I took three preaching courses at seminary. They were all excellent. I didn’t take any courses on teaching, and wasn’t aware of any offered. It wasn’t until after a campus minister sat me down for a conversation I would have even considered the need for a separate class on teaching. Aren’t they both just presenting biblical truth accurately and memorably?
That conversation ended with the most impactful advice I’ve ever received about teaching: prepare your lesson around several open questions that engage the group. Such preparation maximizes what small group teaching environments can do so well: connect biblical truths with individual hearts to bring about change.
Let’s unpack how I prepare to teach with the aim to experience change myself and help those in the group experience change.
Before I begin, let me qualify this post in two important ways. First, I absolutely believe in preaching and do not agree with those who want to replace preaching wholesale with more progressive, interactional models. Clear and impactful preaching of the authoritative Word of God is important for the gathered body of Christ (perhaps defending that position is a post for another day). Second, there are times in which classrooms and groups can benefit from a teacher preaching the Word in that context, or, more precisely, to listening to non-interactional teaching. That said, there is a drift in more doctrinally sturdy churches toward engaging in a non-interactional teaching in all contexts. I think misses out on some of the great benefits of smaller groups and can reinforce a brand of Christianity that emphasizes the accumulation of knowledge to the detriment of life-change.
Let’s dive in, then. Here are some methods I use when I prepare to teach interactively:
1) Read the text with fresh eyes
Read the text through multiple times with the eyes of a new believer. Ask, “if I was reading this text for the first time, what would seem like the strangest thing this text says?” “What is the hardest thing it says?” “What is the most difficult thing it says?” And then don’t shift too quickly into trying to nail down answers to those questions that you’ve raised. Sit on them and process them slowly.
2) Read the text in its context
What unique questions does the context of the passage raise? I was recently teaching out of Romans 8. Romans 8:1 seems to be simple and declarative statement that doesn’t raise any questions: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Until you read it in context. Romans 7 talks about the wrestle between “the law of God” and captivity to “the law of sin.” Paul memorably declares in 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Why then would Paul seemingly turn on a dime in Romans 8:1 with such a powerful and declarative statement about that “in Christ Jesus” there is “no condemnation”? Context can raise important questions to be wrestled out with our group.
3) Don’t over-prepare
Most of us who end up being handed the reins of a class or a connection group are book rats and love diving headlong into answering questions. But if we really want to help lead our group in participatory and engaging conversations, we need to protect ourselves from overflowing with knowledge we are antsy to deliver. Even if we earnestly ask questions, but have already earned the reputation of providing all of the ultimate answers, it can stifle those in the group from responding because they assume you’re going to parachute in with the right answer at some point anyway.
Pray that God would help you read the text through the eyes and life-circumstances of those in your group. What is their background? What are they struggling with? What questions will be most beneficial to them? Pray that God will lead and guide you and ready the hearts of those in the group. He, after all, is the only one who can bring about change.
5) Be personal
As a teacher you will set the pace with how transparent the group is. If you’re frustrated that your group isn’t opening up very much, or is focused on those “out there,” look in the mirror and consider how open you’ve been. A group will rarely be more transparent than the leader. If your questions and leadership centers on engaging theological truth and historic background with application as window dressing, the group will follow your lead. But if you want to be a handmaiden to the change of the Spirit in the lives of your group, make sure application doesn’t get the short end of the stick.
Thank you for being a teacher. Thank you for using your gifts. I pray that God uses you powerfully and that you are blessed in witnessing and participating in the life-change of those God has given you stewardship over. May you be filled with joy as your teaching partners with the transformative work of the Spirit.
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