Jesus told us to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:19). Are we missing the mark when we teach? I’m afraid too many classes are training Bible scholars rather than making disciples. There’s an important difference.
The easiest way to teach a Bible lesson (for any age) is to teach the facts. We teach a Bible story and explain what it means. Then we ask questions to make sure the students (or our family members) understood and remember the facts we taught them. That’s a good starting point, but if we end there, we’re not making disciples.
Some students (or our family members) take it a step further from our factual lessons. We teach them about God and they believe in God. That’s great! But that’s not making disciples either.
“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19 NIV
A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ. This begins with confession of sin and a profession of faith. But it doesn’t end there! Jesus wants to be our Savior AND our Lord. (Learn the difference in this video.) That means we are in the process of sanctification. We are abiding in Christ and allowing the Lord to make us more like Him. As a result, the Holy Spirit works through us to bear spiritual fruit.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
John 15:1-8 NIV
In order for this to happen, we have to move beyond teaching head knowledge and guide our students to apply God’s Word to their hearts and lives.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. DO WHAT IT SAYS. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” James 1:22-25 NIV (emphasis mine)
This is not always an easy process. Sometimes it means talking about sin and difficult topics. (Remember the pruning in John 15?) That is one of the responsibilities of a teacher. It’s not easy and most of us don’t like doing it, but that is what God’s Word is meant to do. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to point out sin in our lives, to prune us, so we can bear fruit to the glory of God.
If we stop at teaching the facts, we quench the Spirit.
This doesn’t mean we have to be accusatory, aggressive, or “in your face.” The Holy Spirit’s job is to convict us of sin. We just need to teach God’s Word and guide our students (or family members) to think about how it applies to them and their lives. This looks different depending on the age of the person we’re discipling, but I’ve found that hypothetical situations are helpful for any age. For example:
- What did people do in this story that honored God?
- What did they do that was a sin?
- What similar situations do we face today? (Some people, especially younger children, will need your help on this one.)
Here’s the most important question:
What is one thing you can do today or this week to apply (put into practice) what we learned today?
Sometimes you can do it together as part of your lesson.
For more specific examples of how to do this, be sure to subscribe to the PRM E-Team. We send home a family Bible study each week.
As a side note, secular psychology has noticed the importance of application in the way God created humans. It’s called the Experiential Learning Cycle. Check out the graphic below. For more information, visit this website.
So I want to know: What is one thing you could do in your family Bible study or Sunday school class to focus on application (doing what God’s Word says)? Let me know down in the comments.