Biblical teaching can be an extreme challenge. The person with the strongest knowledge of the Bible is often left with little to no ability to teach it in a way that will actually motivate people to learn. The following three sections outline the major facets of motivational teaching. Motivational Bible teaching is relational, progressive and personal.
Motivational Teaching is Relational
Teaching is first and foremost a relationship. Many people don’t look at it this way, but the principle is there. For teaching to be successful, there must be interaction between the teacher and the student and therefore, it is relational. Take Jesus for example. He came to earth as a man, specifically a Jew in order to teach men, specifically Jews. Because of this, we must understand the relationship between the student and the teacher as well as the relationships among the students.
The teacher must figure out how to relate to the students. I think of when I was a teenager and I had a Sunday School teacher who was in her seventies. She was a great teacher, with a sound knowledge of the Bible, but she simply had no way to relate to the class. Now I teach the youth of our church and I struggle with it at twenty eight. The way that I relate to them is by sharing my testimony, that I walked away from the church at eighteen, and how I love them so much that I want to guide them so that they don’t do the same. It’s my ‘in’. Every teacher must have one in order to relate to the students.
Group dynamics are important too. It’s easy enough to wrap your mind around a class of teenagers because they are all at the same place in their lives, but if you were to throw in a handful of adults and small children, then the dynamic changes. You have to find a common thread. What is it that all of them need that you can provide through the teaching? In many cases it would be wise to teach several classes according to age range, but it is not always possible, so a common thread must be identified. Again we can take the example of Jesus, the master teacher. He repeatedly gave very specific instruction to very specific people. For example, the rich or the pharisees or the disciples. He understood the dynamic, yet when the group was mixed, He was still able to teach to all.
Motivational Teaching is Progressive
Learning must build on itself in every way. First, a lesson must build on itself. It must progress. It has to build up to a main point. In every Bible passage you teach, there is a reason that God put it in and you must identify that point and build up to it (even 1 Chronicles 1-9). I’ve sat through many classes where the teacher spends the entire class uncovering background and history of verses and even provides advice, but never get’s to the point of a passage. Scripture lacks meaning if a purpose cannot be identified. “Scripture is…useful for…training in righteousness” and with no purpose, then there is no life change and if there is no life change then there is no training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3.16).
Second, teaching must be structured, building upon previous lessons. If every week you come before the class with a seemingly random topical lesson, then you will lose your audience. The most common way to do this is to teach through a book of the Bible. This is not to say that other methods are not acceptable, so long as they are structured. As an example, I am teaching on Sunday mornings through Corinthians, but on Thursday nights I am teaching on worldliness. I am teaching lessons that are thematically consistent and build upon each other, all reinforcing the same ultimate point. So where the Thursday night lessons are topical, they are still structured and progressive.
Finally, the teaching must be relevant. You cannot assume knowledge that hasn’t been previously taught. In many cases, you will be able to identify relevancy based on the groups dynamics, but often it will be by referencing (and reinforcing) things which you personally have taught them previously. Teaching structurally makes this part of progressive teaching much more attainable.
Anyone familiar with progressive rock music can understand this. A progressive rock song does not follow a traditional musical format. It will begin with one theme that develops and changes. Where a typical rock song would change and then return to the original theme, a progressive rock song will move on all together, through new grooves and new themes and will only occasionally return to a metamorphosis of a previous theme in order to reinforce that it is still the same song. In teaching we can do the same thing. As we teach through a structured structured series, where every lesson builds upon a main point, we return to thoughts from previous lessons, only momentarily and as necessary to reinforce relevancy and scriptural consistency.
Motivational Teaching is Personal
Teaching must be personal. Again, knowledge of group dynamics is going to be really important here. The lesson must be engaging to the students in order to encourage learning. In my classes I often do an engagement session prior to the lesson to get the students thinking about the subject on their own before I teach them what God’s word says about it. In a recent lesson on worldliness I wanted them to observe how much Christians can look just like everyone else, so I read them the MySpace profiles of many Christians and Atheists that I found online and asked them to identify their religious understanding. This exercise worked great with teens, but I’m not sure it would have worked at all with senior citizens or four year year old’s, for that matter.
It must be stimulating in order to keep their attention and because stimulating teaching will be easier to remember. Great tools for stimulation are metaphors, analogies, similes and other forms of imagery. Use compare and contrast to begin to uncover the meaning behind the imagery for the class and encourage them to discuss in order to uncover it themselves. “As they progress…students can use the process on their own to stimulate a wide-ranging exchange of ideas” (Marzano et al., 2001). In essence, they will learn to uncover these truths on their own. They will become so engaged that they will teach parts of the lessons themselves through guided discussion.
Finally, it must be applied. If there is no application, if the students can’t walk away with very practical ways to apply scripture, then you fail as a teacher. We are only successful as teachers if our students experience life change as a result of our teaching. If we don’t accurately apply scripture, it’s like cooking Thanksgiving dinner and feeding it all to the dogs. It’s a waste.
You will notice that there were no legalistic rules laid out by these principles. “Ultimately, professional development is personal. No two teachers are alike” (Marzano et al. 2001). Similarly, no two classes are alike. A teacher must find what works for them in order to properly teach God’s word and to actually accomplish applied learning. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching” and it deserves to be taught as such (2 Timothy 3.16).
Marzano, R. J., Norford, J. S., Paynter, D. E., Pickering, D. J., & Gaddy, B. B. (2001). A Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
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