While Jesus has his critics, none of them can accuse him of being a boring teacher. The sermons Jesus gave were anything but dry and forgettable. He spoke in ways that drew crowds so huge that “two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7). Two hundred denarii was the equivalent of a whopping 200 days’ wages!
So how did Jesus manage to attract such huge crowds of followers wherever he went? Jesus spoke in a captivating manner that grabbed the attention of his audience, made them think, and helped them truly understand and remember what he was saying. He often shocked his audience with exaggerated examples—for example, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:43-47). And he told lots of stories. When answering the question raised by a teacher of the law, “Who is my neighbour?”, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan to pierce the conscience of the self-righteous teacher and help him see and forever remember what true brotherly love looked like.
As disciple-makers, we have much to learn from Jesus. Regardless of the age of those we are ministering to, we must find creative ways of communicating fascinating, life-giving biblical truths, so they can grasp and be transformed by the word of God.
One good approach is through games.
Games help create a conducive learning environment
First and foremost, play helps break the ice, puts everyone at ease, and gives you the opportunity to get to know your charges on a more personal level. In a non-threatening environment, you can better learn about their individual needs, learning styles, and where they stand in their respective faith journeys. This puts you in a better position to lead them to become more like Jesus.
Studies have also shown that when students experience the positive emotions that accompany play, they are more likely to remember what they learn. Equally important, if students enjoy their Bible classes, it increases the chances of them returning week after week, and of them inviting their friends to come along.
Games help you engage your audience
Jesus’ audience was intimately familiar with growing crops, shepherding, and fishing, so he frequently engaged them by using planting, harvesting, sheep, and fish in his analogies. He used familiar things to get their attention and bring relevance to his teaching. In the same way, we can use games to engage our audience.
For instance, by playing several rounds of Bible Charades before your discussion on “Love in Action,” you can help everyone better focus on the lesson. With appropriate use of games, the whole class becomes active participants in the lesson, and the biblical principles become more memorable.
Games encourage self-discovery
Instead of simply telling his disciples who he was, Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29). By forcing his disciples to think, they became involved in their own learning process and more convinced of the answer.
In the same way, using games as a teaching tool allows your students to ponder and arrive at conclusions on their own instead of you spoon-feeding them biblical facts. For example, Up in the Air is a game which involves keeping three balloons in the air at the same time. When played individually, it is very difficult to keep all three balloons in the air for more than a minute. But when played as a team, keeping those same balloons in the air becomes fairly easy. Participants will discover for themselves the benefits of working as a team. This simple game can help drive home the point that, as fellow believers in Christ Jesus, we must learn to work as one united body so that we can collectively do more for God.
Tips on using Bible games
It is important to bear in mind that, even when using games, the goal for the Bible teacher is not to entertain, but to help students grasp and apply biblical truths. Select games not on their ‘fun factor,’ but rather, pick those that best draw out the relevant biblical concepts, taking into consideration the students’ ages, personality, and learning styles. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that games are only for children and youths. There are Bible games for adults that you can use for adult Bible study or small groups and even larger ministry meetings.
Games are intended to inject fun to the class, not add stress to students. Avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable. Don’t force anyone to play, and don’t put anyone on the spot or put anyone down. Do not make the class laugh at the expense of anyone. Intentionally downplay the importance of winning but focus instead on the game itself and on teamwork.
Be careful not to get so carried away with the fun that you do not have time to do a proper debrief to connect the game to your teaching point. Teaching games must always be followed up with a meaningful time of questions, answers, and Bible exploration. Breaking into small groups, ideally with a leader for each group, allows for maximum participation and learning. And don’t try to load too many take-aways within any one game. Keep to only one or two learning points for each game.
Finally, remember that Jesus taught the people from a heart of compassion. We need to see our students through the eyes of Jesus and remember that every student is precious and loved by him. We need to develop the same love for them and bear in mind that our role as a teacher is to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their lives and to lead them to Jesus.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.