Though there’s plenty more I need to learn (just ask my students!), here are three things I want to pass along to younger teachers, whether you’re a vocational Christian leader or a church volunteer.
1. Creativity requires intentionality and hard thinking.
It’s a myth to think that great ideas ooze from the minds of creative teachers without effort. Some of my most original learning activities came to me after I had prayed for the capacity to think outside the box, and after concentrated mental effort to come up with fresh alternatives to the way I had been teaching a lesson.
I take a “Communicating God’s Word” class to a cemetery early in the semester. We examine and discuss Bible texts on the brevity of life and the inevitability of physical death. The whole point of the session is to provide a rationale for teaching the Bible. It’s the best way I know to invest in the two things that last forever: the souls of people (John 5:28-29) and the Word of God (1 Pet. 1:23-25). Inspiration for this cemetery visit came after I read Generation iY by Tim Elmore, and asked the Lord for more experiential learning ideas that would appeal to today’s students.
To provide fuel for your thinking, read a new book on teaching each year. Interview more experienced teachers. Ask them: “What is the most effective learning activity you’ve ever tried in class?” After all, the number one prerequisite for good teaching is learning.
2. Teach for the heart, not just for the head and hands.
Teaching for the head is essential, especially when God’s Word is the subject matter. Spiritual experience begins in the mind (Rom 12:2). Sound theology in the head is a prerequisite for doxology in the heart.
A “hands” approach to teaching signifies a needed emphasis on equipping learners for skills in the areas of life stewardship, relationships, and ministry. This training emphasis is a mandate for church leaders, especially when it comes to competencies for serving the Lord (Eph. 4:11-12).
But in my experience as a learner and instructor, we often take for granted “teaching for the heart,” or the affective domain of learning. God’s truth should influence attitudes, values, and unapologetically, stir the emotions of people.
As we prepare a lesson or sermon, let’s ask: “What effect should this text or truth have on the affections and attitudes of learners?” When we train teachers of any age level, let’s brainstorm together for answers to this question: “How can we reach the heart of our students?”
Obviously, reliance on the working of God’s Spirit within them is essential. But one answer to the brainstorming questions is to weave stories into the sermon or lesson. Stories that show the benefits of obedience to a truth, or the painful consequences of neglecting it, are more likely to stir the affections than mere explanations. (Though the stories never substitute for clear explanation of truth!)
Another strategy for reaching the heart is our own transparency, when learners hear in personal, specific terms how the truth we’re covering has challenged or sustained us.
3. Never assume effectiveness.
If we’ve received positive feedback for our teaching gift, there’s a subtle tendency to start relying on past success and God-given ability, rather than depending on God Himself to change learners. Acts 16:14 reminds us that ministry is never a mere human endeavor. Though Paul was God’s chosen instrument to share the gospel, God was the One—not Paul—who opened Lydia’s heart.
A logical application of that principle is to pray for learners, not only for ourselves as communicators. Unless He opens their filters, massages their hurting heart, or convicts them of sin, our content and oratory may be superb, yet barren in terms of effectiveness.
Never assuming effectiveness also means we never skimp on preparation. When we do, it’s a sure sign that we’re relying too much on past performance or God’s grace gift.
My wife, Dolly, has served our church as pianist for 33 years. She’s grace-gifted as well as academically trained in music. As a three year old, she heard a song on radio and went to the piano to play the melody. But no matter how many hundreds of times she has played a hymn or choir arrangement, she practices the song over and over again during the week. She strives for excellence so God will be pleased with the congregational worship that she helps to lead.
Just as she never assumes she’ll play the song well, we must never assume we’ll teach or preach with excellence.
What lessons would you like to pass along to younger teachers?
Teachers of youth/adults, and small group leaders: go to the home page of Terry’s website (www.terrydpowell.com) and click on the cover of Now That’s A Good Question! Leading Quality Bible Discussions. You’’ll see a page introducing a practical handbook for teachers who employ discussion to help learners discover truth in God’s Word. The info page also gives a code for receiving a 20% discount at Amazon.