Effective Bible teaching is artesian in nature. The word artesian describes a well through which water rises naturally to the surface as a result of internal pressure. Charles Spurgeon used this metaphor with reference to preaching: “True preaching is artesian; it wells up from the great depths of the soul. If Christ has not made a well within us, there will be no outflow from us.” What is true for preachers is true also for small group Bible study leaders—God’s Word is most effectively communicated from the overflow of what God is doing in our lives.
This being true, the key to transformational Bible teaching begins with recognizing the difference between preparing a lesson and preparing the leader of the lesson. Make no mistake; I’m a strong proponent of lesson preparation. Artesian teaching doesn’t negate the need for personal study, though a prepared heart is more critical. If we have only prepared a lesson but have not spiritually prepared ourselves, we are unprepared to teach the Bible.
How, then, can we prepare ourselves to teach from the overflow? Rather than offering a step-by-step process of preparation, let’s consider three general principles of spiritual preparation:
1. Prepare on your knees.
It’s not the physical posture of kneeling that matters, but the posture of the heart—dependency on and submission to God. “A prayerless ministry cannot know God’s truth and, not knowing it, cannot teach it,” said E. M. Bounds.
The apostles gave priority to two things in ministry, according to Acts 6:4: prayer and teaching the word. Certainly this means they considered their responsibility to pray to be no less important than their responsibility to communicate the word to others and knew the two priorities could not be separated.
2. Pursue God.
It’s one thing to go to the Bible in search of lesson material. It’s another thing altogether to go to te Scripture in pursuit of the Person of God. How important it is not to allow the former to take precedence over the latter!
Leonard Ravenhill said: “A man may study because his brain is hungry for knowledge, even Bible knowledge. But he prays because his soul is hungry for God.” The effective Bible teacher prays not just that God will give him something to say; he prays because he desires God.
In the days of the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord condemned the priests because of a grave sin: “The priests quit asking, ‘Where is the Lord?’ The experts in the law no longer knew Me” (Jer. 2:8, HCSB). Those who dealt with the law of God did not seek God and thus had no first-hand knowledge of what they taught. The Bible is God’s personal Word to the leader before it is lesson material for the next meeting.
3. Practice what you teach.
“Never traffic in unpracticed truth,” Dr. Howard Hendricks used to say. Ezra, the Old Testament priest, scribe, and teacher of God’s law, provides a model. Ezra 7:10 says he “determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel.” The order is significant: study, obey, and teach. If we haven’t studied the Word, we are not ready to teach it. If we’re not obeying it, we are not qualified to teach, for we can’t understand the truth of the Word if we are not practicing it.
Let’s not emphasize lesson preparation to the point that we lose sight of the more important thing—heart preparation. Prepared hearts make prepared lessons. May Christ make a well in the depths our hearts out of which flows the truth of God’s Word in sincerity and power.
Mike Livingstone is a content editor on Lifeway’s adult ongoing Bible studies team, a position he has held for 23 years. Prior to coming to Lifeway, he served as a pastor and missionary in Kenya. He leads a weekly Bible study at his church and blogs at mikelivingstone.com. Find him on Twitter: @m_livingstone.