Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Preparing to Teach

I need a little help, especially if you are a Bible teacher or preacher, or for that matter, a learner. First, for those of you who don’t know, I teach a young adults Sunday School class at Northcrest Baptist Church. I’ve been doing it for about seven years. We began with six people, grew to about 50, split into two classes, and now have about 30-35 people. It’s a great class, and is a lot of fun. This week, we will finish up a year-long study of the book of John that has been incredibly challenging and satisfying. We’re about to begin a shorter, three month survey of some Old Testament history books. So I think this transition time is a good time for me to start thinking about some changes in my preparation and presentation style. I think I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut in my preparation, and I might not be using my time the best possible way I can, and I’m looking for some ways to improve that. So I’m just going to share with you my weekly preparation schedule and goals, and see if any of you have some hints that might help me improve.

I usually work all week on my lesson for the coming week; a little bit every day. I start on Sunday, and wrap up that next Saturday. I put a lot of work into it, but I wonder if I could be better using that time by changing up some of my study and preparation habits.

I look over the passage I’ll be teaching for the coming week, and try to get a feel for it. I begin thinking that day about what the major themes of the passage are, and start brainstorming how I can present them.

I really begin studying. I have a couple of commentaries I use, an ESV and HCSB Study Bible, several other books of theology to consult as needed, and some online resources, as I really try to unravel what the passage is all about. I’m looking for the Biblical and  historical context, along with difficult to understand phrases, words and sentences. By this time, I hope I have a feel for the main thrust of the passage, and a general idea of what the application of the passage will be. On Monday morning, I try to write out a brief introduction.

I spend the next four days working on an outline. And I think this is where I often get bogged down. My outline used to be 3-4 pages long. Now it is 7-8 pages long. In many ways, the outline is just a way to help me think through the passage. I use it when I teach, but only to kind of help me keep my place, and to help me remember the 3-4 main themes I want to talk about. It also helps me to remember if there is something specific from an application standpoint I want to use, or if there is some specific phrasing I want to use at a particular point. During this time, I try to work through the particulars of the main themes. I try to develop those main themes into more specific ideas, and show how it all fits together coherently. I will regularly re-consult the my commentaries, books and online resources as I’m doing this. I usually about 45 minutes per day doing this. It’s amazing how pretty much every week this ends with an outline that is 7 pages, plus one paragraph long. It’s uncanny.

I spend just a few minutes reviewing my notes, remembering my main points, trying to clarify in my mind anything that doesn’t seem to make sense. I’ll usually go to sleep Saturday night thinking about what I’ll say Sunday morning.

Let me also say that I spend a good deal of time during the week thinking about what I’ll be teaching. Many of the ideas that I’ll sketch out in my mind during my morning study come to me as I’m thinking through them at some other point in the week. Here’s where I think my real weakness lies. I think I’ve become to attached to my outline. It feels sometimes like as long as I have my 7 pages plus 1 paragraph, then I’ve done what I need to do. I’m not sure that’s always the case.

Let me say something about my general presentation also. I usually take our class through a 3-step process: tell the story, interpret the story, apply the story. Now, not every passage we study is a story, but it still works the same way. If it’s not an actual story, we simply discuss the context of the passage, then interpret it, and finally apply it to our lives. I try to mix in a fair amount of questions and discussion time as I lead the class through the passage. Some weeks I do better than others. Some weeks I talk too much. But that is my general process, and certainly my goal each week. I think I often fall short in the application phase. There’s a real danger here, I think. Sometimes you can under-apply something, and other times you can over-apply it. In other words, you can be so short on application that nobody understands what the passage is supposed to mean for their lives tomorrow. But you can also be so specific on application that you rule out other ways it can be applied, and people miss out on applying it themselves. So I lean toward under-application I think. I don’t want the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction, but I would like to do a little better on that end.

So that’s me. How about you? If you are a teacher or preacher, what does your preparation and presentation look like? Do you see any ways I can improve? Is there anything specific you do that you think might help me do a better job? Any questions about the way I do it that might be a help to you? If you are a member of a Bible study class, is there anything in particular you hope to hear or experience during your group study that you think I’m leaving out? I want to know!