by J. D. Buckner
Looking back, it was one of the worst things I could have done. I had two non-Christian friends coming to Sunday services that day and I wanted to make their visit really special. I struggled for a long time over what I should teach. I wanted the lesson to be special and exciting. I wanted my friends to come away from their experience saying, “That was really awesome! ”
I had a spectacular activity planned complete with a worksheet, a lot of participation, input from the audience, and a topic that would make my friends sit up and listen. I had illustrations and applications. I even dressed in a way to make them feel comfortable in their new surroundings. There was only one thing missing… the Bible. For all the glamour and gimmick, I had neglected to build my lesson around the best thing: God’s Word. My friends have not been back for Sunday services since. In hindsight, all I had given them was cotton candy.
We all love cotton candy. I have never met someone who did not love the sugary goodness of that colorful confection. Even if you cannot eat it, you still wish you could. Cotton candy is so big and beautiful. It is an eye-catching, sweet, and mouth-watering treat. For all its glory, however, cotton candy is hollow and without substance. You put the candy in your mouth and it instantly disappears. You can eat it until you are sick, but cotton candy will never make you full.
If we are not careful, our Bible classes can be just like cotton candy. In our effort to make Bible class as exciting and intriguing as possible, we may be taking away the most fulfilling aspect of our study time. I have been guilty of putting together a lesson filled with activity, tacking on a few passages to the end, and calling it a Bible class. When I do this, I am missing out on the power and potential of this valuable study time.
The Power is in the Word
Let me speak plainly, there is great worth in using illustrations and activities in Bible class. I applaud teachers who think outside the box and discover new ways to deliver old truths to our culture. I am not saying we should never use creativity to teach the Bible. From fishing to farming to water, Jesus used creative ways to teach all the time.
I am saying the Bible must be the basis of everything we teach. The Hebrew writer described the word of God as the solid food we need to sustain our spiritual life (Hebrews 5.12). Just as cotton candy is not enough to keep us healthy, the glamour and gimmick we bring to Bible class will not develop strong Christians by itself.
There is no substitute for Bible knowledge. Our fancy delivery is not what truly changes the hearts of men. God’s Word is the heart changer. Think back to the sermon of Peter in Acts 2. Was it the Apostle’s delivery that elicited such a response from the crowd? Peter presented the Truth and it was the Truth that pricked the hearts of men (Acts 2.37).
The Gospel, not a great activity, is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1.16). Sometimes we need to get out of its way and let the Bible work its power. If the Bible is the foundation on which we build our lessons, then we too will be like the great teachers in the New Testament.
Putting the Bible in Bible Class
As teachers, we must always direct our lessons to the Bible. Just as our personal life points to the glory of Christ (Mathew 5.14-16), so also should our lessons point to the glory of the Word. Illustrations and activities are fantastic and useful ways to reinforce the message of Bible class, but they are not the sustenance the human soul needs.
How do we reconcile great delivery with sound Bible content? Always put the Bible first. Many years ago I sat in Preparation and Delivery of Sermons class as Billy Smith taught us how to prepare lessons. Something he said has always stuck with me. Dr. Smith warned us never to hunt for an illustration or good activity and then find a Bible verse to go along with it. Instead, first find what you want to teach in the Bible, then hunt for an illustration or good activity to reinforce the Truth. I believe this to be an axiom worthy of sharing with all teachers.
Bible First, Reinforcement Later
Please do not make my mistake. I wanted a fantastic attention grabber to lure my non-Christian friends into church. I failed to give them what they really needed, the truth about salvation in Christ. Let us allow God’s word to do its work. Let the Bible speak first, and then let our reinforcement come second. Cotton candy is always a great dessert, but never is it a hardy meal. If we use our creative thinking to increase the Bible knowledge of students, then they will develop a lasting faith that will sustain them through eternity.
May God have the glory.
J. D. Buckner is the youth minister for the Lebanon Road Church of Christ in Nashville, TN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.