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Entries in Teaching (8)


From preaching to teaching

Yesterday, I spent the day at my school where the day was dedicated to learning about doxology. In the morning, two of our professors held plenary sessions, and then in the afternoon, we went to workshops. I enjoyed every session and found much to think about from each one of them. The hour ride home was spent thinking about all I had heard.

The session which really got me thinking was the first plenary session by Dr. Reed, which addressed preaching as an act of worship. I am not a preacher, but I am a teacher, and this session really got my attention. Dr. Reed pointed out that not all preaching is worship, and through John 7:14-18, he brought out two principles: preaching is doxology when the speaker speaks God's words, and when the preacher seeks God's glory. Of course as a teacher, I know I must focus on God's word, but there is also a temptation to insert my own agenda. Dr. Reed pointed out that there is a danger in simply looking at a passage of Scripture, drawing out our own views on it, and presenting it as our lesson. Instead, he urged us to study the text closely before we speak or teach; to immerse ourselves in it. Second, he advised that we stay close to the text while we speak or teach.

It is tempting when we're teaching to bring in more outside "help" than is necessary. And by "help" I mean object lessons, pop culture references, or the words of others. There is no problem with such things in general, and indeed, they are very helpful for drawing out truth by example. However, when they start to take more room in our lesson than the actual passage and its implications, we are not staying with the text. They can be great introductory points, but we can't stay there. We must return to the text. I believe it is especially important with younger students that they see that our focus is the Scripture. They need to see that we value Scripture.

Immersing ourselves in the teaching content and sticking with it means work. Drawing out implications of a passage is work, and sometimes, it's more work depending on whom we are teaching. I find teaching teens much harder now than I did fifteen years ago. My heart goes out to teachers who have to deal with teens using cellphones in class. The big problem now is that most kids use their phones for their Bible. It's always a tendency to zone out of a lesson, but a cellphone makes it easier to give that wandering mind a place to rest, and it's so easy to look like you're just looking at your Bible. It can be easy to stray from the text to other things to draw back their attention. I'm really torn between wanting to use what's interesting to a teenager to keep his or her attention and not wanting to be the source of fostering an already dwindling attention span.

Teaching is hard work. And the hard work begins with us and how much we are willing to sacrifice to be immersed in Scripture. An hour or two on Saturday night to get our lessons together just isn't enough.


How do I become a better Bible teacher?

The short answer to that question is easy: be a student yourself.

Watch/Listen to Good Teachers

I returned to teaching teens this past fall. The first week I taught, I found myself frustrated because I was reminded that teenagers don't react the same way to being taught in the same way that women who are there because they do want to be taught. I had to sit back and think about how I could generate more interest and discussion.

Over the next little while, I watched my theology professor as he led the class and specifically, how he answered questions from us. There was always a true interest in giving the best answer. If you need inspiration, watch others who teach. Listen to sermons online. Listen to podcasts. There are many ways to sit under experienced teachers without attending seminary. Listen to how the teacher opens up the Scriptures; listen carefully. In the winter of 2016, I took hermeneutics, and Dr. Barker, the prof, basically gave a little sermon about a text every class. I learned a lot from just watching him.

Read Good Books

Look for Bible study books. Read more than one, and don't be afraid to read one that takes you deeper than you may want to go. I have written previously about books I would recommend for Bible study, but I would add another which I have just begun: Inductive Bible Study, by Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Alan Fuhr Jr. It goes into much more detail, especially about the process of observation, interpretation, and application. Most of us are very quick to move to interpretation without spending enough time in observation, and observation really should take the longest amount of time in a study. 

Be Humble

Intellectual humility is something I have really come to appreciate this past semester. Dr. Fowler, my theology professor, is 70 years old. Aside from the fact that he has spent a lot more time in school than I have, he has also been a Christian longer than I have and has served longer than I have. Despite his superior credentials, he is a very humble man. Students want to learn when they realize that their teacher is also a pilgrim on the journey. There is no room for arrogance when teaching. Teaching the Bible is an act of service, not an opportunity to draw attention to ourselves. We must remember that at one time, we knew much less than we do now, and that there is still more which we don't know yet.

Teaching is work. Learning the Bible well is work. It may mean that we give up time doing somethiing we enjoy. It may mean shutting ourselves up in study areas and hunkering down. The Bible is an amazing book. It is God's Word. We cannot impart knowledge to others with any degree of success unless we become students ourselves. We cannot teach what we have not learned ourselves.


Do theology with humility

I don't remember exactly where, but within the tome that is my Systematic Theology textbook (albeit, an excellent tome!), a comment is made about doing theology with humility. One of the greatest lessons I have learned this past year is the need to hold knowledge with humility.

When one is in seminary, learning new things, it is often difficult to withhold one's excitement. It's a great experience to have frequent epiphanies as we learn. Why did I not see that? is a frequent question. Another question, as we discuss questionable doctrine is "how could I have believed that?" 

It's comforting to know that our understanding of doctrine and theology is a process. Sometimes, you have to believe something questionable, and see the consequences in all their misery, before you can find the patience to sit and work through things. Sometimes, when we are young Christians, we are so eager to learn that we grab on to something and hold it fiercely without asking ourselves why.

My theology professor has shared a few stories about his own developing theology as he was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. The way he put it to me recently, he is a graduate of DTS, but he's not a "Dallas man." My hermeneutics professor, last year, shared many stories about his gradual change in various doctrines as he learned more. Both men hold their views with humility. There was no, "Man, how could I ever have believed that?" There was just gratitude for continuing to learn.

My theology prof is pretty brilliant. He thinks well on his feet. When someone in the class asks a question that leaves me wondering what they are actually asking, he seems to have figured it out right away. But there is no whiff of superiority from him. I can learn from someone like that. I don't suppose that I will ever have the level of knowledge that he does, but I don't get a feeling of inferiority being around him. The kind of people I can't learn from are those who present themselves as having attained some level of proficiency that makes them a little cut above others.

I have no idea where my seminary education will take me other than I plan to be teaching in my local church as long as they will have me. I want to be a teacher who holds her knowledge with humility. I know for sure that if older women want to minister effectively to younger women, coming across as if we know it all is not the best way to approach things. Showing others that we are still growing in our faith is a more excellent way.

Instead of thinking "how on earth could I have ever believed that?" I think a better response is, "I'm so thankful God continues to show me truth."


The Gospel Project: Pros and Cons

Update on 2017-01-23: I am really happy to say that someone from The Gospel Project reached out to me with this issue, and has given me the right direction to what I need. I'm really thankful for such excellent service.

This fall, I returned to teaching teens. Along with my husband and another couple, we are using The Gospel Project Curriculum. We love the content. There is a lot of guidance, it's Christ-centred, and it is a chronological study, which we like. Last fall, each of us was able to download our copies of the teacher guide to our desktops and access it on our other devices via Google Drive. It was really convenient. We enjoyed the ease of ordering online and receving digital copies. It keeps costs down, too.

When I ordered our next installment, Winter 2017, there was a slight change. Instead of each of us receiving a copy of the leader guide that we could download to our desktop, the only option in digital format was an e-book. It was also not an e-book that could be read with a Kindle. It required its own reader. We were given two choices of a reader, the Lifeway Reader and another through a site called My WORDsearch. We opted for the latter, because the customer service rep suggested it.

I will admit to being a little disappointed with this. Another app, another login, another password. I like Google Drive; I already have it on my phone, and the other teachers could use an iPad to access their copies. Now, we must all access our copies on another format. One of the other teachers said he does not like when publishers try to control how you interact with their product. I agreed.

I did check into getting the paper copy rather than the digital. For the leader guide, which is a great price ($6.94 US), the shipping was $47.00. Yes, you read correctly. Almost eight time as much as the product. Needless to say, that was not a real option. I guess being Canadian is a detriment when you interact with Lifeway. It's a shame when teaching kids the Bible is dependent upon companies who are required to make money. But that is a reality.

So while we love The Gospel Project content, we're a little disgruntled this winter. I don't know what will happen in the spring. What this has emphasized to me and the associate pastor who teaches along with us, churches need people to write their own curriculum so that we don't have to rely on publishers. That would be my dream job. Until then, we press on.


What women's ministry should have as a goal

In the past few days, I have read a few things about women's ministries. Despite the fact that I seldom read Christianity Today, there was an interesting article about women's ministry in light of some of the controversy over Jen Hatmaker. I have never read anything by Hatmaker. Sometimes, all it takes is watching how a woman treats others on Twitter to know that one does not need to read a writer's work.

Women's ministry is big business. Just think of some of the conferences that are attended; the books; the DVD curriculum; the teaching material. Someone is making money from the fact that women want to be ministered to. Women want to be challenged, to think theologically and biblically, and there are those who are willing to help. It is sad, however, that women have to go outside of their local church.

I have never been drawn to the big name speakers. The closest I have ever come to going down that road was when I was a Precept leader. I was trained by Precept, I taught studies, and I attended workshops and conferences. And after a while, I began to tire of it. I had learned what I needed. I began to want to do things differently than the way I had learned through Precept. It had served its purpose, and I moved on. Technically, that is what Precept envisions. It promotes people becoming leaders. And I think that principle of discipling someone in order to release her should be the goal.

This is the problem with some of the big name speakers. They attract fan girls. People flock to their conferences year after year. Women use their prepared curriculum year after year. Women hold those speakers up as authorities. Even women with smaller followings will eventually have women who look to them as authorities. There is certainly nothing wrong with soliciting opinions, but I have always been concerned about women givingso much regard to teachers who will never know them well.

Ultimately, women's ministry ought to seek to disciple women. And discipleship does come to an end. Look at the model of Jesus. He had the twelve with him while he was on earth. One of his goals was to prepare them for his eventual departure. It was never the design that the apostles would never be able to go out on their own. That is what building the kingdom involves: equipping people to stand on their own.

That is what I find missing in most of the big name women's ministries, and some of the smaller ones. The church doesn't need groupies. It needs women who are equipped. Personally, I'd rather see the young women in my church begin to develop independence. Some of the women I have taught were once my students as teens. I have watched them grow and mature. I love it when I hear that a young woman is moving out on her own, or has read a book and come to her own conclusions that it was not a good book. I would never want to be responsible for the continual spiritual appetites of thousands of women. I would rather they had the ability to pick up their Bibles, and feast. I would like to see better "how to" Bible study material, but that's a separate pet peeve of mine, and not the point of this post.

As I said, though, women's ministry is big business, and as long as there are publishing houses, women who are willing to produce for them, and an audience who likes to see things done up bright and beautiful, there will be big name speakers. We live in a culture that is ripe for such a phenomenon.