Christians in leadership will often be called on to speak or teach. A Bible lesson will frequently be the focus of a Sunday School class, Bible study group, or special event. While some principles are the same as a general speech, a Bible lesson differs in significant ways.
The Bible is the best primary starting place for a Bible lesson or inspirational message. While there are many other excellent resources, the text of Scripture should always be considered first. A speaker can confidently proclaim truth from God’s Word because the Bible is a trustworthy source of information. A speaker can have complete confidence while proclaiming truth from God’s Word because it has nothing to do with one’s own capability or strength. The Bible can stand alone based on its inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration by the Holy Spirit. Second Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by Godand is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Exposition of Scripture is a serious task. Time and energy are involved to interpret the meaning of Scripture correctly and then teach the truth to others clearly. An expository preacher needs to spend hours each week studying the text in preparation to deliver a biblical message each Sunday. Be grateful for a pastor who faithfully teaches the Word week after week. Practice these principles of biblical exposition when teaching or speaking. Teach the Bible, not your personal opinions or the opinions of others. Speculation or the sharing of personal thoughts as “gospel” should be avoided. Teach the meaning of the text more than your own experiences or feelings. Teach the Bible clearly including accurate interpretation and relevant application.
When I (Rhonda) stand up to teach the Bible or share an inspirational message, I do so after hours of prayer and study. As I begin speaking, I give my message to the Lord. I focus on the text and biblical truths, limiting my personal opinions until the application part. Women respond positively when a passage of Scripture is interpreted and then applied. The practice of exposition is always worth the effort.
The five F’s below should be helpful practices as you teach a Bible lesson to a group.
- Focus on a specific passage of Scripture.
- Find the central idea or biblical principle of the passage.
- Feel the need of your audience for the biblical principle.
- Fashion your message for the audience.
- Faith your delivery, allowing God to speak through you.
As a Bible study teacher or Christian speaker, begin the preparation process with exegesis and hermeneutics. Continue the delivery process with homiletics and exposition. There are many more tips and helps for practicing these disciplines in our book, Talking is a Gift! Speak truth from the Bible, citing references. Teach the Bible systematically for the purpose of life change!
A great resource for you as you prepare your message is the newly released Study Bible for Women from Broadman & Holman, along with the Women’s Evangelical Old Testament and New Testament Commentaries! I had the joy of compiling and editing these works with my sister-in-law, Dr. Dorothy Patterson of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For more information and to purchase any of the books in this series, click here.
“Every speech should be put together like a living thing…
[having] both a middle and extremities,
composed proportionately to each other and to the whole.”
Every speech, no matter how long or short, should have three distinct parts—the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. As the Greek philosopher Socrates said thousands of years ago: “Every speech should be put together like a living thing…[having] both a middle and extremities, composed proportionately to each other and to the whole.” A message should have opening comments, the major points, and closing comments. Or as someone once said: “Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you said.”
The first part of a speech is the introduction. The purposes of an introduction are to capture the attention of the audience, build rapport with the audience, show the audience why they should listen, and orient the audience to the subject matter. A well-developed and well-delivered introduction will connect the speaker and listener and set the tone for a dynamic speech.
An introduction could include one or more of the following components:
- reference to subject or occasion,
- personal reference or greeting,
- interesting description of your topic,
- a thought–provoking or rhetorical question,
- startling statement of fact or opinion,
- quotation from another source or list of statistics,
- humorous anecdote, and/or
- illustration or visual aid related to the topic.
The second and major part of a speech is the body. The purpose of the body is to develop the main ideas of the speech. The body of the speech should include the main points, the sub-points, the supportive material, and the connectives. According to Litfin, the body of the speech should develop unity, order, and progress. It should communicate units of thought and clear relationships. It should expand ideas in a logical sequence.
The body of a speech provides “the meat” or the main content in a thorough discussion of the topic. In Basic Oral Communication, the authors suggest three steps in the development of the body of a speech:
- disclose a central idea – describe a philosophy underlying or justifying the speech
- divide the central idea into an organizational pattern – arrange the points and sub-points in a specific order, outlining the content
- support ideas with explanation, reasoning, and evidence – develop “the flesh on the skeletal outline,” expanding ideas through explanations, statistics, examples, analogies, testimony, and restatement
In developing the body of the speech, identify main points, explore any specific sub-points, establish an outline for the material, provide supportive information, include relevant illustrations/examples, and transition between points. A longer speech requires more points and sub-points as well as illustrations and supportive material..
The last part of a speech is the conclusion. The purpose of the conclusion is to end the talk in a meaningful way. Carol Kent suggests several effective methods for ending a speech:
- A quotable quote,
- A dynamic challenge,
- A plan of action,
- A thought-provoking question,
- A summary of main points,
- A statement of personal intention, or
- A key story.
There are several general guidelines concerning conclusions. Do not include new information in your conclusion; instead return the audience to the introduction and the main idea. Try to make your conclusion very vivid, working on clarity and conciseness. The conclusion should be long enough to accomplish the purpose but not too long to drag the speech out. Rehearse the conclusion before your presentation, to avoid rambling or fading away. Keep track of time so that you have enough for the conclusion.
When delivering your conclusion, refrain from saying, “in conclusion.” These words often cue the audience to stop listening. Avoid a false conclusion, which is continuing to speak after saying you were finished. Deliver your final sentence with confidence and finality, and then stop! A little boy once said about a sermon, “My favorite thing the preacher said was ‘and finally.’ ”
 Litfin, Public Speaking, 151-162.
 Glenn R. Capp, Carol C. Capp, and G. Richard Capp, Jr., Basic Oral Communication, 5th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 127.
 Carol Kent, Speak Up with Confidence: A Step-by-Step Guide for Speakers and Leaders (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007), 103-109.
Supportive material is any information which will strengthen the points of the speech. It comes from many different sources and could include Scripture, illustrations, examples, research facts, transitional statements, and more. A variety of knowledge is a great benefit to a speaker. Therefore, thorough and diverse research is recommended.
In Principles of Speech Communication, Bruce Gronbeck and the other authors suggest that there are six pillars of supporting material. These are sources of data which can be used to clarify, amplify, or justify the central ideas of the speech. They support the central theme or main idea. These different types of supporting materials include:
- Explanations – descriptions that make a term, concept, process, or proposal clear or acceptable. Example: To clarify a message about bearing spiritual fruit (John 15:1-8), describe the process of a gardener pruning her plants.
- Comparisons and Contrasts – verbal devices that point out similarities and differences. Example: Galatians 5:19-21 and 5:22-23 may be used to distinguish between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.”
- Illustrations and Narratives – detailed examples which describe a concept, condition, or circumstance. Example: The biblical account of the Samaritan Woman who met Jesus at the well may be used to illustrate the concept of forgiveness (John 4:1-26).
- Specific Instances – undeveloped illustrations or examples usually grouped into a list to drive the point home. Example: To emphasize the biblical truth that Jesus Christ is Lord, build on the descriptors such as He is Savior, Redeemer, Sustainer, Master, and King. He is Lord.
- Statistics – numbers that show relationships between or among different information which emphasize size, magnitude, or trends. Example: To support the statement that more than half of all women work outside the home, reference a documented report such as this finding of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, showing 59.2 percent of women in the United States are in the labor force.
- Testimonies – citations of the opinions or conclusions of others which add weight or impressiveness to an idea. Example: To strengthen the message that prayer has power, cite author Jennifer Kennedy Dean in her book, Power Praying: Prayer That Produces Results: “God’s specific and intervening power is released into circumstances and lives by prayer.”
Illustrations from real life are ideal supportive material. L.P. Lehman discussed the nature of illustrations in his book, How to Find and Develop Effective Illustrations. He stated: “An illustration is a basic, identifiable, everyday idea in which a listener may find himself related to the speaker and to the message.” It is literally a slice of life, which connects an audience and speaker. He compares a speech to a house and an illustration to a door: “A message without an illustration is like a house without a door.” Descriptive examples are not simply extra features of a speech, they are literally the access to a speech. The audience has no way to enter the house or understand the speech without an entryway. Illustrations are essential to supportive material.
Information that is included as supportive material must be accurately reported and documented. Carol Kent provides these guidelines in Speak Up with Confidence:
- Be sure of the facts. Verify your numbers and details before speaking them aloud.
- Don’t present a fictional story as if it were true. When you share another person’s story, give them credit over and over again.
- Be certain the story fits your aim. Avoid using a story simply to have a story unless it is serving as an icebreaker at the beginning of your speech. The story should enhance the overall point being conveyed to the audience.
- Get permission from family members or friends before sharing an illustration about them. It is important to ask permission before talking about someone else—permission not forgiveness.
I (Rhonda) love talking about my husband when I teach or speak. Because I love him, I want others to get to know him. Chuck knows when I have told stories about him in my student wives class because when the ladies see him on campus, they giggle. I love to share Chuck’s insights when I write because he is so wise and perceptive. I have tried to convince him that marriage means what is his is mine. So, I share his stories and write his insights, but I always give him credit.
- When possible, give credit to the originator of the story or cite the source. It is best to give credit where credit is due and protect yourself in the meantime. Listeners will often pay more attention when you include an outside source.
- Never use another speaker’s story if you are speaking in his or her territory. Be considerate of the source, allow her to share the story and receive credit. Using another person’s story in an area where she lives may cause confusion to those who know her or under mind the spirit of surprise when she tells it.
- Adjust the length of the illustration to fit the time you have to speak. Include an introduction, body, and conclusion in your speech. Try not to let the illustration become the entire message. Connect it with the main theme and make its application, but don’t let it be the only memorable thing about your presentation.
- Write out your illustration word-for-word when developing a new story. Practice will help in clearly communicating the illustration to the audience. Present it spontaneously for maximum effectiveness.
- Carefully work out your transitional statement so it leads into the application of your story. What point are you making? Work toward smooth transitions. You can say “first, second, and last.” Try to make transitions obvious.
A speech is not a speech nor a message a message without content and supportive material. Help your audience engage with the purpose of your speech through effective and interesting illustrations and stories!
 Bruce E. Gronbeck, Kathleen German, Douglas Ehninger, and Alan H. Monroe. Principles of Speech Communication 12th Brief ed. (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 73-83.
 “Women and the Economy 2010: 25 Years of Progress But Challenges Remain,” http://www.jec.senate.gov/public//index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=f9f3a9b8-2f54-4e83-9029-477a3fc73cd5 (cited 3 March 2013), Joint Economic Committee United States Congress (Joint Economic Committee, 2010).
 Jennifer Kennedy Dean, Power Praying: Prayer That Produces Power (Mukilteo, WA: WinePress Publishing, 1997), 14.
 L.P. Lehman, How to Find and Develop Effective Illustrations (Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel Pubns, 1985), 27.
 Lehman, How to Find and Develop Effective Illustrations, 9.
 Carol Kent, Speak Up with Confidence: A Step-by-Step Guide for Speakers and Leaders (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007), 80-83.