How to Decide What to Teach

By : David Bowen

Begin with Prayer!

Nothing of eternal value can happen without prayer. Ask the Lord to give you insights into what your hearers need to learn. He knows them and cares for them! As you pray, see yourself as a facilitator so these people can experience more of God. This is not about your agenda, or your ideas, but rather being a faithful servant to the Lord. I like to pray, “Lord, what does this class need to know from this passage at this time? Glorify Your name through my teaching.” These teaching opportunities are divine appointments. The Lord will bring exactly the right people to each class or study you lead, no one will be there by accident.

Consider Multiple Sources of Input

How are you going to know what to teach a class? That can be a scary question! There are multiple sources of input to consider. Let’s explore a few of them, and then I’ll give you my recommended strategy.

1. Explicit guidance from others.

Your pastor or church leadership might have a specific topic or book of the Bible they want you to cover. This is often part of a larger curriculum effort. There may not be much more to your decision process, then, about what to teach.

2. You might be asked if you have anything ready that you could teach “without a lot of prep time.”

You still have some notes from those other classes you taught, right? This kind of input becomes common when you’re in a church or small group environment where there isn’t central planning or a standard curriculum identified.

But keep in mind what I said earlier about the importance of knowing what the class needs! Don’t go with what is easiest for you unless you have other confirmation that this is the best for this class at this time.

3. An idea based on something you’ve read recently, or heard in a sermon or radio broadcast.

Good Bible teachers hear or read something and immediately start thinking of how to teach that to their classes. Or how to incorporate an insight, metaphor, or background fact into something they’re already working on. This is because good Bible teachers love to teach, and enthused about getting good ideas to their students.

(By the way, this is one of the reasons you need to take notes in your Bible or journal. You’re likely to forget something valuable to share if you don’t make a note of it. When driving, I will sometimes pull off the road to make a note.)

4. A book or topic that God is leading you personally to learn more deeply about.

A strong element with this input is that you will have a personal stake in it. There will be stories you can share. Your transparency can be high – “Hey, this is what God is teaching me about X, and I haven’t got all this figured out yet.”

Be sure you are ready to teach this topic or book, however. It may well be that God has some more “seasoning” He wants to do in your life before you can teach this one.

5. A need you know about for this specific class.

Is the class all singles? Are there young parents, or parents of teenagers? Perhaps there have been a lot of job or health struggles? Are they “primed” with interest about a particular spiritual discipline, or eager to tackle an OT book because they’ve spent most of their time in the NT for two years? What is their heart need? What will help them take greater steps of faith and obedience, for the glory of Jesus Christ? What will enlarge their view of the Lord?

My recommended strategy is simple: look for more than one of these sources of input to line up on a specific book or topic.

My experience has shown me that I need to see God confirming the topic for a class through multiple avenues, or else I risk getting into a situation where I can do no more than increase my pride or tickle someone’s ears – lives aren’t going to be changed for the better either way. If only one of these inputs is clear, be cautious.
If you ask me to pick one source of input, I’d go with what the class needs. If you are teaching in an area where there is a genuine need, the Lord can work out all kinds of other difficulties so that you can teach to change lives.

In most cases, several of these things will come together and you will be convinced this is God’s will for you to proceed. Make sure that you take your idea to the Lord over a several day or week period. I believe that God always speaks clearly and plainly – our problem is faulty hearing and cloudy judgment. Prayerfully considering your planned teaching topic over several days gives you the best confidence that you have heard God’s direction correctly. Our loving Father will patiently work with you to ensure His ways are clear.

But what if I’m stumped and don’t have any ideas at all?

This can and does happen. The first thing to do is prayerfully give thanks to God for surfacing this and ask Him for guidance. By giving thanks, you immediately work to frustrate prideful or demonic suggestions about what you “should” teach. (I wish I had learned this much earlier in my teaching ministry – and now I’ve given you a huge jump start!)

The next thing to do is to start asking questions.

Ask the pastor, class leader, and/or some people in the class what kinds of things they think would be valuable to learn about. What have they covered recently?

Talk with the person who was teaching this class previously. What kinds of questions were raised? Was there anything that seemed to need more attention? What excited people? What is the biblical literacy of this class? Did he/she sense there were areas where people needed to grow more?

Here’s a list of prompters for questions about your students:

* Relationships (marriage, children, parents, siblings)

* Current local events (political, economic, school system, crimes)

* Deaths or serious illnesses

* Changes in family (new children, aging parents, divorce, adultery)

* New believers

* Faith-testing events (e.g., unemployment)

* Lack of unity in small groups or church

* Concerns for neighbors and coworkers

* Interest in spiritual disciplines

* Outreach possibilities

* Refreshed believers (seeing new growth in old members)

Continue to pray as you consider the answers to these questions. Panic and hurry are neither necessary nor helpful.

Sometimes I sit down in a quiet place and slowly page through my Bible book by book, patiently looking and listening for anything that “jumps out.”

Remember that this is God’s work, so He is going to lead you to just the right lesson material for this class at this time. Trust in Him, not in any mechanical way to determine “the answer.”
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”