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Teach With This Trait in Mind: Immediate Application

Teach the WordThis is the final article in a five-part series by Prof. Stephen Geiger, who teaches education and New Testament at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, the seminary of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Why study the Bible?

The Apostle Paul gives a great answer to Timothy:

“From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

Note one word in that answer. The saving Scriptures are useful. Scripture is not mere theory.  Scripture is not just something we contemplate with deep thoughts. God's revelation directly addresses our lives. It's helpful. It's beneficial. It is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path.

It brings sorrow over sin. It brings comfort in the gospel. It gives power for Christian living. It provides a sure path for Christian living. It's helpful. It is useful.

It just so happens that adult learners crave immediate application. Adults love to see how instruction impacts day-to-day life. How perfect is this? You are a teacher of holy Scripture, and your teaching text is given because it's useful for the day-to-day struggles and opportunities that lie before us.

We have been looking at five key characteristics of adult learners. Adult learners are self-directed, experienced, task-oriented, problem-solving, and interested in immediate application. This final trait—interest in immediate application—reminds a shepherd of souls to focus on something he would have wanted to focus on anyway: Scripture's connections to real life.

So, adults are eager for immediate application. How can my teaching of a Sunday morning Bible class be different if I keep this particular trait in mind?

  • Action goals: Portions of Scripture have specific, and often distinctive, divine goals. Ask yourself what God intends to accomplish through your Bible study text. As part of that consideration, determine what Christian behaviors naturally flow from these divine words. Next, craft questions that draw people’s attention to these action goals. For example, in Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis in Revelation chapter 3, he commands Christians to wake up. My action goal for this lesson? God wants participants to be able to fight spiritual sleepiness. A question that might lead to this goal? After looking at Bible verses that identify what it means to be spiritually awake, one might ask, “When you sense that either you or someone you care about is starting to become spiritually sleepy, what do you do?”
  • Question sequencing – Application Destination: When you’ve identified a key truth in your Bible section for the day, determine the final destination for that truth—in other words, what does God want Christians to do with this truth? After creating intermediate questions that ensure understanding of the text, craft a “final destination” application question that invites people to apply that truth to their lives. For example, a key thought in Jesus’ message to the church in Thyatira is the need to practice Christian discipline. The “final destination” for this truth? God wants Christians to overcome fears and lovingly admonish when needed. A “final destination” application question? “When I think about admonishing someone, I don't want to forget . . .”
  • Time travel: Transport your class in thought to the moment when the Bible event happened. Give them the opportunity to imagine experiencing the event and then exploring the impact that event would properly have on their lives. For example, in Revelation chapter 1 the apostle John falls at the feet of Jesus. In Luke chapter 5, Peter falls at Jesus’ knees after witnessing an incredible catch of fish. After comparing and contrasting the experiences of John and Peter, ask, “What practical changes in life do you imagine would take place if you had an experience like John’s or Peter’s?”
  • Law and Gospel can be “applied” too: A distinction is often made between appropriation and application. We appropriate truths that God wishes us simply to believe or embrace (for example, that I have been declared innocent through the death and resurrection of Jesus). We apply instructions for Christian living (love your neighbor as yourself). With a slightly broader definition, one can say that we want to apply every Christian truth to our day-to-day living, including words of law and gospel. So when addressing a law or gospel concept in a Bible class, think, “How can I have them personally apply those truths to their own specific sins or thoughts of guilt?” For example, after learning about lukewarm Christianity from Revelation chapter 3 and its connection to a misidentification of true wealth, small groups might first be asked to describe the spiritual disease that was afflicting the Christians in Laodicea and then to share how they see similar temptations show themselves in their lives. Then, a follow-up question: What treatments would you, a Christian doctor of souls, prescribe? Through such questions, participants can make immediate application of law and gospel to their day-to-day lives.

Over the last five issues of Teach the Word, we've looked at Five Traits of Adult Learners. It is a privilege to teach these Christians who are self-directed, experienced, task-oriented, problem-solving, and interested in immediate application. What wonderful partners they can be as together we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.


In next month’s issue — How to Avoid the Five Cardinal Sins of Presentations