In his book Letters to Timothy, pastor John Bisagno communicated a truth he’d learned over the years: “I consider this to be a very important part of my preaching ministry…I consider it to be simple but profound: the outline should consist of principles, not points” (Letters to Timothy, p. 157). I’ve taken that to heart as a small-group leader, and when I teach and lead a group through a Bible study, I try to help them find the principles from God’s Word that they can draw on when needed.
Why Points May Not Be Your Best Option
- Points are predictable…how many times have you filled in the blanks on an outline before a speaker has finished?
- Predictability turns off the learner…people want to be captivated
Why Principles Are Powerful
- Principles instantly grab the attention of the learner
- Principles are universally applicable
- Principles help learners discover the relevance of God’s Word to daily life
A Pattern for Teaching Principles (from Letters to Timothy)
- State the principle. Show it or say it.
- Explain the principle. Spend some time explaining it, defending it, and anticipating the critic.
- Apply the principle. The Holy Spirit will speak to each learner and apply the biblical text. Don’t be hesitant to state the obvious.
- Illustration the principle. Use modern examples…don’t reach too far back in history. Search for examples from popular books, movies, tv shows, a photo, or other source with which people will resonate. Does anyone really care what “Baron von So & So” did back in the 14th century?!
A Real-life Example of Principle-Centered Teaching
Here is an outline that once appeared in a Bible study curriculum I was using to lead a small-group study. The lesson was titled, “Repentance”:
- Accept the invitation (Zech. 1:1-3)
- Avoid the judgement (Zech. 1:4-6)
- Acclaim the protection (Zech. 2:7-9)
- Anticipate the joy (Zech. 2:10-13)
It’s point-driven. So here is how I changed the outline to be principle-centered, and it made a world of difference in how my group approached the biblical text:
- It’s never too late to start fresh with God (Zech. 1:1-3)
- Refusing to follow God’s way leaves a painful legacy (Zech. 1:4-6)
- Repentance starts with small steps of obedience (Zech. 2:6-7)
- Eternal life is the reward for those who turn to God (Zech. 2:10-13)
So you get the idea and the drift: principles inspire, are memorable, and are meaningful to your learners. Principles, in order to be good, should apply any place, any time. Think, “If I were to teach this in a third world country, an inner city, or an affluent suburb, could I teach the principle?” If yes, then you’ve accurately discerned the biblical principle at work in the text.
Next time you lead a group, try adjusting your outline to reflect principle-centered teaching and see the difference it makes!