I recently learned that a former teacher of mine had retired. I immediately felt heartbroken. I should not have felt this way. He was a good man who had worked hard for many years and was finally getting some well-deserved rest. Neither would I be missing out on any of his classes since I was no longer part of the school. I was heartbroken for all the students who would not get to experience his classes, learn from him, or be able to practice his teachings. This was a truly great teacher.

As I think about being a Bible teacher, how can I emulate such a response? How can I excel that people will miss my classes?

Like Jesus, this man loved his students. He knew them, as we have discussed in previous articles. More importantly, He knew how to make them think. As students of the Bible, the most important thing we should walk away with is not just what the Bible says but how to think about what the Bible says in order to replicate it in our lives.

Jesus did this as he told the parables. In Luke 15, as we read about the prodigal son, Jesus gives us several ways to think about the scripture. For instance, are we the prodigal son wayward and need to return? Are we the older brothers who are jealous and unforgiving? Do we? See God as a welcoming Father as he turned out to be? Or do we see God as someone we can’t return to, like the Prodigal son? Are we eating pig slop when we could be feasting?

There is no end to the applications this parable can give to the modern person. As teachers, learning how to think about this passage is what we want to pass down to those we are teaching. There are several ways to do this.

  1. Understand the cultural and historical references.

The Bible was written for us, but not to us. Jesus spoke to many first-century villagers who spoke Hebrew and Greek and lived very different lives. As teachers, it is our job to understand parts of those scriptures that may not translate well into our modern English-speaking society. Why did he ask for his inheritance? Why did the father give him a ring? Why would it have been so bad for a first-century Jew to be feeding and eating with pigs? When we understand that, the story takes on new dimensions.

  1. Ask really good questions.

Compare the two brothers. What were their attitudes? Who had the better ending? In which region of the country were they in? What was the geography like? What did the disciples think about this story? Did they understand it?

  1. Be honest about personal struggles.

The parable of the prodigal son is a great story to teach about God’s love and forgiveness. The point of the story, though, is not just the events; the point is that we, too, can have love and forgiveness. Have we ever struggled to see God’s love for us? How did we come back to God? Have we ever had to forgive?

When we go through this process of learning not what the story is but thinking through the story and how it applies to us, our teaching will make a big difference to those we teach. Too often Bible teachers want to just get out the facts. They forget the facts are only half of the story. Teach your students to think through what they have read, and the scriptures will come alive again and again.