Yesterday I mentioned that as part of my presentation at some recent conferences, I put together the 7 steps I use for Bible study preparation. I’m not assuming these are universal, but they have helped me organize my time and hopefully make my teaching style engaging, relevant, and self-revelatory. So here you go:
Read the text.
This should probably go without saying, but I would recommend reading the text upwards of 10 times. And reading in such a way as to enter it. To smell, see, and taste what is happening in the text. This should take about half an hour.
Question the text.
I take a blank sheet of paper and ask every single question I can think of about the text, even if I know the answers. I ask about the names of people, what they mean, where else they appear in Scripture, who their family is, what their nationality is, and so on. Do this with every element, including what specific words mean, where else they are found in the Bible, and what different biblical authors mean by them. Don’t worry about answering the questions at this point; just raise them.
Learn the text.
This is where your study tools come in as you try and answer those questions. Everybody might not have access to Bible dictionaries, word studies, encyclopedias or commentaries, but there are some pretty good online tools you can use. A couple of my favorites can be found here:
Find the 3 AM statement of the text.
I am a huge believer in one point teaching. That is, walking into a lesson, you have one key thing you want to say with your time. It’s the main idea of the passage. And if you take time to construct in your own mind, chances are you’ll be more effective at communicating it. It’s called the 3 AM Statement because if someone woke you up at 3 am the night before you’re going to teach and asked, “What is your talk about?” you would be able to answer them in one, short, easy-to-remember sentence.
Personally reflect on the text.
This is where you take some time to ask the question: “What does this text mean for me?” Not, “What does this text mean for them?” You journal your answer, after several hours of prayer. In short, you choose to deeply encounter the text yourself before you try and help others do the same.
Construct an outline.
Take all the information, along with your personal reflection, and start constructing your teaching time centered around the 3 AM statement. Also, if you’re doing this for a small group, take the time here to think through the series of introspective and thought-provoking questions you want to ask your group. Write them out. Write several options of them out, depending on how you think people will answer.
Lead others to have a deep encounter with the text.
This is where to put the finishing touches on the teaching. Illustrations, verbage, and other flourishes make their appearance here.
Maybe that’s a helpful guide for you, too. I always enjoy the process, but it helps me to have a guide to work from.