“Ten Principles for Effective Teaching in the Church”
1. “The Holy Spirit will work through your teaching”.
Often times, the teacher attempts to shoulder the weight of communicating God’s truth alone. But the Bible tells us that The Holy Spirit works through the teacher (1 Cor. 12:4-11; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). As Dr. Gary Bredfelt once said, “teaching is a dual effort”. This aspect of teaching is often ignored in the teaching ministry of a Christian. While the teacher may be teaching in an external sense, the Holy Spirit is often teaching in the internal sense. This is a great comfort to those who feel the weight of teaching others.
The Bible describes to us, the roles of the Holy Spirit in teaching. The Holy Sprit illuminates the learner (1 Cor. 2:1-16; Eph. 1:17-18), He indwells the learner (John 14:17; Rom. 5:5, 8:9; Eph. 1:13-14), and the Holy Spirit instructs the learner (John 14:26-27, 16:7-15). These principles apply both to the teacher and the learner. For the learners who are seeking, the Holy Sprit often draws them to Himself through teaching (2 Cor. 4:1-6).
This can be illustrated simply by understanding that the Holy Spirit guides the whole learning process. Whether it be in an auditorium, a class room, or a small group. The Holy Spirit enables the teacher to identify central concepts of the material, while also prompting key questions from the learner’s perspective that may be beneficial to the other learners or even the teacher.
2. “The goal of teaching is always life change”.
In preparing a lesson plan, the teacher should never approach the material with the goal of ‘what do I want to teach the learners’; the goal should always be ‘what do I want the learners to do’. To often teachers have the simple goal of information transfer rather than life transformation. It was once said that ‘wisdom is knowledge applied to everyday life’. The teacher would do well to consider this concept while preparing teaching material. Consider the question, ‘what will the learners do with this information’. In order to facilitate the process of applying knowledge in a practical way, the teacher must be able to thing through the material and process how the information can be implemented in everyday life.
This can be illustrated with one idea, the teacher is not a lecturer, but a tour guide. The lecturer stands behind the podium, using big words and complicated ideas. In this setting, the one lecturing is separated from the learners in many respects. The tour guide, on the other hand, Shares the real life experiences of the learner, while walking through life on the same level as the learner, the tour guide is able to communicate for life change, because the learner sees the tour guide as one who is ‘wrestling with life’ in the same way. This distinction can be helpful in preparing a lesson. It is much easier to lecture on lofty concepts and abstract principles, it takes much more time to apply those concepts and principles into every day life for change.
3. “Effective teaching is transferable”.
The teacher has not done their job unless the learners can walk away with ‘the big idea’ of the lesson. The ‘big idea’ could also be the ‘main point, the insight, or the principle’ that each learner can take home with them, and implement it into their everyday lives. Andy Stanly, in “Communicating for Change”, offers this helpful process for finding the ‘big idea’; “1. Dig until you find it, 2. Build everything around it, and finally, 3. Make it stick.” The most important part of this process for this principle is ‘make it stick’. Generally speaking, people are not going to remember a long paragraph, or a lengthy discourse of explanation. People need a statement that is transferable. For the teacher this takes time. As a teacher, you should be able to reduce your ‘big idea’ down to a take home level. Think ‘short and memorable’.
To illustrate this principle it might help to ask two questions when preparing a lesson. 1. What is the one thing I want the learner to go home with?, and 2. What do I want them to do with this information? For most communicators, this step is the biggest challenge; therefore it might be helpful to have a small sheet of paper on your desk as you prepare your lesson. While you are preparing, work on that statement, wrestle with it, change it, and start over. Do all that you have to do in order to make the ‘big idea’ transferable.
4. “Effective teaching involves the learners”.
As we have seen in principle 1, the learner can be an invaluable resource to the lesson. The learner is often prompted to ask questions that pertain to the discussion, which can also speak to life situations of other learners. To many teachers ignore this great truth when teaching. But, involving the learner promotes more learning. Teachers will find that people tend to learn more when they are involved in the process. The learner is not going to absorb every single meticulously crafted statement you deliver during a lesson. While this takes much preparation, it is well worth it. The less you talk, the more the class will own the lesson.
The Bible shows us that the disciples were more than learners, but apprentices. As Jesus was engaging in ministry His disciples were with Him. In fact, the majority of His ministry was to the disciples. Beyond the disciples, notice how Jesus interacts with others. More times than not, Jesus taught with questions. He rarely lectured; He was always pushing and challenging the learner. This sets the bar high! But face it, the people who you are teaching are intelligent and can think for themselves. If the teacher is talking too much, they are still thinking for themselves, but often about something else rather than the lesson.
5. “Effective teachers utilize the learning environment”.
One over ignored aspect of the teaching ministry is ‘environment’. In most cases a teacher is assigned a space to teach in, whether it is a class room, a lecture hall, a living room, or even a large assembly area. It would be beneficial for the teacher to consider how the teaching space affects the learners. As a classmate once said, “the environment often dictates the expectations of communication”. When a learner walks into a church’s worship center they can expect no dialogue (in most cases). Yet, when the learner walks into a small group study in someone’s living room, they expect a more intimate level of communication in the discussion. When it comes to the ‘middle ground’ venues, the teacher often approaches the lesson as if it were a lecture, ignoring the potential for intimacy.
Jesus often used his environment to communicate great truths, “look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matt. 6:23) While the teacher may not have many options when it comes to environment, how a teacher arranges that environment can change the whole ‘mood’ of the lesson. To illustrate this, reflect on how chairs are often arranged in a classroom, usually they face forward, in straight lines. This often blocks the learner from having comfortable dialogue with other learners. Imagine if the chairs were placed in a u-shaped arrangement, would this not promote more involvement (principle 4)?
6. “Effective teachers assesses the needs of the learners”.
Assessing the needs of learners can be crucial to knowing exactly how to reach those who are listening to you. Most likely the learners who gather together are there for a common reason, for the curriculum, because of life stage, etc. It would help to begin by figuring out who the ‘target group’ is, by asking ‘who are these learners’? What are their needs, whether they be physical, cognitive, social, spiritual, and so on. Knowing these essentials will allow the teacher more precision in applying the lesson to everyday life (principle 3). Questions such as what are my learner’s interests, abilities, and concerns help the teacher focus the lesson in on what really matters.
Think of it this way, a group of people who are in their 80’s are going to have different needs than a group of young married couples in their 20’s. These two groups are at completely different life stages and have different experiences, personal and shared. The young couples do not have the shared experience of living through the depression, so they could not connect with that experience. While the older generations are not concerned with how this lesson affects their parenting philosophy, it’s too late for them to change that!
7. “Effective teachers consider how each learner learns”.
All of us learn differently. If a teacher confesses that a lesson is learner centered (principle 2), then it would be beneficial to consider the learner in this process. Human beings are complex, and no one model of teaching is as effective to one as to another. Some people tend to be realists, some pragmatists, some idealists, and some even learn in more existential ways. It’s important to observe these things within a group of learners. There have been different teaching philosophies to reach different kinds of people. Out of these different philosophies come different methods of teaching. Yet all of these methods employ different ways of teaching, so it would be useful to apply these at different times. Consider the power of a story, an example, a model, or even an illustration. Consider using different formats of learning also!
In some ways, one learner might be more engaged when the class is broken up into group for problem solving or group discussion. Another learner might really grasp the big idea when it is illustrated with role playing. Still another learner might thrive when in a discussion over a topic. It is important to consider the differences in peoples learning styles and try different methods. In doing this, ask for input from the learners, and find out which method speaks most to them.
8. “Effective teachers know the material”
This principle might seem obvious, but it is true. Most teachers teach completely tied to their notes, and this hinders their ability to teach on the spot. In order for a teacher to feel comfortable teaching on the spot, they must be comfortable with the content of the lesson. For me, the only time I feel comfortable to pull away from my notes is when I have studied sufficiently. Knowing the material well enough to move about the teaching space allows for more interaction with the learners, instead of total interaction with the notes. For some, notes are somewhat of a map that allows them to stay on track, which is fine. But for some, when notes are read off of, the lesson becomes dry and disconnected from the learners. Teaching on the spot also fosters confidence in the teacher, and the learner’s confidence in the teacher.
Teaching with little notes, or no notes is risky. The teacher must know the material back and foreword. The teacher must foresee possible issues or questions that the material might bring out of the learners. When the teacher is comfortable with the material and is able to move around the teaching space, the learner is encouraged to be involved. Therefore, have some pointed questions ready that help drive home your points. Or have thought through a few illustrations or sub-lessons to help bring home your ‘big idea’. Great teachers go the extra mile in preparation!
9. “The Effective teacher is a student of teaching”
The effective teacher must always be willing to grow and stretch in order to develop over time. Most of my favorite teachers are usually those who have taught the longest or taught in different venues throughout there lives. Be open to grow and develop, which will prepare you to sharpen your skills. To often teachers act as if they cannot be taught! As if they have reached their maximum potential. For example, some pastors today preach as if it were still the 1950’s! These guys would never make it in some learning settings!
Humility is the key to this principle. Recognize the need to grow in the skill of teaching. If it is true that “teaching is done at the dangerous intersection of personal and public life”, take some time to get personal with your teaching. Ask some of your trusted learners what aspects of your teaching ministry they enjoy, and what areas you can work on. Though this may be hard, you cannot take it personal; see it as an opportunity to grow in your gift.
10. Effective biblical teaching is text driven”.
The Bible should always determine the content of the message. What ever the message of the passage is, the message of the lesson is. The teaching position should never be abused to push personal agenda’s, or as a platform for rabbit trails. Biblical teaching is centered on God’s word.
The teacher should always be able to diagnostic questions concerning their lesson, here are some examples. 1. What does this text say? 2. What does this text mean? 3. What is the big idea? 4. What difference does it make? And 5. What must we change?