and forces us to do our homework.
If there is one destructive element in teaching, it is a teacher who has no biblical absolutes. A teacher who consistently changes their views daily should not be a teacher. I call these people the "Doctrine of the Day" crowd, because one day they believe this and the next day that. A teacher that has no sound biblical roots is going to program their hearers into believing that God has no absolutes. A teacher that is well rooted in Scripture will teach confidently (not arrogantly) and will build a strong class. Insecurity is quickly spotted by people. There is no reason for any Bible teacher to worry about the truth of Scripture since the Bible has proven itself throughout history. If a teacher does not put their confidence in Scripture, then the question must be posed, "What is their confidence in?"
There will be times when you are expounding a passage and someone will offer up a valid point about an alternate meaning for that passage. This is great because it shows your students are doing their homework. Write down the meaning your student gives you and study it at home. When he/she sees you writing it down, it gives them a great feeling that you believe they are somebody that counts. Another way to build your students is when the alternate meaning is pertinent to the lesson, you could enmesh the persons name in your explanation. For example, "We are talking about imputed sin and this passage gives us a good understanding of the point at issue, and if we couple that with the explanation Svetlana gave us, we find we have a cohesive doctrine." I guarantee, Svetlana will go home feeling great and no doubt will become more involved in the church because she has been recognized as someone with value. Every Christian is valuable to God and they better become valuable to us.
One of the most unfair tactics teachers use is rereading the lesson in class for the benefit of the lazy section. Some will say there are legitimate reasons they cannot do their lessons. If they watch TV, then their reasons are groundless. If there is time for leisure activities, there is time for studies. Students who take the time to study are worth going the extra mile for. Teachers should note those who do their lessons and when church leaders are needed, use this as a criteria for choosing, not the amount of money given.
Remember, the church is a place of spiritual activity, and those who are serious students of Scripture should be considered for leadership, not the person who is spiritually dormant. Remind your class that their spiritual life is a continuum and they should be making a conscious effort to nurture it. Never threaten to have them ejected for not doing their work because they might quit the church. Of course that is a conscious decision they will make but do not be their scapegoat. It is better to have the spiritually lethargic in class than out. Your class may be their only bit of spiritual training they receive or want, so do nothing to jeopardize it.
This is the most boring and unresponsive method anyone can use. It conveys to your students they are not worth the time to prepare a lesson for. Reading a commentary is very boring to the students because it gives them no opportunity for teacher-student interaction. To sit and listen to some unprepared person ramble on is an affront to Scripture. The person that adopts this method should be removed from teaching immediately because it will scatter the sheep. I attended a study session with just such a teacher, so I remedied the situation by sitting next to a window so I could look out. The gospel is alive and should not be taught with dead techniques. You may quote a commentary or teacher's guide, but it should not be the center of study. Personally, I love the Puritans but they do not become the source of study, only the Bible can be the source because it is rooted in God.
Question your students regularly. This will help you evaluate if you are getting the message across to them. Questions build a great interaction between the students themselves. Sometimes if the body of students answer questions, it builds a closer relationship between believers. Many times I have had calls from people about something I said in class. It keeps the body well oiled. As I previously stated, do not be intimidated by the silence after a question is posed because everyone is waiting for the other one to answer. Have patience and the Holy Spirit will motivate someone to speak. Once somebody does, you may have to appoint a sergeant at arms.
Always keep your Bible open and in plain view of your students, this way they will see your authority is the Bible and it will train them open for quick retrieval of passages. It will also teach them that authority is not found in the study guide but in the Bible. It also puts them into the mindset that man's writings are always subject to the Scriptures. The Bible must be the center if there is going to be growth within the student body.
Another mistake teachers make is canceling a student interaction for the reason of completing the material. There is nothing under the sun which states, because a lesson is prepared, it must be completed in one session. I have prepared lessons which have taken many weeks to get through, when it could have been done in two sessions. A friend of mine attended a church where they studied the book of Luke for over a year.
The key to teaching is to verify your students gain something from the lesson, not to rush through it. If the Bible was used instead of quarterly lessons, we would have many more biblically literate Christians than we do now. But because these quarterly journals are dated there is a sense of urgency about getting through them so we could go on to the next quarter. Whereas if the Bible was used, there is no rush to get through anything because on every page, we will find something we can dissect and discuss. Man's writings do not contain this deeper life capability. Christians cannot discuss the sermon while it is being preached but they should have that privilege to do so during the Sunday School hour, provided the teacher is well rooted in Scripture.
When I was on Jury duty, the Prosecutor told us that we are look at the faces of those testifying to see if we can catch them in a lie by means of facial expressions or eye movements. It is the same with a class. As you teach, take note of their expressions and you will know whether you have confused them or taught them. Many will not ask for clarification because they do not want to sound stupid in front of the class. We all have residuals of vanity in each of us. Facial expression is a great way to nip confusion in the bud. I remember I once preached to a group of elders and could see I was confusing them, so I had to somehow salvage the message. By God's grace it was saved as they discussed it right after I finished.
Using any type of visual aids will always enforce the point you are trying to make. If you search the New Testament, you will see the Lord Jesus Christ always used visual aids or parables to stress a point. Some of them are: The lilies of the field; The birds; Wheat and tares; Fig tree, etc. A visual aid has much more effect on the memory than words. Write key words on a blackboard and keep them up till the lesson is over. Writing the principles you are teaching on a blackboard will give slow writers the opportunity to write down the lesson. You will always have speed and slow writers in every group, so prepare for them by using the visual written word, thus satisfying both groups.
Have some type of written material for the people to take home. Let it contain the principles you plan to offer during the lesson, so if a person does not want to write them down, they will be there for them to read and study. This may play right into the hands of the lazy ones in your group but it will be well worth it when the hungry ones utilize it. You may even want to include a weekly Bible reading section which contains the passages of Scripture you will be using next week. This gives them the opportunity to read and study the Scriptures.
Questions or comments will then be fresh in their minds. This also makes for good discussion. Many people will forget the lessons 10 minutes after they leave your class, but if it is written, it will be there for them to use whenever they choose. Remember as a teacher you want to see your students grow but it is not your responsibility if some choose not to grow. Desiring not to grow is a conscious decision made by someone and you should not feel any guilt for their slothfulness, instead concentrate on those who really have a desire to grow.
This is a must for every believer. What good is teaching the pure gospel if your students see you going into a bar on Saturday night or see you smoking. I need not comment on this any further as this is a given. Every Christian must desire to live a sanctified life, we may not be 100% successful, but we should strive for it.
If you have a short temper or get angry quickly, teaching is not for you. If you have a job which causes you to be away for any periods of time, do not accept the teacher's position. If studying bores you, do not accept. A responsible teacher can expect to be chained to a desk for many hours, which means missing TV shows and other events. If this is not acceptable, do not teach. Teaching is a wonderful ministry but it should not be entered into lightly because it carries the same responsibility as the pastor's job. If there is anything that will hinder you from doing the most thorough job you can, then either refuse to teach or change your lifestyle. If a person wants to teach, they must have a desire to put the non-essentials of this life on the shelf. Might I suggest that if you want to teach but are not sure, ask your Sunday School Superintendent to allow you to teach a class for 1 or 2 weeks, and have the pastor and superintendent attend to evaluate. Start as a substitute and work your way into a regular teaching ministry. Remember this applies to both youth and adult teaching.
Well I have tried to lay down some grass roots principles on teaching. The modern church must begin to evaluate their teaching staff and remove those who are unqualified and shallow. Teaching the Bible is a serious thing. Let us remember what James warns us about again, it bears repeating, "(James 3:1 KJV) My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. James is not kidding, teaching is viewed by God as a serious ministry. Minds and lives are altered by teaching every day. If you are a teacher, you know that you have a grave responsibility to care for those under you. It is not a light thing to be considered. Finally, if you are planning to teach, search yourself thoroughly to see if your motives are correct, if not, wait until they are. You could do more damage than good.