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It seems a simple question. In reality, though, it’s not. We generally know where we want to go, but figuring out the best place to start can be a challenge.
Search the Internet. Type “how to teach the Bible” into a search bar. If you do so, you’ll find a wide variety of opinions and strategies. It can feel overwhelming. I know, I’ve been there myself. I’ve tried to find a magic bullet or methodology, but each one I look to has pros and cons. It’s easy to feel in over your head.
On top of that, there’s the issue of timing. Compared to day school or college, parish teaching is often restrained by so little time and chance for consistency. People are gone from Sunday School or Bible Class for a weekend. Church attendance is sporadic. Learners have a wide diversity of background knowledge. What are we to do?
What I propose here is one way among many of approaching parish education. Add this perspective to your toolbox of ideas. Don’t start with facts and figures about God’s Word. Instead, first consider the timeless truths behind God’s Word. If you do so, you may be better able to match your learning strategies and content to your learners.
What does this mean? Before teaching the Bible, consider the big questions in life. I propose, ultimately, that there are really only a few big questions that drive our curiosity and learning as humans. These questions apply to all of us, and they really don’t change as we age. Here are some of them:
- Who am I?
- Who is God?
- How should I live under God?
- How do I interact with God?
There are others, but this is a good start. As you prepare to teach, consider this: your learners bring these questions to church with them. They take whatever answers they find at church back home with them. As we go through life, we may answer these questions with a different spin, but we still ask. Life is in many ways a search for answers to these deep questions—this is common to a lost and broken humanity.
God’s Word as Timeless Truth
Christians rely on God’s Word. Through the Word of the Law, we’re shown our sin. We’re convicted of our guilt before God’s righteous justice. It’s then through God’s Word that we’re given the promise of Christ. The Holy Spirit leads us to repentance, and we’re forgiven by the Word of Christ. We receive His good gifts through Word and Sacrament. This is the truth of Law and Gospel that convicts of sin and creates saving faith in Christ.
God’s Word is truth. It is the answer to the fundamental questions that all of our learners bring with them to church. When you approach teaching God’s Word to your learners, begin by considering the big questions. Then investigate the fundamental answers God’s Word provides. This is the heart of catechesis, and this is at the center of Luther’s arrangement of the Six Chief Parts of the Small Catechism:
- Who am I? I am God’s human creature, created to love Him and love my neighbor. The fundamental answer to this question is found in the Ten Commandments.
- Who is God? God has created me, redeemed me, and called me so that I may be His own. The fundamental answer to this question is found in the Creed.
- How should I live under God? God has called me His child in Christ, and He commands me to daily commend my life to His plan for me. The fundamental answer to this question is found in the Lord’s Prayer.
- How do I interact with God? God interacts with me as He forms my faith through His Word and Sacraments. Fundamental answers about the Sacraments can be found in the Small Catechism’s sections on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar.
How Does This Help?
A beneficial effect of this way of thinking is that it focuses study of God’s Word on the basic truths that Word brings to the lives of our learners. This does not mean that every learning experience needs to be transformed into a study of the Small Catechism. What this does mean, instead, is that you are free to dig into any part of God’s Word, equipped with engaging questions. It give you and your learners a why? It also points them and you back to the timeless truths of God’s Word.
Engaging God’s Word, then, becomes a lifelong experience. It’s not simply something we learn once and then move on. Instead, as we ask the big questions throughout our life, and look to God’s Word for answers, God builds deeper and deeper understanding by His Word. Bible study is transformed from simply absorbing facts to understanding the timeless truths that God relays to us to answer our fundamental human questions. As we age and change, the timeless truth speaks in different ways. God’s Word doesn’t change; it speaks.
God’s richest blessings to you in your ministry.
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