How to Prepare a Lesson on a Bible Passage
Learning the truths of God's word is one of the greatest joys in life. I believe this joy is caused by knowing Him more accurately so we can grow closer to Him relationally. That's what He designed us to do.
While gaining knowledge of God through the Bible is joyful, the idea of teaching it to others can be stressful. The key to removing that stress is orderly, careful preparation. Let me show you a way to prepare a Bible lesson for any kind of group, large or small.
Step 1: Writing Each Verse
Open your Bible (a physical one with pages). Turn on your computer. Type the first verse of your passage into a document on your computer.
Use a more literal translation like the CSB, ESV, NASB, or LSB. Writing out a passage from a literal translation will impress and challenge your mind in a way that will begin the process of stimulating curiosity.
As you do this, pray like the psalmist, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." (119:18) God wants us to direct prayers to Him that show our desire to learn more from His word.
Step 2: Writing Questions
After you have written down the first verse you are studying, write down any questions that help make sense of the verse. This could be anywhere between 1–5 questions.
For instance, the passage I'm working on this week for the youth group is James 2:1-13. Verse 1 says, "My brothers and sisters, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ." Here are some of my questions:
"What is favoritism?"
"What are some common ways people 'show favoritism' in the church or outside it?"
"What is 'the faith' and how does a person 'hold on' to it?"
"Why did James call Jesus 'our glorious Lord Jesus Christ' and not just 'Christ'?"
"How does 'showing favoritism' impact our grip on 'the faith in Christ'?"
It doesn't matter how simple, obvious, or complex your questions are. It matters that you approach the passage as a child, with a deep curiosity and desire to know, trust, and obey what it says as best as you can. Take the time you need to think through the passage in order to get good questions.
These questions are the heart of your study. Depending on the way you write your final lesson, you make not even mention these questions. Nevertheless, they will help you deliver as thorough and explanatory lesson as possible as you prepare it.
Repeat steps 1 and 2 for every verse until you have done the whole passage.
To make time for this, turn off your phone and any other device that might distract you. Those things can ruin your curiosity as you try to immerse your mind in the Bible. Ask God to help you focus and bless you with insight as you study.
Step 3: Answering Questions
After you have completed your question-writing, the next step is finding answers to your questions. Use good commentaries, study Bibles, and the Bible itself to help you figure out these answers. Then write the answers you find beneath the questions you have written.
Answering one of my questions from step 2 looks like this:
What is favoritism?
"'Favoritism' is a descriptive word for showing partiality; it literally means to receive someone according to their face. It is most likely a Semitism and describes the essence of judging based on external appearances." - Miriam Kamell
"concern about the outward beauty, wealth, or power of a person" - Peter Davids
"But Yahweh said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.'" (1 Samuel 16:7)
- Favoritism is judging people based on sight. Favoritism seems to offend God because he doesn't show it (Romans 2:11), and we need to act based on how he acts (Lev 19:15; Acts 10:34-35). And, as we have seen in the life of Jacob, favoritism creates bad marriages, bad parenting, and sibling rivalry. The rest of James 2 indicates it creates similar divisions in the church.
Both commentators I cited were very helpful to me. These were found in commentaries I purchased. While you can often find answers for free online, you will benefit greatly from buying a couple highly reviewed commentaries by evangelical authors. If you're serious about this, modern, in-depth commentaries will often answer your questions and stimulate new thoughts for you to help you grasp the passage. These typically cost $10-$30 dollars.
The answers you write could be anywhere between a phrase and a paragraph. But sometimes, you might hit a gold mine of information that deserves half a page or more in your notes.
Warning: if you quote someone else's work in your notes, cite them so that you don't accidentally commit plagiarism. In the digital age, plagiarism is a major issue in the church. There are many stories of writers and pastors who have not only lost credibility by plagiarism, they have led their congregation astray by preaching and teaching as though they came up with words which they borrowed.
As you struggle with a difficult verse, talk to God about it. Confess to Him your ignorance and ask for insight. Proverbs 2:1-10 is a command and a promise we need to trust in for this process.
Talk with other believers about your passage. Talk to your family members. You can even talk to unbelievers who might be willing to share their ideas. I can't tell you how many times I have struggled to understand something that someone else grasps easily. The process of talking about your Bible questions with someone else brings you clarity while also building your relationship with them.
Now, as you write down answers to your questions, you may not want to use all the answers you get in your final lesson. That's ok. You may just like to share your questions with the class and generate discussion. But the more you have searched for good answers in the Bible, commentaries, and other helps, you will be prepared for the lesson.
Step 4: Writing the Main Point(s)
After you finish the process of writing and answering your questions, go back to the Bible. Read through the passage and pray, asking God for help until you think you know the main principle or principles taught by this passage.
A good lesson usually requires at least one main point, or principle, that comes from the text.
The main point should be a phrase or a sentence that summarizes the principle in the passage you're looking at. One helpful rule to guide your main point is that it should connect to God. Another rule is that it should connect to people, too.
Here are some examples of what I mean by a main point:
Genesis 3:1-7 (When Adam and Eve eat the fruit)
"Sin is the effect of people placing trust in something other than God."
Genesis 3:8-24 (When God responds to Adam and Eve's sin)
"God's response to human sin involves punishment and grace."
1 Kings 3:1-15 (When Solomon asks God for wisdom)
"God honors those who seek wisdom from Him by giving greater blessings than they expect"
Esther 4:1-16 (When Esther's uncle insists she approach the king without being summoned)
"Serving God requires that we place His will above our own"
John 9:1-41 (Jesus heals the man born blind, then finds him after he's excommunicated)
"Jesus shepherds His people. He does this by restoring them, allowing them to undergo persecution, and drawing near to them to build faith."
Of course, the main point you get may not be perfect. If you re-examine the passage in a few years, you might revise the point to be more accurate. Don't worry about what you're missing today that you might find in the future. The goal of searching for the main point is not obtaining perfect knowledge. The point is to find the truth, not every truth. This truth should be clearly rooted in the passage so that you and others can grow in love for and knowledge of God.
Step 5: Writing the Lesson
If you have done steps 1-4 carefully and thoroughly, the last step is to prepare the final draft of your lesson. Thankfully, you don't have to reinvent the wheel at this point. You probably have 75-90% of your final lesson written down somewhere in your notes already.
I find that one of the simplest ways to prepare the final lesson is to organize it into 3 parts:
1. An introduction with background on the passage, the main point or points I see in the passage, and the important benefits we may gain from understanding the passage.
2. A verse-by-verse explanation of the passage that attempts to give the meaning of important words, phrases, and concepts to answer the most relevant questions the group might have. This will take up most of the lesson
3. A conclusion that tells how the passage can direct individuals (believers or unbelievers) to God and guide the church as a whole to fulfill the mission Christ has given us on earth.
For someone teaching a large group, your final lesson may need to be a complete speech where you read the text aloud, present the main point or points, go through the passage to explain what it says, and give application. If I am writing out an entire lesson like that, I find that it can often be anywhere from 4–10 pages, in a single-spaced, 12 point font.
But in smaller groups, you are free to choose how much you want to say and how much you want to elicit response from the group. You may not need as many pages of notes. Perhaps you'll only need 1–4 pages, combining insights you have with questions for the group to discuss.
Step 6 (optional): Making Illustrations
There are many creative ways to help people understand aspects of a Bible passage: personal stories, references to current events, and even references to fictional works like books or movies can help. But, contrary to many who think a good sermon starts with a gripping story, I don't think these are always necessary. Rather, illustrations should be used when they clarify something that wouldn't be clear without it.
Adding an illustration is like deep-frying food. It may enhance the flavor; but it can also mask the core content and remove its healthy benefit if done to excess.
If you give a story to a large or small group that doesn't add clarity, many may start to focus on the story, and miss the spiritual benefit of what God is saying in the passage. If that happens, you have made the Bible serve your illustration, rather than the other way around.
On the other hand, if you give a good illustration, most people will be more interested to get back into the text because they see the point of the passage more clearly.
Finally, one of the best ways to illustrate the Bible is by connecting it to another Bible story that illustrates the point. This not only clarifies the point of your passage, but it also helps people see God's word more clearly as a whole, leading them to know Him and love Him more than they did before.
According to God, all Christians have a role in the education of the church. Matthew 28:19-20 says, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Do not be discouraged as you teach. Jesus Himself accompanies us as we come together for the mission of making, baptizing, and teaching His disciples. His presence enables our efforts to be infinitely more effective and valuable than they would be on their own. So if things go well in our lessons, we always have Him to thank for that.