Strong relationships rely on good communication. I need to communicate in a way that is conducive to learning. With adults in particular, the old classroom setting with the authoritarian teacher demanding attention, that they learned to loathe when they were children, must be abandoned. These are God’s students; I am merely the messenger.
These students are not objects to boss around; they are people who need to be nurtured in their faith. It is not my job to be their sole source of information. My job is to direct them to the only source of information, God. In this way we share the learning together, not just as teacher and pupil, but as a group of people seeking the Lord together.
These group dynamics are important in the life of any learner and, as a teacher, I have a direct impact on the attitude of my students. While the personal relationship between teacher and student is important, it is also important that a teacher encourages strong relationships between the students themselves since believers are all members of one body of Christ.
Personally, I take the first five minutes of my Sunday school class just talking about whatever is the hot topic of the day, from the latest baseball trade, the Super Bowl, the hot button political issues, even the weather. I have seen fifteen year olds chat intimately with sixty year olds during this time. We all laugh together, debate each other, and rib each other. More importantly, we all grow together in our relationship to one another. When the good weather arrives, we usually try to have one good barbecue together. By being involved in each other’s lives, in a context we are all comfortable with, we serve to encourage each other—to learn, to grow, and minister to others. The apostle Paul recognized the importance of this, using this truth in his own ministry.
This environment of encouragement serves as a fertile ground for learning. With the students encouraging each other, the teacher’s job is made significantly easier if the right methods are employed. It is not enough, though, even in this fertile environment, to just stand up and teach. A farmer, to use an analogy, once he has tilled and fertilized his soil, does not just simply throw seed anywhere without thought or plan. He carefully selects, by using many factors, what he will plant, where, and how. Since the Word of God is called a seed by the Lord Jesus, Bible teachers can take a lesson or two from the farmer. The farmer must learn first what he can sell at market. It makes no sense to grow something he cannot sell.
A Bible teacher’s lesson must be relevant; it must find a “market” in the lives of the students. Teaching on Levitical law may have its purpose, but if your church is suffering through hard financial times, perhaps teaching on faith and responsible stewardship will find more fertile ground. A farmer also organizes his crops, sometimes planting them in different soils according to a crop’s ability to grow in certain environments. The Bible teacher must also understand that each lesson may “grow” differently in each student and that must be considered in the presentation of any lesson.
Finally, the teacher must have an organized approach to communicating information with a clear objective in mind, whether it is specific application of knowledge or knowledge for personal enrichment. Very few students will stay on the ride if they do not know where it is going. To return to the farmer analogy, he also has a destination, to reap crops. But his process is very systematic—plan, till, fertilize, plant, water, grow, and harvest. If the process is in any way out of sequence, his yield is affected.
If the Bible student knows where he is going, why he should go there, the plan for reaching the destination, and the reason for the trip, the struggle to get him there is greatly diminished. In specific regard to application, when the system for instruction is clearly given, with the reasons being fully understood, the knowledge that is imparted to the student, once he has agreed to take the ride, has a greater chance of taking root and being applied in his life.
Having been a teacher in several different capacities—adjunct college professor, home school parent, Sunday school for junior high students, Sunday school for adults, and training officer for law enforcement organizations, I can offer some advice:
- First, to be credible, a teacher must know the subject matter. For the Bible teacher, it is not simply knowing what the Word of God says, but knowing the God who wrote it; know His Word and you will be credible with your audience.
- Second, know what subject matter is important to your audience and the only way to know that is to know the students on a personal level; spend time with them, get to know them, and let them get to know you. If they know you care, they will listen to you.
- Third, do not be afraid to share personal experiences with your students, even if they portray you in a negative light. It shows you are genuine and gives more power to your testimony and your teaching material, especially if what you are teaching has proven true in your life. If it is good enough for you, chances are it will be good enough for them.
- Lastly, be prepared, even if you think you have good command of the material. Poor preparation will manifest itself in a hurry and it will demonstrate to your students that you do not really care about the material; if you do not care, neither will they. Impart knowledge with the passion that reveals a true concern for your students and their lives and you will always have an attentive audience that will apply what you have taught them.
Jesus was a Master, teacher, and friend. We need to be the same.