Archive for the ‘Teaching – Presentation’ category

Essential Practices of the Small Group Leader #8: Point People to Jesus

May 4, 2009

Let me ask a question of those that teach Sunday School or lead a small-group Bible study – If someone were to attend your class for, say six weeks, would they have encountered Jesus?

No, I’m not speaking of a vision or audible voice. But would that person have understood that Jesus is at the center of who we are, what we do and why we exist as a church? Would that person know that the gospel message is all about Jesus? Would that person have any idea how to have a relationship with Jesus, or sense that such a relationship made a difference in the life of the group leader or other members of the group?

I ask these rather blunt questions because the answers tell us whether we’re pointing people to Jesus or to something else – “church-ianity,” moralism, legalism, or perhaps an inoffensive Jesus who was a nice teacher and said some nice things but didn’t really mean all those things about being the only way to the Father.

I’ve become convicted of the urgency of Christ-centered teaching of late, so if you sense that I’m pointing a finger, rest assured that four are pointing back at me. Although I do not teach a small group every week, I teach on a fairly regular basis as a fill-in. I often wonder, especially if someone is present for the first time in a class, whether the lesson I teach ultimately points a person to Christ – or at the very least, helps them along the way to meeting Him.

Yes, I believe in teaching the “whole counsel of God,” in the sense that I believe all of the Bible is God-breathed and serves to teach us about God’s character and our need for redemption. But I fear that we sometimes miss the bigger picture in our teaching. Do we connect the dots between the fall of man in Genesis and our need for a redeemer in the gospels? Are we helping people see the hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that clearly point to birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ? Is our first priority, as Paul proclaimed, to “proclaim Jesus, and Him crucified?” If that is not at the forefront of our teaching, then I believe we neglect the central message of scripture.

If our mission is to be about kingdom business, then it behooves us to introduce people to the King. The person of Jesus Christ – fully God and fully man – is that King. He is the one who humbled himself, taking on the form of a mere man – born in a stable, worked as a carpenter, healed the sick, raised the dead, ate with sinners, taught with authority, confounded the religious, lived a sinless life, gave his life willingly on a Roman cross, paid the penalty for our sins through His death, overcame death and the grave when he rose again on the third day, appeared to many, ascended to heaven, promised the Holy Spirit, gave the great commission, and promised to return one day. That is the One we point to.

Jesus is the foundation of our faith. Without Him, everything else is meaningless – just empty ritual and dead religion. As Paul said –

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 10-11.

There are many wonderful priniciples to be found in the Bible. We should teach them all. But let’s make sure that we let people know that Jesus is at the center of it all. If we do not, all of our doctrine, beliefs, practices and effort are meaningless. Above all, the world needs Jesus – undiluted, undiminished and without apology – the risen Savior and Redeemer for all mankind.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“But what about you?” he (Jesus) asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 16:15-16

“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” – John 6:35-40

Essential Practices for the Small Group Leader #5: Be Flexible

January 27, 2009

In my college years, I had the privilege of serving as a summer missionary. One bit of advice from that summer has stuck with me:

“Be flexible.”

I realize that these “Essential Practices for Small Group Leaders” entries have focused on preparation, planning, taking charge, etc. etc. But we have to be careful not to be so prepared, so pre-planned, so in-charge that we become rigid when God wants to do some flexing. Our plans are not always God’s plans.

If you want to bang your head on the wall in frustration now, I’ll wait. (Cue music from Jeopardy.)

Let’s step back a moment and consider the life of Jesus. When He began His public ministry, He knew what He was doing, where He was going and His ultimate purpose – an appointment with a Roman cross. Yet, Jesus still allowed for some detours along the way. Jesus stopped to bring sight to the blind. He stuck around to eat supper with Zaccheus. He welcomed little children that flocked to Him. In short, while He never lost sight of His purpose and appointment with Calvary, He always made time for people. Jesus loved people – enough to die for them.

A number of years ago, I was leading a Sunday School conference and got into an unexpected argument with a pastor over programs v. people. From his perspective, programs drive the church and the people should “get with the program.” To be fair, I know this pastor pretty well and can say that he genuinely loves people; but it shows how we can become inflexible in our thinking and our actions. In other words, we can become very efficient at “church work” while completely missing out on the real work of the church – making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Getting back to our small groups, I still stand by my original points. Bible study leaders should be well-prepared before presenting a lesson to a group. At the same time, we need to be sensitive for those times when God wants to move beyond the lesson we’ve prepared to a unique encounter with Him. The catalyst might be a question from a group member, a prayer request, or an event that occurs in the life of the community or nation. In short, we need to be prepared to step back when we sense the Holy Spirit leading the group time in a different direction.

Sure, that may mean setting aside a few hours of study and planning, but God will still honor that time you spend in preparation – even if it is only for your personal edification.

Being flexible does not mean we follow every whim or chase every rabbit that pops up in our group time. Sometimes we exhibit flexibility with a minor shift in our presentation or by editing content. The main point is we don’t want to be so rigid in what we do that we miss out on those divine appointments that can arrive unexpectedly.

A good biblical illustration is the contrast between the sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha was organized and prepared as she planned her work and worked her plan. It is evident that  her plans included Mary helping with the meal preparation. Mary, however, got caught up with Jesus . . .

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Matthew 10:38-42 (NIV)

I have a confession to make. I really sympathize with Martha. She was working hard to prepare a meal for Jesus and His disciples. She exemplified hospitality and hard work (good traits in a small-group leader, by the way!). I can identify with her frustration – Mary was supposed to help Martha, yet she wasn’t with the program – leaving Martha to fend for herself. Martha became frustrated, fearing her work for the Lord (in her mind, serving a meal) was not getting done properly. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been frustrated when others in your group seem to go off on a tangent, leaving your careful preparation and presentation in the dust?

The interesting thing here is that Jesus wasn’t the least bit concerned with the meal. Nor was he upset by Martha’s frustration. He simply wanted to spend time with Mary and Martha, to share words of encouragement and hope. Mary set aside her plans and chose what was better – sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha (bless her heart!) was so preoccupied with her own plans and preparation that she actually scolded Jesus! Jesus exhibited patience with Martha by gently chiding her – “Martha, Martha . . . You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed . . .”

When our own preparation and plans unravel, when we feel that our finely crafted lessons are being left by the wayside, remember this . . . only one thing is needed. What is that one thing?

The one most important thing that can happen to anyone in our group is that they encounter Jesus. Everything else is secondary.

Essential Practices for the Small Group Leader #4: Take Charge

January 20, 2009

“I have the airplane.”

With those words, a pilot or co-pilot acknowledge they have primary control over an airliner. It is an acceptance of responsibility and an announcement to the rest of the crew that they are guiding the plane’s flight to its destination until they relinquish the controls back to another qualified aviator. Others on the flight crew continue on with their responsibilities, but the primary responsibility of guiding the plane and passengers to a safe landing is now in the hands of the one who “has the airplane.”

In a similar way, a Bible study leader must take control of the class during the appointed time of meeting. That’s not to say that the leader has to be abrasive or bossy – far from it! But it is the responsibility of the leader to utilize the class time wisely and guide the class through the lesson and discussion to a satisfactory conclusion. Here are the key areas where the Bible study leader must take charge:

Time management
Most small-group Bible studies have a set time to begin and end. If the group is scheduled to meet as part of a church’s Sunday morning schedule, these times do not allow much flexibility (unless you wish to be habitually late to the worship service!) The leader sets the tone by beginning on time. This may be after a time of fellowship or prayer or announcements, etc. but the leader must anticipate the time needed to complete the presentation of the Bible study. It may require some editing of content but the leader needs to satisfactorily conclude the lesson (with relevant application) within the allotted time-frame. I know, I know – not everyone in your group shows up on-time. That’s no reason to penalize those who do arrive on-time! If you get things rolling at the appointed time, those who tend to run late might be motivated to arrive earlier.

Give teaching your best effort
Josh Hunt puts it this way, “If you teach a half-way decent Bible study lesson on a consistent basis, people will come.” Howard Hendricks put it in a more blunt manner, “Whatever you do, don’t bore people with the Word of God!” Your presentation is based largely on the preparation you put in during the week. My professor of preaching in seminary said, “The more sweat you put into preparation during the week means the less sweat you’ll experience on Sunday morning!” Very few of us are “expert” teachers. The good news is that is not a requirement to be an effective Bible study leader. We’re all fellow learners when we come to God’s Word.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

Guiding the discussion
Like an airplane pilot who guides his airplane from point A to point B, the Bible study leader must also have a place of beginning (the introduction), the time of transit (the body of the lesson with discussion), and the safe landing at the point of destination (application and conclusion). All too many Bible study leaders do very well with the first two parts, only to find themselves “circling the field, looking for a place to land” as time runs out.

It takes wisdom and discernment to guide a Bible study lesson. It’s important to discern between questions or comments that add to the lesson or address a need as opposed to comments that serve only to distract from the point of the study. The wise leader will allow for meaningful discussion while graciously acknowledging but deflecting the chronic rabbit-chasers (who sometimes talk because they enjoy the sound of their own voice). It’s a delicate balance, but important for the good of all the participants. Some deeper questions may need to be addressed privately, when more time is available.

Delegation of duties
Just as an airliner has crew members to assist the pilot (flight engineer, co-pilot, flight attendants, etc.), the wise small-group leader should delegate some tasks to others in the group. Job-one for the leader during the appointed meeting time is teaching the Bible study lesson. When that leader also has to make the coffee, greet and register guests, share pertinent announcements, and field prayer requests, the leader may find that he or she is distracted and even fatigued before ever beginning the lesson. It’s better to delegate these other responsibilities to others in the group. This takes much of the burden off the Bible study leader and has the added bonus of involving others. As a rule, involvement = “buy-in.” People who have a specific task feel a sense of responsibility and greater connection with a group. It’s also a great way to develop leaders and discover those who might become Bible study leaders in the future. The main advantage for the small-group leader is that it allows them to focus on the task of teaching.

To summarize . . .
. . . the Bible study leader is the one who sets the tone for the group meeting time. If the leader doesn’t take charge, someone else will – probably in a way that won’t facilitate learning by the group members! The leader can take charge in a kind, friendly, even humorous manner – but he or she MUST take the lead or the group faces the real possibility of losing its way. When that happens, people may become frustrated and discouraged and give up on the group entirely.

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” – Phillipians 4:13 (NIV)

Teaching Styles v. Learning Styles

December 11, 2008

Teaching an adult Bible study in a small group setting is both rewarding and challenging. One of the greatest challenges  for the teacher is to present the lesson in a way that connects with the other members of the study. This is where one’s teaching style and the individual member’s learning style may clash.

In my experience, most teachers tend to default to the lecture method. After all, that’s what most of us experienced (endured?) in school, at least in our high school and college years. And the preacher’s sermons are lecture style, so what’s wrong with that?

The truth is, adults learn in various ways. Sure, many respond well to the lecture method, but others, well . . . not so much. (If you know anyone with adult ADD, you know what I mean.) If you currently teach a small group and wonder why some are fidgeting, some are counting ceiling tiles and others are snoring, it doesn’t mean you’re a boring person – it may simply be that your presentation isn’t connecting.

If you think you may be in a rut with your teaching style, or not effectively connecting with your group members, here are a few suggestions to mix things up a bit:

  • Throw out some questions for discussion. You might even give some of your class members advance warning, so they are prepared to participate.
  • Add some audio/video to the mix. Music, posters, PowerPoint, You-tube, movie clips . . .  you get the idea – sometimes it just takes one little thing that’s different to create interest.
  • Rearrange the room where you meet. You’ll be surprised how a slight change in the surroundings can help.
  • Throw in some sort of activity. (Hey, a lot of adults like crayons!) It doesn’t have to be juvenile – just something that will help drive home a point.
  • Be sure that you provide at least one, concrete point of application. Teaching a Bible study isn’t about informing people, it’s about transforming people.
  • Pray for insight. Allow God to work in and through you as a teacher. After all, we’re all still works in progress.
  • Don’t give up! People may come and go in your class and progress may seem slow. Keep making adjustments and allow God to do His part.

Of course, it’s important for the group leader to get to know the other members. Understanding the various personalities, learning styles, and stages of maturity is a process. Invest your life in the lives of your group and let them know you care. That will cover a multitude of teaching mistakes!

Now please, pass the crayons!