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How do you know? Part 1: Preparation

By: Joe Willmann

You have just done it! You wrote a great Bible study that lasted eight weeks over a specific topic or chapter in a book of the Bible. You knocked it out of the park on delivery. The members in your Bible study keep telling you how much the enjoyed the study as they leave to go out and serve in their vocations. The last donut has been packed up. The coffee pot has been washed and put away. My lasting question for you is this: How do you know that your folks understand and retained what you taught?

Now I’m sure that your handout was awesome! And I hope that your people hung on to it. (I keep most of the handouts from studies that I attend in a three-ring binder to reflect back on.) At the end of the day, though, we want people to retain the information that we have taught, and reviewed, and taught again.

Over the next three posts, I’m going to talk to you about an intentional process of preparation for leading a Bible study (part 1), delivery (part 3), and checking for understanding (part 2).

Why on earth, you ask, would I number those items out of order? We will be using the Backwards Design methodology to create our curriculum and instruction in this series of posts. Backwards Design can be broken down into three steps, or stages:

1. Identifying Desired Results

2. Determining Acceptable Evidence

3. Planning Learning Experiences and Instruction

In layman’s terms, it means (1) starting with your content and identifying what you want your students (parishioners) to know at the end of your instruction, (2) deciding how you will know that students (parishioners) have learned what you want them to know, and finally (3) deciding how you will deliver that content.

Let’s start with step 1: Identifying Desired Results.

This step will probably be one of the easiest steps in the entire process. All you have to do is answer the following question: What do I want my students (parishioners) to know at the end of the class?

What this is not is just identifying a book of the Bible. For instance, it would not work to just say, “I want my students to know Ephesians.” Instead, identify what specifically you want your students to know about what you are studying using action verbs in the description. These are also known as learning objectives. Let me give you an example:

Over the next eighteen weeks, I will be leading a study over Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I am going to break up my study by chapter. I will try to spend three weeks on each chapter, but I will let my planning process dictate how much time I spend. I am currently working on Ephesians 2:1–10 as my content. To help me identify what I want my students to know from this content, I am going to useThe Lutheran Study Bible,Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, Concordia Commentary: Ephesians,and Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, second edition as references to help create learning objectives.* After studying the chapter, the Confessions, and other writings, I might come up with the following statements as examples of what I want the class to know and do.

Think of each statement as starting with the phrase “Students will be able to” (SWBAT).

· SWBAT confess and understand that they cannot by their own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, their Lord, or come to Him.

· SWBAT explain that original sin has brought guilt and condemnation to all people.

· SWBAT explain that original sin has left everyone without true fear and love of God, that is, spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God.

· SWBAT confess and understand that by Christ’s death, He made satisfaction for our sins and God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight.

· SWBAT confess and understand that the Holy Spirit sanctifies them in the true faith and has prepared good works beforehand that we may walk in them.

Now that I have identified what I want my students (parishioners) to know and/or be able to do when we are done with the class, I can identify the big idea. This big idea can be summed up in the form of a question, and it can be used as the title of your study simply be presented to your class. It is important that the class know this big idea or driving question. An example for this study might be “Ephesians 2:1–10: What is the work of the Holy Spirit?” Another example might be “Why do we need the Holy Spirit and what does He do?”

In the next post, we will move on to step 2 in the Backwards Design process: Determining Acceptable Evidence.

*Learning objectives are adapted from Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, copyright © 1986, 1991 Concordia Publishing House.

About Concordia Publishing House

Concordia Publishing House (CPH) is the publishing arm of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. For 150 years, CPH has been providing individuals, churches, and schools with products that are faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. From books and Bibles to church supplies, curriculum, and software, CPH offers over 10,000 products to support the proclamation of the Gospel worldwide. Visit CPH online at