Matt Dabbs is an associate minister at the Northwest Church of Christ in St. Petersburg, Florida. He works a great deal in education and small groups and has one of the best Christian blogs (a truly incredible amount of content) on the internet. He blogs at Kingdom Living, though I particularly want to direct you towards his Bible Class Archive, which offers teaching materials to be used free of charge, provided you credit the author. And there are over a dozen talented teachers who have submitted lessons to his archive.
I’ve asked Matt to offer us a few suggestions to those of us who are Bible teachers. But his ideas will be helpful to any teacher, no matter the subject.
Life is full of distractions. One thing I have learned over the last few years is that Bible class is no exception. People don’t check their distractions at the door. They are a part of life and they have to be overcome in order to communicate biblical truths to people through small groups, sermons and Bible classes. One of the biggest distractions in my teaching is teaching too much information. I am an information junkie and some bits and pieces of information are more interesting to me but fly right over the heads of some. If the point was to teach that person something that would change their life that misses the mark. If the point is to teach things interesting to the teacher but that have little real life significance it was a success. It is extremely important that we eliminate as many distractions to learning as possible so that our teaching and communication is as effective as possible.
It is important when we are educating people on the Bible that we prepare our lessons so that people get the main point. When you teach for an hour on Sunday morning you already have about a dozen distractions facing you that you have to overcome on the front end. This covers everything from limited attention span to people not coming to poor classroom setup, lack of a/v aids, etc. There is little more distracting than a teacher droning on and on about something you don’t understand. Good teaching will minimize distraction and maximize things that focus people. So how we minimize distraction in teaching? Here are a few ideas:
- Keep it simple. Don’t assume too much of your audience. If you assume they know a Bible story that they have never heard you just lost some people and it is going to be hard to pick them up again. There is nothing more distracting than being lost and trying to figure out what the teacher is talking about.
- Make sure people know when you are changing direction. When you teach there are times you are moving on to a new subject or point but if we don’t communicate that is what is happening we lose people. They are still trying to connect the new material back to the old and get confused wondering how they are missing the connection. They aren’t listening very well at that point and get lost.
- Be relevant. People will be focused if they can readily see how the material or lesson has a direct application or influence on their day to day living.
- Interact with the class. Straight lecture has a place but it should be used as infrequently as possible. When people are able to invest in the class, give their opinions and are safe to ask their questions they are going to be more on board than if we make class a passive act to be endured on a weekly basis.
- Stay a week ahead in your preparation. The more time you have to think about a lesson typically the more potential you have to let the good parts get better and the bad parts to fall out. The next two points are two advantages of staying ahead in your preparation.
- Homework. If you are a week ahead you can give out homework to get people thinking about the next week. Invest people in the learning process. If you work on homework for class during the week you are much more likely to show up to discuss it, ask your questions and share your insights than if you show up weekly for a miscellaneous topic.
- Communicate and advertise what is going on: Tell people what is coming. Communicate it during the week. Email people. Call people. Establish a facebook group for your class or ministry and invite people to it. Regularly update it with events and classes. Build anticipation. Make sure you tell people not just what you are going to study but why it is important. If we are behind on our preparation often we don’t know the answer to that yet so try to stay at least a week ahead on lesson prep.
- Demonstrate that the class is going somewhere. I am not talking about field trips here. If we teach a disjointed serious of classes that fit together, people can check in or out each week, show up or stay home and jump right back in the mix without a problem. That leads to the next point.
- Get outside the walls. It is not enough for people to rub shoulders for an hour a week in a classroom for them to have the quality and length of interaction necessary for them to make a difference in each other’s lives. Plan something outside the class. We try to do something fun, something service oriented and something devotional each month within our Bible class. That way they get to know each other in a variety of settings.
- Make fewer points and make them well. People are going to go straight from Bible class into a worship assembly where they will be faced with learning something from a communion talk, a sermon, and will be singing throughout. What will they remember the next day, week or month that will change the way they live, understand God or help others?
Different ministry environments and settings are going to have different needs so this is not a one-size-fits-all list. It is important that you take a look at your environment and determine what is needed in order to get people focused. What are your biggest distractions and how would you address them?