Principle-centered teaching can change your group

In his book Letters to Timothy, 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)

  1. State the principle.  Show it or say it.
  2. Explain the principle.  Spend some time explaining it, defending it, and anticipating the critic.
  3. Apply the principle.  The Holy Spirit will speak to each learner and apply the biblical text.  Don’t be hesitant to state the obvious.
  4. Illustrate 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 series. The lesson was a lesson on repentance:

  1. Accept the invitation (Zech. 1:1-3)
  2. Avoid the judgement (Zech. 1:4-6)
  3. Acclaim the protection (Zech. 2:7-9)
  4. Anticipate the joy (Zech. 2:10-13)

The above outline is 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:

  1. It’s never too late to start fresh with God (Zech. 1:1-3)
  2. Refusing to follow God’s way leaves a painful legacy (Zech. 1:4-6)
  3. Repentance starts with small steps of obedience (Zech. 2:6-7)
  4. Eternal life is the reward for those who turn to God (Zech. 2:10-13)

Principles inspire, are memorable, and are meaningful to your group members. 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!


  1. This is great whenever it is done in writing as it currently is in both Hobbs and advanced Bible study. I appreciate the statement of the truth to be presented in that section very much . However, at least for me, an outline, especially if it is an alliterative outline, makes the message, including both the truths of the content and the application much easier to remember. I cannot begin to tell you how many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times In my 84 years I have read a passage and been greatly helped by remembering the outline used by a teacher or preacher who cared enough to develop an outline as a memory aid.

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