By Mary Ellen Godfrey
When I finished college, the last thing I wanted to be was a teacher. I had more glamorous and glorious goals in mind. To humor my parents so that I would have some livelihood (history majors were not in great demand) I completed a teaching credential. In my student teaching internship I found both a profession I loved and the gifts the Lord wanted me to use in the church. Over the years in all the churches to which we have belonged I have had many opportunities to use my gifts as a Sunday school teacher, as a curriculum writer, and most often as a teacher of women’s Bible studies.
I learned early that to be a good teacher you must love your subject, and you must love your students. In my life in the church this involved first and foremost learning to love the Scriptures. As a Christian this should come naturally, but it isn’t always so. Sometimes the Bible is difficult. You encounter hard truths, complicated arguments, and deep theological concepts. How can you teach what you don’t understand yourself? This is the challenge that has led me into teaching the Bible with the realization that the more you study the Bible, the more you understand and love what it has to offer (2 Timothy 3:14-15). The first blessing in any Bible study is for the teacher when you wrestle with what the Bible says, what it means, and how it applies before presuming to lead a discussion of the text at hand. I have learned that if you spend time with the Word, the story of the Bible becomes plain. The Bible speaks to you in a powerful way by showing that all the Scriptures speak of Christ. In one sense teaching the Bible is not so much using your gifts as it is receiving a gift of understanding from the personal study that is involved.
Loving your students is also an essential for teaching. The fellowship I have enjoyed in the many women’s studies with which I have been involved has been a joy and a blessing. When I first came to my current church, many women in the Bible study group were considerably older than I. They had gone through many amazing experiences including living through enemy occupation in World War II. They raised a family and learned to trust the Lord in the most difficult circumstances, and they taught me how to trust the promises of God which were so precious to them. Now I am involved in a Bible study with young wives and mothers, and their perspective is also enriching as they participate in the discussions and ask very good questions that challenge me. I love these women, and I am motivated to study diligently to open out the Scriptures with them.
I do not want to leave the impression that you need to be a professional teacher to be an effective Bible teacher. You need the desire and the willingness to study the Bible and to share what you have learned with others. I often suggest beginning with a partner who can share the responsibility and help reflect on how the group is progressing. Then you can help each other grow into the role. Also it helps to choose good materials. I have enjoyed leading studies written by Kathleen Buswell Nielson (published by P&R). Her studies come from a Reformed perspective and show a real respect for the Biblical text. The studies are laid out in a daily devotional form and contain some study helps. The “Let’s Study” series of Bible studies from The Banner of Truth Trust is also very helpful with discussion questions included. Great Commission Publications (OPC, PCA publications) has a series of adult studies and study guides. Good materials help give you confidence to teach yourself and others. And you will receive the greater blessing.
MARY ELLEN GODFREY is married to Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President and Professor of Church History. Their sons William and Robert are ministers in the United Reformed Churches and graduates of Westminster. Robert and his wife Catherine have two daughters, Katrina (4) and Anne (1). Their daughter Mari is married to Mark MacVey, Vice President for Enrollment Management, and their son, Kellan, is 18 months old.