Thursday, January 27, 2005

Evaluating your teaching

Josh Hunt has a good article about evaluating your teaching and thinking through improvement opportunities. Here are the key questions:

Passion. Did you present the truth with some conviction?
Practical. Did you give specific application that can be applied to life this week? Did you teach for a verdict?
Humor. Were there points when the group laughed together?
Personal. Did you touch them where they live? Were you open about where you are at?
Involvement. Was everyone interested and with you? Did you have a good number of people participate in the discussion?
Preparation. Were you well prepared enough to present the lesson with confidence?
Background. Did you bring some interesting background not evident from the casual reading of the text.
Introduction. Did you grab their attention at the first?
Inspiration. Did you attempt to inspire them to do what you wanted them to do?
Focus. Did you have one or two "big ideas" that you attempted to drive home throughout the lesson?

Read the whole article, there are some excellent suggestions. And sign up for his free newsletter.
More on non-verbal communication

Various studies demonstrate that only a small fraction of communication occurs in the exact words we use. Maybe 85-90% of communication comes via tone of voice, gestures, touch, eye contact. Use this to teach so you create the best possible situation for God to change lives.

Let's consider what we know of Jesus.

His words, recorded for us in the Bible, have transformed millions of hearts. If Christ's "10%" communication can do this, imagine how powerful his presence must have been. Peter, suffering persecution, didn't just remember the words "I tell you, you are Peter (rock)". Peter remembered the tone of voice, the facial expression, perhaps the way Jesus gripped his shoulder, and the phenomenonal look into his eyes.

How can the Lord use your Christ-transformed, genuine-from-the-heart tone of voice, touch, gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Eye Contact

Shakespeare understood that the eyes are "the windows to the soul." The eyes are a specialized extension of the brain. Eye contact is critical in teaching. "Teachers who make eye contact open the flow of communication and convey interest, concern, warmth and credibility." (from a short guide to improving nonverbal communication) Some tips for adult classes and small group teaching:
  • Talk to your students, not your Bible, your notes, the whiteboard, or the ceiling.
  • Good eye contact does not mean staring or gazing. Those are likely to make a person uncomfortable and lose their concentration -- and less likely to understand the material or participate in discussion.
  • Good eye contact is three to five seconds on a person if they are not speaking to you, and full attention when they are. (If they're making a comment to the group, you may not have to keep eye contact on them all the time.)
  • Don't flit your eyes around and try to hit everyone for 0.2 seconds. That's not meaningful and only reinforces any nervousness you already have!
  • Watch your students as well as listen to them. Look for signs of being bored or being lost.
  • Avoid focusing only on your "best" and "worst" students.

If you work at appropriate eye contact, you will find participation increases and your job as a teacher is easier. Eye contact is an avenue for changed lives!

Other recommendations? Add a comment, or contact me at .

Every teacher should read Chris Busch's comments about the necessity to be relevant and be authentic -- he fuses these into "rawthenticity." He says this is essential for the post-emergent culture, but I'd argue it's always been essential, and always should be -- it's the Jesus style of teaching!

Here's the core section:
Some observations about relevance –
Each of us is somewhat irrelevant to at least some segment of the population. You choose (by intention or default) those you target for relevance.
Many people haven’t had the teachers (or have ignored them) that I did to alert them to their own marginal relevance. Find some.
Listen to your target audience, be it business, church, education. . . It’s the only way to stay relevant.
No one is relevant to every one, but you can adjust your thinking to be relevant to the culture as
a whole and to your target audience specifically.
Relevance is all about the way you think. That can change if you want it to.

A few thoughts about authenticity –
In this context, being authentic
requires a willingness to be transparent in your dealings with others. You’re
the same “on stage” and off. Your words and behaviors are synomic.
A person who is bad but honest about it is preferred over the person who pretends to be good.
Being authentic is the cornerstone of being relevant.
Credibility is the currency of the culture.

But read the whole 2 pages to find out the amazing story of where he learned this. :-)

Monday, January 24, 2005

Subscribe by Email

Several people have asked if I can email them whenever there is a new post. I just loaded Bloglet to make this easy -- sign up in the form box in the left column. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 22, 2005

What Questions Do

There is no fruit from Bible teaching unless you ask questions. Scan through the four Gospels and note how many times Jesus used questions to promote understanding. I believe we are biologically and spiritually wired to learn best when responding to questions.

Ed Young has said that the right questions


So as you prepare to teach, one of the most important questions you can be asking the Lord and yourself is "What questions should I ask to promote understanding and retention?"

Thursday, January 20, 2005

M'Cheyne's Systematic Bible Reading Plan

I collect Bible reading plans. It's nice to change plans every couple of years, just for variety. I recently learned about Robert Murray M'Cheyne's reading plan he developed for his congregation in Scotland in 1842. The plan is excellent for families and individual reading -- there is daily designated reading for each -- and covers the OT once and the NT twice in a year.

The best part, however, is M'Cheyne's introduction, outlining the dangers and advantages of systematic Bible reading. Reading this is a terrific blessing itself! Download the PDF file .

Saturday, January 15, 2005

What's Hard to Believe?

I enjoyed Marvin Olasky's blogpost about responding to people who can't believe the amazing miracles in the Bible. Good teaching strategy here!

"One reader sent me a letter apparently floating around on the Internet that begins this way: "Dear Believer, You asked me to consider Christianity as the answer for my life. I have done that. I consider it untrue, repugnant, and harmful. You expect me to believe Jesus was born of a virgin... women come from a man’s rib... the entire world was flooded, covering the mountains to drown evil... the Nile turned to blood... people were cured by the sight of a brass serpent... Jesus walked on water...If you believe these stories, then you are the one with the problem, not me."
The reader asked how I'd answer such an attack. My quick response goes like this: "Make another list of unbelievable-sounding stuff. For example, I'm typing on something hardly bigger than a book, with no wires attached to it, and what I type (or photograph, or videotape) will be sent through the air to you so you can see it almost instantaneously. Or, I can send a box to India through the air on a piece of machinery weighing hundreds of tons so that the person in India can have it tomorrow. Biblical miracles sound crazier than that only if we think the material is real and the spiritual unreal. On such matters, presuppositions determine believability."

Read the whole thing, and interesting comments from readers.
Using Humor

The Lord invented humor, it's not a bad thing. But humor needs to be used appropriately and skillfully in teaching the Bible. I'm sure you seen speakers attempt to use humor and fall painfully flat.

Done well, humor can lead to critical insight, and may be the reason a student remembers something much later on. (We're wired to strongly link humor and memories.)

John Beukema wrote a nice article in Leadership Magazine about using humor while preaching. Check it out, the ideas will help your Bible teaching no matter what setting you're in.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Meanings of Words and Names

There are specialized Bible dictionaries available online that may be useful to you.

Interested in looking up the meaning of names (often very significant)? Go to BibleGateway's Dictionary section, select "Hitchcock's Bible Name Dictionary" in the drop-down list, and enter the name (or look up alphabetically). You'll find out, for example, that Habbakuk means "he that embraces; a wrestler."

The same dictionary area has Eaton's Bible Dictionary on the drop-down list. The entry for predestination, for example, tells you about the Greek word used, the six places it's used in the Bible, and related verses. It's a nice comparison with Nave's Topical Bible.

A little Google searching will show you some other online dictionaries. Very helpful to have in your toolkit!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Both Breadth and Depth

Great Bible teachers need to study the Bible in both breadth and depth. This takes intentionality. I recommend you create "seasons" of study where you focus on either breadth or depth.

Breadth. There is a terrific need just to read large amounts of Scripture. Many people think reading the Bible in a year is "God's design for great Christians." If the Bible is truly the coolest, most wonderful book in the history of the world (and it is!), then pour yourself into it and read it in 30-40 days. It will take you about 2-3 hours a day. But I guarantee you that you'll never be the same.

Write me at if you'd like a reading plan to do this. Free.

The key principles for breadth of study are
  • work through large sections of the Bible or the whole Bible, fairly quickly
  • look for God's big themes, and how things connect through the Bible
  • be intentional to keep going -- don't get stalled in details (just note them, so you can come back later for another study)
Depth. You will never exhaust the depth of the Scriptures. Read a short book like Ephesians every day for a month, and keep notes on what you learn. Keep going even if it seems dry for a couple of days. Spend 10 days in Romans 12. Look up all the cross-references to a passage or verse that grips you. Check it out in multiple translations (use BibleGateway to make this easy). Read the passage out loud -- it slows you down and you will hear new things. Play the "Not" game - what does the verse NOT say?

The key principles for depth of study are
  • repetition -- go after understanding again and again, confident that the Lord has more to teach you
  • reflection and meditation -- let it dwell in you richly
And always pray for God's guidance as you study, both breadth and depth. Your aim is to know the living Word, not be a dry, dusty, life-choked theologian.

Be bold, be gentle, and enjoy God's Word. It is His Word to you, today.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Gap-filling teaching

I thought this was interesting commentary from Joe Carter. Note the request for "gap-fillers" and think about how adult sunday school, small groups, and other teaching opportunities can be helpful.

"The average New England churchgoer of the 18th century listened to some15,000 hours of sermons in his or her lifetime, notes Joshua Davey. Comparethat to the 1500 hours of lectures are involved in obtaining a bachelor'sdegree and it's becomes clear why early American evangelicals were so muchmore knowledgeable about theology than we are today.Davey points out that if a modern churchgoer hears between 1 -1.5 hours ofsermons a week for 75 straight years they would only accumulate 3,900 hours.

I think Davey is being overly optimistic. While most church services maylast about an hour, less than half that time is spent listening to a sermon.If Rick Warren were to break out an hour-long homily the pews at Saddlebackwould likely be empty come the next Sunday! Davey makes some important points about the important need for political preaching. And while I whole-heartedly agree, I think it would be a start just to have more preaching. I don't have much hope that the typical evangelical liturgy (music by the choir/praise band-offering by the ushers-sermon by the preacher-football game by the NFL) will change within my lifetime. American evangelicals are a product of our culture and our MTV attention spans simply couldn't handle a Puritan-length sermon.

But that's where bloggers can come in. There is a definite need for "gapfillers", teachers and preachers who can provide small doses of instructionfor the rest of us between the 20-minute sermons we get on Sundays. Societyhas changed from the 18th to 21st centuries; we need to adapt accordingly. We should use the new technology for both the spread of the Gospel and teaching of the church. After all, this generation's Jonathan Edwards may besitting behind a computer rather than standing behind a pulpit."

A big area Joe didn't mention is what we do in our homes -- formal devotion times, simply reading God's Word at the dinner table, living out Deut 6:6-7.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Recommended Book: Heaven

Randy Alcorn has done a tremendous service to us all by writing Heaven. He's constructed a wonderful picture of the thrilling, fabulous place where we want to be. I appreciate his biblical scholarship. Alcorn first builds the case for an intermediate heaven that exists now, and a final eternal heaven that is centered on the New Earth. A lot of things "clicked" into place for me as I read this book. Alcorn also has many chapters addressing common questions about heaven (e.g., will I know people, will my pet be there, will we worship all the time, what will our bodies be like).

I've encountered a number of teenagers and adults who think heaven is going to be a perpetual church service like the ones that "bore them to death" here. Absolutely not! We're not going to be disembodied spirits floating around on clouds strumming harps forever. Satan has gotten enormous mileage out of these lies.

Get it, read it, teach it. There is great material here for classes. Heaven, by Randy Alcorn.

Monday, January 03, 2005


Concentration is a key element to effective Bible study, which is a requirement for great Bible teaching. Without concentration, your effort is dissipated. Concentration literally means "to stay within the circle."

Push yourself to concentrate. Get rid of all the other distractions. Focus.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Illustrations that help

Props matter. Stories matter. These things can illustrate a Bible lesson so your students will have greater understanding -- or retention. Here's an excellent (and free) resource for your toolbox: Sermon Illustrations database from