I was in high school when I first committed myself to teaching the Bible. My youth pastor asked if I would like to share a devotional thought with the youth group. The idea made me nervous, but I eventually agreed. As I began to share a truth from God’s Word, a spark lit in my heart. A conviction was born not just to teach but to become the best Bible teacher I could.
I’m still working toward that goal, but I’ve learned that becoming excellent at anything starts with carefully cultivating particular daily habits. Excellence is more about the seemingly small things we do every day than it is about the big things we accomplish in a moment. Here are eight habits that excellent teachers practice every single day.
1. The Habit of Preparation
There have been a few times in my life when I began to teach knowing that I was painfully unprepared. I hadn’t spent the time necessary to give people my best. Even though I made it through those lessons, I resolved never to let that happen again.
Excellent teachers always take the time to properly prepare. They labor over their notes, tweaking, adding, deleting, and practicing over and over, all to ensure they are ready to serve their learners well. Excellent teachers have a deep conviction that teaching is an honorable calling, one for which they will give an account. They don’t make a practice of winging lessons or pulling something together last minute. They practice the habit of preparation.
2. The Habit of Love
Excellent Bible teachers cultivate a love for the people whom they teach. They spend time with people and enjoy people. The best teachers make the best spouses, parents, and companions. They regularly make time to enjoy their friends and family. We mistakenly think of teachers as solitary types, always wishing to be locked in a library somewhere with occasional breaks for eating and sleeping. On the contrary, excellent teachers should live lives of love and service. Their study should flow out of a heart with sincere love for the people they have been called to teach.
3. The Habit of Prayer
Love will naturally lead the excellent teacher to pray for those whom they teach. Keeping lists of names and needs, they habitually labor in intercession for others. They also labor over their teaching itself. Before they share anything with others, they pray over each word, begging God to keep them from error, that he might help them bear fruit through their teaching. The Apostle Paul modeled this type of prayer perfectly: “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10). Excellent teachers humbly recognize that without the grace of God, they couldn’t teach a single word fruitfully. And so they pray.
4. The Habit of Learning
Excellent Bible teachers regularly sharpen the axe of their own teaching. They read those with whom they agree and also those with whom they disagree. They continuously learn how to research, study, write, teach, along with every other skill that might improve their communication.
Excellent teachers commit to a lifetime of learning. They never conclude they have arrived and can merely coast. Constantly learning new things and reviewing what they’ve already mastered, they have systems of review and can name books they’ve read dozens of times. Not a day goes by that they don’t sacrifice their time and their money in hope that they might become a better teacher.
5. The Habit of Bible Mastery
Excellent Bible teachers maintain a familiarity with the overall message of the Bible. They habitually read and reread God’s Word in its entirety. Convinced the entire Bible is useful, they search for insight and potential fruit in every verse. Worthy Bible teachers see how the parts of the Bible work together and understand the unity of its overarching message, aware that the entire Bible teaches about Jesus Christ (Luke 24:44).
Additionally, excellent Bible teachers master individual books of the Bible and core doctrines of the Christian faith. They know how to dig deep and draw out the overall message of the Bible’s great passages and books. For example, before teaching a series on Ephesians, a teacher might read the text 10 to 20 times (or more) to draw out as much truth as possible. After this, they might review commentaries for even more insight. They also familiarize themselves with the historic confessions of faith. The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, and many other similar confessions all have great value in helping teachers understand and teach biblical doctrines clearly.
6. The Habit of Limit
An excellent Bible teacher must be willing to sometimes say “I don’t know.” They might not know the right answer, but it also might be the case that God’s Word doesn’t reveal the answer to a particular question. God’s revelation in Scripture is limited, meaning God has chosen to reveal some things and keep other things hidden.
Teachers must be willing to practice the habit of limit, only teaching what God’s Word reveals on challenging questions. John Calvin famously warned against the temptation to speculate on mysteries,
Let us remember here, as in all religious doctrine, that we ought to hold to one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak, or guess, or even to seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by God's Word. (Calvin's Institutes: I.XIV.4)
There are times when every excellent Bible teacher must say, “We don’t know the answer to that question,” and leave it at that.
7. The Habit of Humility
Tragically, many teachers become proud, arrogant, and smug. The more popular they become, the more they believe their own press. The excellent teacher will constantly fight against the temptation towards pride and arrogance, remembering that God has given everything they’ve learned as a gift, including their own mind and memory. They remember they can’t keep their own brain functioning from moment to moment. Teachers are not great in and of themselves but have been called by God to serve Christ’s church through the gift of teaching. Like all of God’s gifts, teaching is best used by those whose lives are marked by the meekness and lowliness of our Lord.
8. The Habit of Gratitude
The excellent teacher starts every day singing along with the writer of Psalm 100:4, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” Whether they are sitting down to prepare a lesson or getting up to speak before a multitude, these excellent ones remain thankful for each and every opportunity. They recognize they’ve been called to a blessed work to take the wonderful truths revealed in the Bible and serve them to others. We can all think of lessons that deeply impacted us and even changed our lives. The excellent teacher is thankful for opportunities to make these moments happen. For every student, every insight, and every lesson, the excellent teacher regularly practices the habit of gratitude.