Friday, July 29, 2005

Short hiatus

I will be taking a week or so off from posting, while I turn my attention to other things. Teach to change lives!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Catalyst for Change

Good teachers are catalysts -- they promote positive change.

In chemistry, catalysts are substances that speed up a reaction, or make it happen with less energy input. The reaction or change can happen at a slow rate, or at a low frequency.

God uses Bible teachers to catalyze life change in the people He loves. He uses teachers to help people understand more, put things together faster, get practical ideas that will help them grow into spiritual maturity.

You are a powerful catalyst in the hands of the living God! Let him use you to change lives. Get excited about what the Holy Spirit is doing to honor Jesus and the Father!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Great Bible teaching is hampered by 7 deadly problems

Every teacher has to face off and overcome 7 deadly problems in order to teach the Bible to change lives. I put together a free six page report that outlines the problems and tells you how to overcome them.

There is a "half" problem that you should also recognize!

Check it out at

If you think you're immune, think again. My teaching ministry has been hit by more than one of these!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Great Armstrong quote

I remember watching Neil Armstrong step out on to the moon. We were crowded around the B&W family TV in 1969, transfixed by what we saw. You probably remember what he said: "One small step for man, one giant step for mankind."

But I learned only recently what Neil Armstrong said to a joint session of Congress later that year.

"To those of you who have advocated looking high we owe our sincere gratitude, for you have granted us the opportunity to see some of the grandest views of the Creator."

Could you use that as a teaching illustration or in an opener?

How do you find quotes and stories like this? You can find out one free way (let Google do the heavy lifting for you!) at

Friday, July 22, 2005

Power of words

"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind." -- Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Getting ready to speak

Perry Noble shares how he gets prepared for a sermon. This is worth reading because he outlines an excellent, iterative process that
allows room for God to speak to him
helps him tailor it to the needs of the audience
engages others to help him shape the message

It's about 2 pages, and I recommend it for teachers. I really liked this section:

"Let me be very up front--I believe in being prepared--and being prepared as a speaker involves a lot of time. This has not always been a conviction of mine...I used to sort of have the attitude that I would get up to speak, have a passage in mind, read it--and then "let the Spirit move me" in whatever direction He wished.

But since that time I have discovered that the moving and working of the Holy Spirit is not limited to a one hour window on Sundays. The Holy Spirit moves me to always be thinking about the message that I will be speaking on--He is present with me in my times of study--He is present with me as I am preparing and running through the message in my living room--and He is present with me as I present the message.

I can honestly say that every message that I speak is Spirit led--I usually have about 90% of what I want to say in mind when I step out on stage to speak every Sunday--and He always moves and gives me about 10% more than I had planned to say.

I believe God honors those who honor Him through loving Him and the people who are going to be in attendance. How do we honor God & those people--if we are the speaker--it means that when we step up--we are prepared. I am guided by the conviction that people are willing to give me 30-40 minutes of their time every week...and I do not want to communicate in that time that God is boring or meaningless--so I prepare."

That's a great message for teachers to hear and live by. Your teaching ministry is a God-thing, a work of the spirit. But you need to cooperate, and that means work.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Promote Bible reading

By now several million people -- of all ages -- have read the latest Harry Potter book. Many of them read it in the first twenty-four ours. They sat transfixed, absorbed, putting off sleep or food or other distractions to focus on the prize. They turned page after page, hungry with desire to see how the story works out.

You don't see this happen with the Bible very often.

But the Bible is far, far superior to a Harry Potter book. It's God's very Word to us. It's a love letter from the Lord to us. It's the message of hope in this world, the most wonderful story of redemption ever told!

I remember reading the whole New Testament in three days after being challenged to actually read what I was criticizing. I was transfixed, absorbed, astounded, and awed. This Jesus was not like what I had imagined. And later, after accepting Christ, I read verses like John 16:23 and ran into my roommate's room to wake him up I was so excited. "Do you know what this says? Wow!"

I think there are two (and a half) reasons why few people get excited about reading the Bible like millions do for a Harry Potter book.

1. The majority of people -- even Christians -- perceive the Bible is hard to understand and dull. Let us repent of how we as contributed to this perception! Dads, pastors, and teachers all need to give the children and adults in their charge an accurate picture of the Bible. We frequently voice concern about "dumbing down" Scripture, and we should. Let us be careful about making the Bible seem like a book only experts and weirdos would enjoy.

2. Very few people have models or coaching on how to read large amounts of Scripture, in order to develop breadth. Nearly all Bible studies push for depth. Which is important. But love for the Bible also should lead us into breadth of study. We celebrate people who read the Bible in a year, or even a chapter a day. That's good. But we would also do well to challenge people to read the Bible over and over again. I outline specific strategies to help people read the Bible in 30-40 days in my book, Teach the Bible to Change Lives. I get gasps of "you've got to be kidding" when I lay out this challenge. But people (of all ages) who take up the challenge consistently tell me it has transformed their view of the Word, and of God. Dads, pastors, and teachers need to lead the way and model this.

The half-reason is that Satan cares not a whit if people read Harry Potter or watch CNN or clean their garage. He just wants to steer people away from the Word of God, and from prayer.

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will work powerfully in the hearts of His people, and give them an unquenchable desire for His Word. May it begin with dads, pastors, and teachers everywhere!

The Bible is the coolest, most wonderful book in the world. Settle that fact in your heart, and everything else will fall into place.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Imagination exercise

From surveys and educated guesses, I believe most of my readers are teaching in comfortable, often suburban churches in the US.

Let me stretch your imagination a little bit. How would your teaching be different if you were teaching in a poor country? In a missionary setting where many people have never heard the Gospel?

I suspect you immediately thought about the less important things -- setting, equipment, education level of your students, the temperature or insect population.

But how should your teaching be the same? What are the key things to focus on? Content. How to help people learn. Using illustrations. Sharpening yourself to have a deeper understanding (breadth and depth) of God's Word.

Use this kind of imagination exercise to teach your very best, no matter what the setting.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Want to promote learning? Promote talking.

"I often don't know what I really know or think until I hear myself in conversation with interested and positively-focused folks." -- David Allen

David Allen (of Getting Things Done fame -- a book I recommend) has hit upon an important truth about how many people learn.

Most learners will remember a small fraction of what they heard. But they will remember virtually everything they said. Speaking reinforces and sharpens fuzzy thoughts. I'm sure you know some people who rattle on, and they may even say they're "thinking out loud." This is all good news for learning.

So as you are preparing lessons, engineer opportunities for your students to speak. Challenge them to paraphrase a passage, summarize a point, or give two reasons why they like this passage. Their retention and understanding will skyrocket.

Are there exceptions to this pattern? Certainly. But they're relatively few people who learn better without their voice being engaged.

P.S. By the way, as I discuss in my book, Teach the Bible to Change Lives, speaking out loud promotes greater understanding of Scripture. That's why I recommend reading the Bible aloud as you study it -- you'll engage more of your brain, and you're much more likely to comprehend it.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Training the Mind is Important

John Piper has some excellent thoughts here. He is talking about training children to read and think critically, which I applaud. Keep in mind that many adults today have not really learned how to read well and think through Scripture. (This wasn't something they emphasized on Sesame Street.) No matter what age, nor current skill level, we all have room to improve. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' (Matthew 22:37)

I've reproduced the FreshWords article here; you can get a copy at Desiring God. (Better yet, sign up to receive Pastor Piper's sermons and writings by email each week -- no charge.)

Thoughts on the Significance of Reading
July 13, 2005
I was reading and meditating on the book of Hebrews recently, when it hit me forcefully that a basic and compelling reason for education—the rigorous training of the mind—is so that a person can read the Bible with understanding.

This sounds too obvious to be useful or compelling. But that’s just because we take the preciousness of reading so for granted; or, even more, because we appreciate so little the kind of thinking that a complex Bible passage requires of us.

The book of Hebrews, for example, is an intellectually challenging argument from Old Testament texts. The points that the author makes hang on biblical observations that come only from rigorous reading, not light skimming. And the understanding of these Old Testament interpretations in the text of Hebrews requires rigorous thought and mental effort. The same could be said for the extended argumentation of Romans and Galatians and the other books of the Bible.

This is an overwhelming argument for giving our children a disciplined and rigorous training in how to think an author’s thoughts after him from a text—especially a biblical text. An alphabet must be learned, as well as vocabulary, grammar, syntax, the rudiments of logic, and the way meaning is imparted through sustained connections of sentences and paragraphs.

The reason Christians have always planted schools where they have planted churches is because we are a people of THE BOOK. It is true that THE BOOK will never have its proper effect without prayer and the Holy Spirit. It is not a textbook to be debated; it is a fountain for spiritual thirst, and food for the soul, and a revelation of God, and a living power, and a two-edged sword. But none of this changes the fact: apart from the discipline of reading, the Bible is as powerless as paper. Someone might have to read it for you; but without reading, the meaning and the power of it are locked up.

Is it not remarkable how often Jesus settled great issues with a reference to reading? For example, in the issue of the Sabbath he said, “Have you not read what David did?” (Matthew 12:3). In the issue of divorce and remarriage he said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female?” (Matthew 19:4). In the issue of true worship and praise he said, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes you have prepared praise for yourself’?” (Matthew 21:16). In the issue of the resurrection he said, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’?” (Matthew 21:42). And to the lawyer who queried him about eternal life he said, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” (Luke 10:26).

The apostle Paul also gave reading a great place in the life of the church. For example, he said to the Corinthians, “We write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end” (1 Corinthians 1:13). To the Ephesians he said, “When you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:3). To the Colossians he said, “When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). Reading the letters of Paul was so important that he commands it with an oath: “I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren” (1 Thessalonians 5:27).

The ability to read does not come intuitively. It must be taught. And learning to read with understanding is a life-long labor. The implications for Christians are immense. Education of the mind in the rigorous discipline of thoughtful reading is a primary goal of school. The church of Jesus is debilitated when his people are lulled into thinking that it is humble or democratic or relevant to give a merely practical education that does not involve the rigorous training of the mind to think hard and to construe meaning from difficult texts.

The issue of earning a living is not nearly so important as whether the next generation has direct access to the meaning of the Word of God. We need an education that puts the highest premium under God on knowing the meaning of God’s Book, and growing in the abilities that will unlock its riches for a lifetime. It would be better to starve for lack of food than to fail to grasp the meaning of the book of Romans. Lord, let us not fail the next generation!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Saying "Any questions?" does not count as being interactive

With few exceptions, people don't learn much in straight lectures and speeches. If you're interested in maximizing learning, make your lesson times interactive. Ask questions (and wait more than 2 seconds!) to give people a chance to interact.

Saying "Any questions?" and plowing ahead one heartbeat later does not count as being interactive.

Give interaction time.

You'll cover less ground, but people will get more out of it. My rule of thumb: don't talk more than ten minutes without creating interaction.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Learning from Robert Murray M'Cheyne

You would do well to print off these quotes from Robert Murray M'Cheyne, and ponder them for a few minutes today. Let me highlight a few that should especially touch Bible teachers.

"Get your texts from God—your thoughts, your words, from God. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection's of the instrument, will be success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God's Spirit, is worth ten thousands words spoken in unbelief and sin."

"Depend upon it, it is God's Word, not our comment upon God's Word, that saves souls."

"Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. You know a sound body alone can work with power; much more a healthy soul. Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to Him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people. Expound much; it is through the truth that souls are to be sanctified, not through essays upon the truth. Be easy of access, apt to teach, and the Lord teach you and bless you in all you do and say. You will not find many companions. Be the more with God. My dear people are anxiously waiting for you. The prayerful are praying for you. Be of good courage; there remaineth much of the land to be possessed. Be not dismayed, for Christ shall be with thee to deliver thee. Study Isa vi, and Jer i, and the sending of Moses, and Ps li 12, 13, and John xv 26, 27 and the connection in Luke 1. 15,16. . . . . "
God's Word

"God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon's scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God's Word. We can't get away from it--no matter what."
-- Hebrews 4:12-23, The Message

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Which teaching model do you use?

Unless you're delivering a sermon, make your Bible teaching interactive. Ask questions. (WAIT for responses.) Use dialogue back and forth to help people understand key points more deeply. Use illustrations. Ask questions. Express emotion and passion from an authentic, Spirit-ssaturated heart! Ask questions. Speak right into their chests! This is the Jesus way of teaching. This is the way to dramatically increase learning, retention, and life change.

This morning I heard a great descriptor for the alternative model of teaching:



Monday, July 04, 2005

What Bible study tools are the best for you?

Great Bible teaching begins with great Bible study.

But there's a lot of confusion about what tools are thebest to help teachers like you study the Bible. I put together a 12-page report that gives you a checklist on the best Bible study tools for your library.There's only one essential tool, and three tools youshould have. I tell you exactly WHY these are the best. I also give you my recommendations on some other usefulbut not essential tools you might consider.

Check it out at

One of the most important things I try to do in thisreport is put the use of these tools in context. There's alot of marketing "hype" out there designed to make youthink you'll become SUPER Bible TEACHER if you just get this.

I'm only recommending tools that are going to help sharpenYOU. I believe that YOU are the tool that God uses tochange lives.

Also, in this report I explain the fundamental problemwith most study Bibles and computer Bible programs. I'm notopposed to anyone using these, but I'm got some specificrecommendations about HOW to use them.

Again, this free report is at
Leave 'em hungry

All of us who are humbling studying and praying to put together lessons tailored for our students at this time have to wrestle with the question: "How much do I try to cover in this lesson?"

There's no hard and fast answer, because it depends enormously on the students and the setting. If you are working with a group of mature Christians who are accustomed to good group discussion-study for 2 hours and have prepared for the class -- you can probably pack a lot in. If you have a 10 minute devotion opportunity with Jr. High students during the half-time of the SuperBowl, you'd best keep it simple and relevant.

There is a principle, however, that I think all Bible teachers should keep in mind: Keep 'em hungry for more.

Prepare for less content, with such quality and clarity, that leaves them feeling that you could have shared more with the class. Their retention will be much higher, and they will look forward to future classes.

You can invite them to dive deeper on a topic on their own (and give them a starter to do this outside of class -- put suggested reading or questions to consider on your handout).

During the class time, leave space and time for the Holy Spirit to work.

Mark Twain famously wrote a long letter to an acquaintance, closing with comments like this: "I'm sorry I have written you such a long letter. I did not have time to compose a shorter one."

It takes some effort, dear teachers, to pare down your lessons to the best stuff. This means that you can't share every great insight the Lord has given you, or show off the depth of your knowledge about this Bible passage. But this isn't about you, it's about your students, and glorifying God. Teaching to change lives means giving your students content set up to maximize their retention and comprehension.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Simple tactic to stop private conversations -- and three alternative tactics

If you're teaching a larger group, you will find that some people tend to have extended private conversations going on. I'm not talking about just one or two quick sentences shared back and forth in whispers, probably related to the class topic. This is when two people seem to be having an extended conversation (I've seen one go on for 15 minutes) and they aren't paying any attention to you or anyone else nearby.

Even if it is not disrupting the class overall, but it's likely to be distracting to you.

Here's a simple tactic which usually ices these cold:

Continue teaching, but go stand near them for a time.

I have found that my physical presence usually quells the conversation without me saying anything about it at all.

Now if you're teaching environment doesn't give you that option, then the next thing to try is making eye contact. That may not be very effective if they're really engaged.

You can also ask them a direct question -- it's even better if you know one or both of their names. "Bill, did you have a question or an observation to share?"

A tactic that can be very effective is to stop talking, wave off questions, focus your eye contact on the conversing pair, and wait. In about 30-45 seconds even very engaged conversationalists will recognize something changed and look at you. Then say, gently, "Thank you." And continue the class.

If you use either of the latter two options, be sure to follow-up outside of class with them. Remember, they are not the enemy. You're simply trying to manage the teaching environment so everyone has the best possible opportunities to learn. It could well be that their conversation was more important than your lesson. If that's true, they just need to move out of the class area to have it, out of consideration for others.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Keeping the Presence of God

Easy believism is deadly.

Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon titled "Keeping the Presence of God," John Piper writes about this sermon:

"Oh, how different is the path of Christian maturity pointed out by Edwards and the path most Christians walk today. There is a kind of cavalier attitude toward our security today. There is little trembling. Little vigilance and earnestness and caution and watchfulness over our souls. There is a kind of casual, slack, careless attitude toward the possibility that we might make shipwreck of our faith and fail to lay hold on eternal life. We have the notion that security is a kind of mechanical, automatic thing. We prayed once to receive Jesus. We are safe and there is not place for “working our your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). That is not what Edwards sees in the Bible.
Therefore he pleads with his people, and I plead with you, to “keep the presence of God.” It is not automatic. "

Even very popular books like "The Purpose-Driven Life" are contributing to easy believism. I think Rick Warren has been used mightily by God, and am glad so many people are growing through his 40 day outline. But I agree wholeheartedly with Nick Jackson's comments in "A Purpose Driven Death." Here's an excerpt:

"Our seeker sensitive methods are failing as we widen the narrow gate with pluralistic, doctrinally illiterate converts. We are essentially raising an army of functional humanists who are becoming living stones in a giant ecumenical Tower of Babel.
How, can we go from “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” to “God has a purpose and plan for your Life?” We are standing on the shoulders of giants like Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, Luther, and Calvin.
The Great Commission does not say, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever, Rick Warren has commanded you.” There is no simple formula for revival. We all thought Mel Gibson’s “Passion,” would save America and be as big as the second coming, but we are still murdering 4,000 babies a day and are about to allow men to marry men in America. Either we repent of our compromised Christianity and cleverly packaged Christian Humanism or we will see persecution (God’s method of church growth) come to America that will make Foxe’s Book of Martyrs look like a children’s book.
Friends, This is not a quick fix. We must rediscover the ancient pathways. We must first start by repenting in our own hearts and lives, and build our house on the Rock of Jesus Christ. We must build off the time tested methodologies from the Bible and not the latest New York Times Best Seller."

Let us be sober teachers of the Gospel, humble and working hard to keep the presence of God.
Getting Past Spiritual Constipation

My observation is that nearly everyone wants to make a difference in this world. I believe God has wired us to be creative, expressive, useful, contributors,

A big problem for many Christians is that they're constipated -- they're taking it in, consuming more, gorging themselves on input -- and there isn't much coming out. Constipated people are pretty uncomfortable people. The solution is not to run around and find more input, or even different input. The solution is to serve others, to create, to love and rejoice and worship with your whole life.

If you're not seeing changed lives as a result of your teaching ministry, and you're getting down, remember that people are wired to be changed and to grow. Pray and teach to help people find our their purpose and calling in life. Remind them that a lot of teaching is about equipping so that they can use what they learn.