Bible Teaching Methods: Methodology for Sunday School & Other Bible Teachers

This Month's Bible Teaching Method:

Inductive Bible Study

Students actively study a Scripture passage in a deliberate and orderly way through a process of observation and questioning which allows them to discover what the passage is saying, what it means, and how it applies to their lives.

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Group size
A smaller group is better for this method to allow for individualized attention and interaction.

Resources needed
The primary resource needed with this method is a Bible for each student, preferably one without study notes as students will tend to read the notes rather than draw their own conclusions. A Bible may be the only resource used but often it is helpful for students to have paper and pens/pencils for personal note-taking and/or a flip chart or a white or chalk board for group observations along with the appropriate markers. One of these same means, or handouts, may be used to provide students with the basic questions they will use in their study. While not absolutely essential, resource books may be helpful -- Bible dictionaries, concordances, Bible atlases, and commentaries.

Objective targeted
An inductive Bible study enables students to acquire knowledge through personal discovery. This method may therefore also serve the purpose of helping with skill development in that students learn how to study the Bible on their own by applying the same procedures used in class.

Use modeled
The Berean Christians of Acts 17:10-12 took what Paul said and studied the Scripture themselves to see if what he said was true.

Proximity of others
At times more than one student could be talking at once however the noise should not get above a low buzz. Closeness to another class should generally not be a problem with this methodology.

Finances needed
No cost is required for this method if students bring their own Bibles. You may want to purchase Bibles for the classroom. You could incur minimal cost for paper or handouts. Reference books may be borrowed rather than purchased.

Age level
An inductive Bible study is most effectively used with teens and adults. Grade school age students, however, can begin to learn to study the Bible in this way. They may need more guidance than teens or adults but if they can read, they can do at least a basic study.

This method is very student-oriented. Students are not spoon fed the truth but rather learn to feed themselves. Along with personal expression, students may engage in some group interaction.

Time required
Generally you can figure on this method taking most, if not all, of the session.

Openness of group
Some students may find this method threatening, particularly if they have not been taught to think for themselves.

Room size
A room that allows for the class to sit in a circle or around a table would best fulfill the objective of learning from one another through this methodology.

Skills needed

The Preparation:

  • Choose a passage that will work within your time frame. Make sure that the passage is not so long or too complex that students can't possibly finish or must rush the process.
  • Work through the process on your own prior to class so you are able to better guide others. Do not, however, short circuit the discovery process for your students by pushing them toward your conclusions. But do use your understanding to coordinate the process and keep it moving. This method does not relieve teachers from personal preparation.
  • Decide the approach you will take. You may ask students to work on it individually on their own prior to class and then share their findings with one another in class. You may ask students to work alone in class and then share. You may work entirely together as a group. You may work in smaller groups or pairs with each unit assigned a specific question, sharing their answers later with the whole group. Vary your approach when using this method repeatedly.

The Process:

(1) Look to God for help.

Students need the Holy Spirit to guide the process if they are going to understand. See John 16:13-14. Begin the inductive Bible study with prayer, letting God know that you are depending on His Spirit to be the real teacher.

(2) Look at the big picture.

Read the passage to be studied at least once in its entirety. A second reading in a different version can be profitable. From this initial reading ask students what general impressions they get. What is the general mood or atmosphere in the text? What is the larger context?

(3) Look with some basic questions in mind.

Return to the passage with the basic who, what, when, where, how, and why questions. For example, who is the author? Who is it written to? Who are the characters? What problems, issues, or events does it deal with? What commands or promises are given? What does it tell you about God ... about Jesus ... about the Holy Spirit? What contrasts or comparisons are being made? When was this written? Where did this take place? How was it written (i.e., a letter, poetry, narrative, gently, assertively, etc.)? How is it structured? Why was it written?
You may want to list these questions on a chalk or white board, flip chart, or handout. Or, you may simply ask the questions as you go.
Remember that they are only looking for answers actually found in the text, not from personal interpretation. Answers to these questions may not be found in every text but should be asked anyway.
If your group is large or time is limited, you may consider breaking the class into smaller groups to answer certain questions and then share their findings with the whole group.
After seeking to answer all these basic questions, have someone summarize the findings.
As students are answering these questions, they should jot down any resultant questions they may have. You could provide paper and pens/pencils for students to individually write down their questions or you may write down their questions on a white or chalk board or flip chart. Avoid the temptation to stop this fact finding phase of the process to answer interpretive questions.

(4) Look for patterns or themes.

Once again, students should go through the text, this time looking for keywords or phrases, particularly ones that are repeated. Color coding or using symbols for the different words may be helpful. Again, students should jot down any questions they may have as a result of this phase of the study. After looking for these words or phrases, ask students to summarize their findings particularly pointing out any patterns or themes that have surfaced.

(5) Look at the questions still unanswered.

As students asked the basic questions and looked for keywords or phrases, they may have jotted down some questions their study raised but did not answer. If many questions were listed and your time is short, you may need to prioritize the questions. Begin to ask the questions.
If students are not able to answer a question or are not sure about their conclusion, have them probe deeper. Supply reference books like Bible dictionaries, concordances, atlases and/or commentaries. Bible dictionaries and concordances could be used for word studies. Cross referencing would help students compare Scripture to Scripture. Commentaries may help with interpretation of the text. Use commentaries as a last resort.
Perhaps the class could be divided into as many small groups or pairs as there are questions to research. Groups would work together to find answers to their questions and then report back to the whole group.

(6) Look at the big picture again in light of this study.

So as not to get lost in all the details of their study, have students step back and summarize what they learned in just a few sentences, or by making a list of key points, an outline, or a chart.

(7) Look at how the truths apply to every day life.

Students should ask if there are commands or principles that apply to them. If they applied them to their own lives, what changes would be evident in their attitudes, speaking, relationships, and/or behavior? Has their belief system changed in any way as a result of this study? For example, have they gained a greater understanding and appreciation of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit? Do they better understand who they are in Him? Must they look at the world around them differently?

The Possible Problems:

  • You may have those in your class who will try to jump ahead to the next step. You may have those in your class who have already drawn their conclusions due to prior knowledge rather than an objective study. Do not let them pull students along their path. To be an inductive Bible study, interpretations must stem out of observations made from the text itself. Insist that the order for the process be followed.
  • You may have a student dominate the discussion thus robbing others of the joy of discovery. Encourage participation of all members by establishing ground rules for sharing.
  • You may be tempted yourself to provide answers or bring the students along to your conclusions. Let God speak to them Himself through His Word. Remember that the purposes of using an inductive Bible study in the classroom are for students to discover truth for themselves and to learn from one another. The teacher is merely a facilitator, guide, or enabler.
  • You may get so caught up in the details of your study that you run out of time before getting to the application. Even if you do not complete the study, you should look for applications of what has been learned up to that point.
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(Last updated 3/01/19)