Depth is not necessarily about the level of the information; it’s more about the encounter you have with the information. That is to say, depth isn’t achieved by including a certain number of Greek and Hebrew verbs. Rather, it’s achieved by providing an encounter with biblical truth that engages people in every area of life–spirit, emotion, intellect, and even body.
The only way to create such an atmosphere is to have first encountered that truth yourself in a way that engages your whole person. Once you’ve been there, you can lead others to do the same. In light of that goal, here are seven basic steps to Bible study preparation:
1. Read the text. And don’t just read it once; read it upwards of 10 times. In differing translations. And read in such a way as to enter it–to smell, see, and taste what is happening in the text. This should take about half an hour.
2. Question the text. Take a blank sheet of paper and ask every single question you can think of about the text, even if you know the answers. Ask about the names of people, what they mean, where else they appear in Scripture, who their family is, what their nationality is, and so on. Do this with every element, including what specific words mean, where else they are found in the Bible, and what different biblical authors mean by them. Don’t worry about answering the questions at this point; just raise them.
3. Learn the text. This is where your study tools come in as you try and answer those questions. While you may not have access to Bible dictionaries, word studies, encyclopedias, or commentaries, there are some pretty good online tools you can use. Check out MyStudyBible.com for a good place to start.
4. Find the text’s “3 a.m. statement.” When you walk into a lesson, you want to have one key point to make during your discussion. That is the main idea of the passage. And if you take time to construct the idea in your own mind, chances are you’ll be more effective at communicating it. It’s called the “3 a.m. statement” because if someone woke you up at 3 a.m. the night before you’re going to teach and asked, “What is your teaching about?” you would be able to answer him in one, short, easy-to-remember sentence.
5. Personally reflect on the text. Take some time to ask the question, “What does this text mean for me?” Not, “What does this text mean for them?” Journal your answer after several hours of prayer. Choose to deeply encounter the text yourself before you try and help others do the same.
6. Construct an outline. Take all the information, along with your personal reflection, and start constructing your teaching time centered around the 3 a.m. statement. Also, if you’re doing this for a small Bible study group, take the time to think through the series of introspective and thought-provoking questions you want to ask your group. Write out several options, depending on how you think people will answer.
7. Lead others to have a deep encounter with the text. This where to put the finishing touches on the teaching. Illustrations, verbiage, and other flourishes make their appearance here.
Excerpted from Context: Engaging the Young Adults of Your Community from Threads by Lifeway.