Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Emotional Being, Sometimes Thinking

New Harris poll findings:

"The numbers clearly favor the proverbial Big Man Upstairs: 80 percent say they believe in God; among those who attend church weekly, the number is 98 percent. Three-quarters believe in miracles, 73 percent believe in heaven, 71 percent say Jesus is the Son of God and 71 percent believe in angels, the survey found. Seven out of 10 say Jesus Christ rose from the dead and that the Bible is, all or in part, the "Word of God."

More than two-thirds - 68 percent - believe in the "survival of the soul after death" and would describe themselves as religious. About 62 percent think that hell exists, 61 percent believe in the Virgin Birth and 59 percent say the devil exists.

In contrast, fewer than half - 47 percent - said they believe in Darwin's theory of evolution; a third said they did not believe in it while 22 percent were not sure what they thought. A full 40 percent said they believe in creationism, though the question did not elaborate on exactly what that term meant.

Supernatural phenomena of other kinds attract Americans' attention.

Overall, 44 percent of the respondents said they believe in ghosts, 36 percent say UFOs are real while 31 percent believe in both witches and astrology. About a quarter believe in reincarnation, or "that you were once another person," the survey found." (HT: Gene Veith)

As we work with people (and ourselves!) let us remember something important: We are not essentially thinking people who also have emotions; we are mostly emotional beings who sometimes think.

Let me repeat that, so it sinks in: We are not essentially thinking people who also have emotions; we are mostly emotional beings who sometimes think.

Thinking is a discipline and hard work. Over many years we've developed habits of judgments and inconsistent frameworks as substitute for thinking. (It's easier!) This is why Romans 12:1-2 emphasizes renewal of our minds.

As you teach and work with people, it is rare to find someone who is more persuadable through logic than emotion. Most sales people know that we make buying decisions based on the emotional content of the stories we tell ourselves, and then build up rationale after that to justify our decision.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't Just Memorize a Verse, but Scripture

Follow this interview and watch the videos of Ryan Ferguson, who memorizes long passages of Scripture, including whole books. His process for memorization is quite interesting -- he doesn't concern himself with the specific verse numbers, for example. I like his emphasis on grasping the meaning as he memorizes.

There's reasonable evidence that in the centuries leading up to Jesus' time, pious Jewish boys would routinely memorize Torah, the 1st five books of the Bible. We obviously have pretty low expectations of kids today.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Challenges, Predictions, and Plans for 2009

I made a free video for you, outlining:

1. Observations about the challenges (and opportunities they create) for Bible teachers
2. Four predictions for 2009 (I'm not a prophet, but will make these forecasts)
3. What you need to do to prepare for 2009
4. What I'll be working for in 2009

The video is sectioned into 4 chapters that total about 27 minutes; they will play consecutively, but you can click on the left side bar to jump around.

2009 Challenges, Predictions, and Plans

The video should start playing automatically.

Let me share some humorous notes about the video. I shot this early this morning, so I look kinda like Zoltar from the planet Xenedomokra. I looked even more like Zoltar the first time, when I had my eyeglasses on -- with the reflections off the lens I looked like a pasty-faced battery-powered robot with glowing white and blue eyes, the kind that say, "Take me to your leader." So now you get to see me squint while I'm scanning my notes. And if you hear some wind noises, that's because it's -6F and windy here in Iowa this morning!

Though I may look goofy (God knew I couldn't handle being an attractive male), I am completely serious about these challenges and opportunities.

2009 Challenges, Predictions, and Plans

Do you agree with my predictions? I'm interested in your feedback, so please comment below!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Making Less More

I'm frequently coaching Bible teachers to "teach less better." There are times when we're giving students large doses of Scripture, the big picture, breadth, intensity. That's appropriate, but not all the time.

Mix up your approach and make sure you are teaching some lessons -- tightly focused, a few verses, one application.

Here's the guideline I work for: I want to leave them hungry for more. I want them to be thinking, "I wish he had gone on and shared more. I'm going to dig into that myself when I get home."

Did you catch that? Leave them hungry enough to want to feed themselves. In this way you are making less lesson more transformational.

If you need some tips on trimming a lesson down, here's a good starting point.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How to Use a Study Bible

Study Bibles are a terrific resource for Bible teachers, but need to be used correctly. I like Albert Mohler's counsel in his article "How to Use a Study Bible": read the text first, then follow the cross-references, THEN read the footnotes and articles.

Teachers who take the reverse path shortchange themselves and their students.

HT: Between Two Worlds

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What are the Problems and Challenges with Bible Teaching today?

I'm working on a special report, and would really like your help.

What do you see as the problems, weaknesses, challenges and trends with Bible teaching today?

I'm genuinely interested in your perspective, so comment on this post.


Friday, December 12, 2008

MindMppping Your Study Notes for Preparing Lessons

A powerful technique for organizing your Bible study notes and preparation for preparing lessons is to create mindmaps. See my post about software to help you create mindmaps at my blog for encouraging husbands and fathers.

On Derek Kidner

Derek Kidner recently went home to be with the Lord, at age 95. His commentary on the Psalms and Proverbs has been influential on me.

For example, here is his succinct insight about Psalm 127: "Those children who will be a quiverful are often first a handful."

I absolutely loved reading this excerpt from his funeral oratory. May we all be men of whom others would honor this way!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Thompson's Chain Reference Bible

This video clip gives a quick explanation of the "chain" concept for the Thompson's Chain Reference Bible, which I believe is a MUST-have for every Bible teacher. (See my free report for even more details.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Bible Study Package for Macs

For my Mac-ophiles out there...

Probably the superior Bible study software package for the Mac is the new Logos edition.

This is for serious work, especially when you're disconnected from the Internet.  You basically have a gazillion reference tools in a few megabytes.  

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Repurposing Your Lesson Material

Usually Bible teachers and leaders can re-use lesson material in different ways. This is an important capability that I encourage you to develop.

Let's look at one example so you get some ideas.

The previous post (about Epaphras) has an interesting history. The original insights about Epaphras surfaced while I was immersing myself in Colossians, to prepare for a series I'll be teaching in early 2009. So I had jotted a few notes in the margins of my markup copy of Colossians.

I needed a short (3-5 min) devotion for a leader breakfast. I took 2 of the ideas and used them with that group of men.

Later in the week I developed a longer devotion (10-12 min) for an elder board meeting. I tailored the model prayer as a prayer for our specific church congregation and our missions outreach.

This morning I rewrote the devotion as an article to post on our church website in January. In this case, it's not about leading the church, but about leading in all settings, including our families.

And I made still another variation to post on the blog.

This will be part of one lesson I teach in 2009, when we get to Colossians 4. I'll extend the material and change the questions around as appropriate for the group I'm teaching. (I don't know exactly whom will be in the class yet.)

One idea I have is to create a short audio recording of the questions -- what do we know about Epaphras' family, background, age, appearance, etc -- as a between-lesson opportunity to encourage people in the class to be meditating on the material.

The other possible use I have for this material is for another teaching series I'm thinking about presenting in late 2009 -- on developing leaders in the church.

So you see how you can leverage your insights from personal Bible study in multiple ways. Take notes as you study. Look for opportunities to re-use and re-purpose your devotion and lesson materials.

Praying Hard and Working Hard

Epaphras is an outstanding model of lay leadership. Listen as his mentor, Paul, describes him:

“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.” -- Colossians 4:12-13

Three things characterize Epaphras here:

1. He is one of you and a servant of Jesus
2. He is always wrestling in prayer
3. He is working hard

Epaphras is identified with the Colossians, and is a servant of Jesus. There is much to think about here, but I will save that for another time.

Epaphras prays hard. “Wrestling” in prayer is active, and aggressive. It’s not a milquetoast, wimpy attitude of prayer.

I encourage you to use this model prayer for the people around you:

That each would stand firm (not sit weakly) in all (not just some of) the will of God (nothing self-centered)
That each would be mature – solid in the faith, actively growing, using gifts well, discerning between good and evil
That each would be fully assured (in Christ and truth He has revealed, and in His wonderful promises of provision, care, protection, purpose)

Please consider the positive feedback loop: We grow in assurance, and then we become better able to stand firm in all the will of God as mature disciples -- which strengthens our assurance in Christ!

None of us are as yet mature as God means for us to be. And many among us are not yet standing firm, obedient, or fully assured. There is work to be done, progress to be made, and it begins with dedicated prayer for God to transform lives.

Epaphras is working hard (in addition to praying hard) for not only the Colossians, his local congregation, but for two churches in other cities in that region. Leaders must both pray hard and work hard. And the hard work should not only be directed to our immediate family, but should serve the larger work in the kingdom of God. I believe God intends for his people to have disproportionately large impacts for the world.

Let me ask you a few questions:

* How old is Epaphras?
* What was his theological training?
* What was his occupation? Did he get good grades in school?
* Did he have godly parents in a good home? Is he married? Does he have children?
* What did he look like, and sound like?
* How much free time did he have from other responsibilities?

We aren’t told any of these things, because they aren’t relevant. Prayer and hard work are not spiritual gifts – they are for all of us!

If Epaphras had a headstone or grave marker, did they write on it, “He wrestled in prayer and worked hard for us”? Let’s recommit to prayer and work, and leave a wonderful legacy.

Free Video Teaching Resource

Here's something to watch:

It's a free service that will make high-quality videos of pastors and Bible teachers available. This is potentially a great resource!

They're anticipating a go-live in early 2009.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Use Cartoons to Advance Your Teaching Points

Cartoons can be devastatingly effective at getting important ideas across. If you're looking for something to change up the pace, you might find that a cartoon is just right. For example, the humor in this cartoon might help you introduce a lesson about "publicans."

Good sites that compile cartoons are:

Another approach is simply to search Google (use the image search option) using the keyword 'Cartoon' and other keywords related to your topic. For example, searching for 'Cartoon tithing' yields over 9000 choices.
If there is a specific passage you're teaching from, try including that reference in the search terms. That will really cut down on the number of cartoons you find, but might help you zero in faster.
Remember to give credit for cartoon sources and follow any copyright restrictions.
Finally, keep in mind that cartoon humor can be biting. Make sure that everyone will think it's actually funny before you share it. (Test it out on some key people first.) And most important, make sure the cartoon advances your teaching points -- if it doesn't, it's only a memorable distraction!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

First Thanksgiving Day Proclamation (1777)

Here is the country's first Thanksgiving Day proclamation on Dec. 18, 1777:

"That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him ­graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole." -- Henry Laurens, President of the Continental Congress

People just don't write like that anymore!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship with Adult Students

In my book, "Teach the Bible to Change Lives" I emphasize the importance of follow-up communications with your students between lessons.

Our friends at The Sunday School Revolutionary have posted a nice list of suggestions for building relationships with your students -- which will make your teaching more effective! Recommended.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ben Hur Gets More Than Water

This scene moves me to tears. Ben Hur prays for God to help him, Jesus tenderly provides him water, and the centurion is powerless in gaze of God incarnate!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Questions about "Emergent" Churches

I've gotten several questions recently like this one: "What do you think about the emergent church movement?"

It's nice to see people excited about God and addressing the culture, trying to reach out to people that "traditional" churches are not reaching. My concern is that at least some of the leading pastors in this "movement" appear to me to be walking away from the clear Gospel message and orthodox theology.

I think Mark Driscoll has some useful insights. Here's a short video where he explains some of the variants of "emerging" churches. He also outlines some of the theological positions of "streams" within the movement in this PDF document.

So there are some positives, and some dangers. My counsel: Guard yourself! Stay true to the Gospel! Depend upon God's grace!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

John Piper on the ESV

I've had a few questions about the English Standard Version (ESV) translation. Check out this excellent resource on the ESV translation.

And here is a short video of John Piper's comments about the ESV:

My Review of the ESV Study Bible

I've created 2 videos for you as my review of the ESV Study Bible. The first is my comments about the doctrinal position of this study Bible, how you use study Bibles, and the physical book itself. I tell you how I think it compares with the popular NIV Study Bible, Thompson's Chain Reference Bible, and the Life Application Study Bible.

In this second video I give you a tour of the contents -- which are available online using a special code you get when you purchase a copy. There are some terrific features here! Plus I show you a slick trick to make it easier to read.

Crossway has created an information site with more video tours, lists of features, how it was created, and a free preview version of the online tool.

I recommend you get a copy of the ESV Study Bible. It's a great addition to your reference collection as a Bible teacher, and will be useful for years to come. More details below from CBD, which is the cheapest place to get your copy.

(Also, I'm interested in any feedback you have about the videos. I'm still learning a good deal about how to create and publish online video, so your feedback is helpful.)

502415: ESV Study Bible, HardcoverESV Study Bible, Hardcover

By Crossway Books & Bibles

The ESV Study Bible includes more than 25,000 notes, written specifically for the ESV Study Bible. These notes focus especially on understanding the meaning of the text, giving answers to frequently raised questions, and providing theological, historical, and archaeological background—all for the purpose of helping readers to understand the Bible in a deeper way.

The ESV Study Bible also provides a wealth of additional resources. Thus the introductions to each book include essential information about the author, date, and place of writing; an extensive chart of key themes; a summary of how the book fits in with the rest of the biblical storyline; a description of literary features; an outline of the book; and a large full-color map showing the setting of the book.

Another unique feature is the inclusion of over 50 helpful articles on topics such as the authority and truthfulness of the Bible, reading the Bible for application, the Bible in worship and prayer, the reliability of the biblical manuscripts, the relationship between archaeology and the Bible, an overview of biblical theology, and many more.

Other key resources include a system of 80,000 cross references and a concordance (which together facilitate easy location of important words, passages, and biblical themes). In addition, over 200 color charts, located throughout the Bible, provide clear, concise presentations of essential information.


  • The ESV Bible text is set in highly readable 9-point type, in a single-column, book-text format.

  • Section summaries are highlighted for easy location throughout the notes. Summaries provide an overview of each main section and correspond to the outline shown in the introduction for each book.

  • Over 200 full-color maps printed throughout make events and places in the Bible come to life.

  • Over 25,000 notes focus especially on understanding the Bible text and providing answers to frequently raised issues. Words from the Bible text are printed in bold for easy reference.

  • Over 80,000 cross-references provide easy access to key words, passages, and themes throughout the Bible.

  • Numerous diagrams bring fresh understanding to key places and events in the Bible, based on the best, most recent historical and archaeological research.

  • Over 200 charts provide concise, “at a glance” summaries of important themes and teaching.

  • Presentation page

  • Family Record pages

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lost in the Middle -- recommended book

I'm 46. I'm at a point now where I think more about the past, trying to make sense of the story, and thinking about finishing strong.

This book has been extraordinarily helpful for me:

Lost in the Middle: Midlife and the Grace of God
by Paul David Tripp

Tripp ( the author of "Age of Opportunity," about parenting teenagers -- also very good) helped me recognize the grace of God in new ways. Frankly, my definition of Grace was simply too narrow, too selfish.

Complete details below -- HIGHLY recommended. There is a lot of material here to help you with counseling situations, and it would make an outstanding resource for a small group or adult Bible class. The book is studded with Scripture.

301681: Lost In The Middle: Midlife and The Grace of GodLost In The Middle: Midlife and The Grace of God

By Paul Tripp / Shepherd Press

The Bible never discusses midlife, just like it never discusses teenagers. Yet the Bible is able to unpack any of life’s experiences because it was written by the One who made them all. Life on this side of glory is hard. This world is a broken place. You will face things in midlife that beat at the borders of your faith, but you do not have to be lost in the middle of your story.

You do not have to be paralyzed by regret, defeated by aging, and discouraged by the passing of your dreams. You do not have to make greater trouble out of the trouble you are already experiencing. This time of life, which can seem like the end of many things, can actually welcome you to a brand new way of living. As is so often the case in your walk with the Lord, this moment of pain is also a moment of grace. Because of this, all of us need to occasionally step back, slow down, and consider where we are going. Lost in the Middle will help you to do just that.

One final word: Although this book is targeted at those who are struggling with the issues of midlife, it has a much broader net than that. Lost in the Middle can help all who are struggling with life in this broken world and have lost their way. The God who seems so distant to you in this moment is actually near and active. Lost in the Middle is written to give you eyes to see him, to see yourself more clearly, and to find the real hope that you need to carry on.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

ESV Study Bible review coming soon

I've had a few questions about the ESV Study Bible. My review is coming soon!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Spiritual Gifts Guide

Every church should have regular and quality teaching about spiritual gifts. It amazes me how few Christians know which spiritual gifts they've been given, and are focusing on ministries that use them well.

I recommend you check out The Spiritual Gifts Guide to jump start a regular teaching process in this area. Your people need coaching, instruction, and encouragement about spiritual gifts.

Please note this resource is not free. There are many free articles and lessons about spiritual gifts -- check them doctrinally to make sure they match your convictions and traditions. The reason I'm recommending The Spiritual Gifts Guide is that it's set up to help teachers and pastors. You get decent lessons, handouts, and guidance on how to teach. It's a good package and will save you time.

I'm not making any money by recommending this resource, by the way.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Three Questions to Ask Yourself Each Day

My roommate threw the little green New Testament across the room. It hit me in the head. He spluttered, "If you're going to complain about it, you have to read it! And answer two questions: Who is Jesus? And what are you going to do about that?"

I took Matt at his word, reading the New Testament in three days. I was amazed, this Jesus was real! He was bold and gentle. He was God incarnate. I had thought that the disciples had made up all these stories, but reading them seriously as an adult, I realized this could not be true. (For starters, they would have made themselves look a lot smarter!) I answered Matt's questions, and committed my life to Jesus as my true Savior and Lord.

Those two questions got me started 23 years ago. I still try to ask and answer these two each day:
Who is Jesus?
What will I do about that, today?

And I now recommend a third questions to you:
"Where is your faith?"

This is what Jesus asked His disciples in the boat, after He calmed the storm (see Luke 8:25). After we have started on our walk with Jesus, we still need faith. "Without faith it is impossible to please God..." (Hebrews 11:6) Our faith is neither blind nor vague, but solidly rooted in the Person and promise of Jesus our Lord.

Each day, renew your mind (see Romans 12:1-2) by reminding yourself about Jesus as Savior, Creator, Master, Teacher, Friend, and Lord.

Each day, seek the Lord's guidance about how to love Him and serve Him by loving others and using the abilities He gave you.

Each day, fight against doubt, fear, and pride by putting your faith in Jesus.

Each day, ask and answer these questions:

Who is Jesus?
What will I do about that today?
Where is my faith?

May our gracious Lord glorify His Name in and through you, each day.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Words, Love, and Worship

If you're teaching from James 3, check out this powerful video.

If you're not teaching from James 3, check out this powerful video.

Six minutes, well worth your time.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Selfless Defense

If you're teaching about apologetics, then rush to this site:

Selfless Defense

You'll find a large set of short videos you can use -- with accompanying discussion questions, all free. There are also excellent articles (studded with Scripture, written in logic and grace) on multiple topics.

Great resources!

These Things Will Still Be True

A friend forwarded this to me in an email, source unattributed. Good reminder! Top 10 Predictions No Matter Who Wins the Election

1. The Bible will still have all the answers.
2. Prayer will still work.
3. The Holy Spirit will still move.
4. God will still inhabit the praises of His people.
5. There will still be God-anointed preaching.
6. There will still be singing of praise to God.
7. God will still pour out blessings upon His people.
8. There will still be room at the Cross.
9. Jesus will still love you.
10. Jesus will still save the lost when they come to Him AND….

God approves of this message! ISN'T IT GREAT TO KNOW WHO IS REALLY IN CHARGE?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

10 Principles for Effective Teaching in the Church

I was delighted to find this recent post by Matt Capps, "10 Principles for Effective Teaching in the Church."

1. “The Holy Spirit will work through your teaching”
2. “The goal of teaching is always life change”
3. "Effective teaching is transferrable"
4. "Effective teaching involves the learners"
5. "Effective teachers utilize the learning environment"
6. “Effective teachers assesses the needs of the learners”
7. "Effective teachers consider how each learner learns”
8. "Effective teachers know the material”
9. "The Effective teacher is a student of teaching”
10. "Effective biblical teaching is text driven"

For each principle Matt has a couple of paragraphs of comments. Recommended. This is ideal material to share with the other teachers in your church.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

ESV Study Bible online

Wonderful resource: the ESV Study Bible contents are online, and searchable, can store your own notes there. Excellent articles, maps, and diagrams. Recommended.

What People Believe

Worth thinking about...

“People don’t believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
They often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.

What leaders do: give people stories they can tell themselves. Stories about the future and about change.”

Seth Godin, in Tribes

Monday, October 20, 2008

Making Progress

I've been raking a lot of leaves up in our yard. The trees are mocking me, dropping leaves on me while I rake, and when my back is turned. Mr. Wind is helping the neighbor's trees to mock me, too, blowing more leaves into our yard :-)

Actually, raking leaves is satisfying work. The weather has been nice, it's good exercise, and you can see your progress. It's difficult to see progress in a lot of the work I do, so the clear before/after progress of raking leaves is a nice change of pace.

It raises the question: "How do I know I'm making progress in my walk with the Lord?"

First off, let's be clear: we are supposed to make progress. (See, for example, Philippians 3:12)

But how do we (or others) see progress over time? What's the evidence that progress has occurred? Some possibilities:

Greater love and compassion for others, especially the un-lovely (worldly view) and lost
Increased commitment to serving others, giving of our time, talents, and money
More patience
Persevering love in the midst of challenges
Increased actions based on faith, rather than sight
More time in prayerful conversation with the Lord
Letting go of distractions and "agendas" more often
Less anxiousness
Less fear
Increased knowledge about the Bible

Consider 2 Peter 1:3-11, emphasis mine:

" 3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
10Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

I believe in eternal security. I also believe what v.5 and v.10 tells us -- we need to put forth every effort and be eager to do these things (obedience) to make our calling and election sure.

I encourage you to reflect on your progress. What do you need to do today?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

ESV Study Bible

I've ordered my ESV Study Bible, and am looking forward to receiving it. I'll give you my review after I work with it for a while. Looks like a terrific resource -- and there's an expanded online version available as a bonus when you purchase a print copy.

By the way, I have not changed my perspective on the hazards of study bibles (see this and this). Do not use them for devotional reading and meditation on the text, because they're just packed with distractions. Use them as reference tools!

The Gospel Works

Many of my readers and subscribers write me about their particular struggles in teaching situations. (If you'd like to do that, contact me here.) Sometimes I pick up a tone of "I'm looking for the secret manipulation formula so they'll get it!" -- I don't think people are consciously doing this, but in our eagerness to teach and serve, we sometimes focus too much on method and not enough on message.

That's why I was delighted to read a recent "evotional" from Mark Batterson:

"One of the speakers at Catalyst was Franklin Graham. Spitting image of his dad! So forthright. One thing he said really stuck me: "You don't have to help the gospel." He said, "The gospel works." Such a profound reminder.I feel like all of us could do a better job of consistently communicating the simple gospel message. I'm thinking and rethinking how we help people cross the line of faith. As a dad, one of my roles is to engineer experiences that create memories. The end result is a defining moment. In the same sense, as a pastor, I want to set up God encounters. I'm obviously not suggesting we can or try to man-u-facture anything. But I need to be more intentional about helping people create spiritual memories."

Here's a good prayer for teachers: "Father, I know your Gospel works. You've worked into my life. Please do it again in their lives. Glorify your name! Amen."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Patient Instruction

I've received several notes recently from teachers struggling to remain patient with students who don't learn quickly, or seem interested in learning.

"1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."(Ephesians 4:1-6)

Did you catch the counsel there for teachers? "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."

When this kind of frustration happens to us, our irritation and anger is surging because of some dimension of our pride. Yes, it may be true that your students are slow to learn. They may be resistant to incorporating the clear lessons from Scripture into their lives. They may seem dull of hearing, or bored, or desiring more entertainment rather than solid food. But the Lord may well have used these circumstances to expose your pride for what it is.

Our response must be the same as God's response to us: patient instruction, faithful perserverance, humility that we, too, need God's great mercy. We continue to love and bear with one another, acknowledging that living in community is hard at times. We wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to do His work in their hearts (and in our hearts!).

Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Oscillating Between Learning and Teaching

Teaching and Learning work hand-in-hand. They strengthen each other. You learn as you study the Word, as the Lord directs you through life experiences, as you fight the good fight of faith. And you sharpen that learning as you prepare for teaching. Teaching actually widens the avenues of learning!

I've seen many people stagnate or plateau in their learning -- until they teach or mentor others, and then their own growth continues.

I believe God has wired us this way. It's one of the attributes of relational community.

Let me give you some counsel about the rhythm of learning and teaching. You will naturally oscillate between the two. There is a flow between the "modes" of being a student and being a teacher. Neither is better than the other; they complement one another! Trust that the flow between them is a positive experience.

My recommendation is to monitor your motivation. If you monitor your motivation level, you'll notice that sometimes feel more motivated to learn and study. Other times, it will swing and you'll feel practically compelled to teach. (I believe this is often a signal from our Lord, a calling.) When you feel less motivated to teach, switch to student mode. And when your motivation for learning more weakens, see if switching to teaching mode is helpful.

My personal observation is that when I resist this "motivation" signal, I only feel more lazy, more uninspired. My enthusiasm is rejuvenated when I honor it.

Have I also handled this teacher/student oscillation well? No. I'm still learning! (And now I'm in teaching mode :-)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Base Materials for Teaching Biblical Principles of Money

I've gotten a few requests about good materials for teaching classes on handling money God's way. This is certainly an important topic for the Church today!

I heartily recommend the materials you can find at the Ten Talents Club. You can get to all their resources through Todd Smith's page (Don't miss the great story about the killer mold in their basement and the "spacemen" who come to take care of it.)

(By the way, I'm not making any commission here, just recommending solid materials you can trust.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Ilustrations of the Temple

The soon-to-be-released ESV Study Bible has some wonderful illustrations. The latest to be previewed are of the Temple. These give you a much better feel for the dimensions!

As you may know, I'm not generally a fan of study Bibles for regular devotions (all the extras distract people from the text), but they are great for reference. I plan to get a copy of the ESV Study Bible and will let you know what I think about it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

20 Resolutions from James

Sinclair Ferguson gives us 20 resolutions from James:

James 1:5 To ask God for wisdom to speak and with a single mind
James 1:9-10 To boast only in exaltation in Christ, & humiliation in world
James 1:13 To set a watch over my mouth
James 1:19 To be constantly quick to hear, slow to speak
James 2:1-4 To learn the gospel way of speaking to poor and the rich
James 2:12 To speak always in the consciousness of the final judgment
James 2:16 To never stand on anyone’s face with my words
James 3:14 To never claim as reality something I do not experience
James 4:1 To resist quarrelsome words in order to mortify a quarrelsome heart
James 4:11 To never speak evil of another
James 4:13 To never boast in what I will accomplish
James 4:15 To always speak as one subject to the providences of God
James 5:9 To never grumble, knowing that the Judge is at the door
James 5:12 To never allow anything but total integrity in my speech
James 5:13 To speak to God in prayer whenever I suffer
James 5:14 To sing praises to God whenever I am cheerful
James 5:14 To ask for the prayers of others when I am sick
James 5:15 To confess it freely whenever I have failed
James 5:15 To pray with and for one another when I am together with others
James 5:19 To speak words of restoration when I see another wander

HT: Between Two Worlds

Saturday, September 27, 2008

No More Frustration

It's the season of the year when I start getting more messages like this one:

"The guy just talks and talks and TALKS and takes all the air out of the room! I'm not getting through the lesson. He obviously can't read our body language, because he just keeps..on..going..forever. I talked with him once and he said he was sorry. Then he did it again even worse the next week. Two people have dropped out because he finds a way to go from our Bible lesson to the presidential political race (and of course they don't like his preferred candidate). Glenn, I'm about to close down this study, because it's just not worth it. What should I do? How do I fix this guy?"

Small groups and new Bible studies are starting up, and after a couple of weeks the "difficult" people become evident, don't they? This guy is describing the classic "excessive talker." You can also run into know-it-alls, lesson-hijackers, therapy-seekers, non-responsives, and aggressive skeptics.

I've made about every mistake you can make, at least with the difficult people who usually appear in Bible studies and small groups and adult Sunday School classes. And God has graciously allowed me to learn about ministering effectively with "tougher-to-love" people that He puts in my classes and groups.

If you need this information, you need it bad!

If you don't need it now, you likely will soon. Every Bible teacher encounters these people. It's part of our growth plan!

By the way, the answer to "How do I fix this guy?" is "You don't. You love them." No where in the Bible are we told to fix people -- that's work that only God can do. But how do you love people in a way that helps them develop, giving them useful and constructive feedback? That's what this audio lesson is all about!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Suggested Self-Check

A suggested self-check for Bible teachers: What's the temperature of your passion for Jesus?

Passion is not purely an emotional state. It covers drive, grit, determination, joy, and hope.

Take a few minutes for a self-assessment. Write in your journal about it. You'll learn things from our Master. You'll learn things about yourself (and you might not like all of them) -- watch how much rationalization surfaces in your thoughts.

Surrender all of it to Jesus.

Friday, September 19, 2008

There are Many Benefits for the Teacher!

Our prolific friends at Sunday School Revolutionary documents some of the many benefits received by the teacher/leader of adult Sunday School classes.

It's absolutely true -- the process of study, lesson preparation, teaching, and follow-through will put you on a fast track to personal growth, so long as you remain humble before our Lord.

Warnings on Hebrew/Greek word study

Peter Mead has several warnings about original language study. I say a hearty Amen! This is one of the strengths, I believe, of my introduction to Hebrew and Greek word study.

I believe competent Bible study includes the practical ability to look up words in the original language, using trustworthy tools, and staying doctrinally "healthy" in the process!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Thoughtful Views on the Emergent Church

If you're confused about all the "emergent" church conversations, and maybe a little concerned about what you're hearing, you aren't alone.

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, helpfully talks about four different streams of the emergent movement, based on a 2-x-2 "grid":

Don't Change Change

Pastor Driscoll argues for retaining orthodox doctrines (consistent with Jude 3), and being willing to change our practices to reach a changing culture. He helpfully warns about the problems that are occur when we abandon doctrines on scripture, Jesus Christ, gender, sin, salvation, the cross, hell, and authority.

Go here to get the 4 page PDF file, titled "A Pastoral Perspective on the Emergent Church." Excellent, concise, worth reading.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Where Do You See Bible Teaching Going?

I'm curious...where do you see Bible teaching going? What are the trends in your church or neighborhood? Are there enough Bible teachers? How are people responding to teaching? Are lives being changed?

Your comments appreciated.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

CCEL Resource

Great resource: The Christian Classics Ethereal Library

The CCEL provides most of the major works from Christian history for free and a “Study Bible” feature that pulls up historical church commentary, sermons, hymns, . For example, if you're studying 1 John Chapter 1, then you have access to all this.

CCEL links to The Hymnary, a wonderful search tool to find hymns by keyword, tune, and verse. Hymns, in my view, are an under-utilized source of commentary and encouragement.

Add this to your favorites list.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Put Personal Devotion First

I received an interesting email from Jill. She has a lot of time pressures, and writes "because of all the lesson preparation time, I don't have any time left for my personal devotions."

My counsel is to prioritize personal devotion time first, ahead of lesson prep/planning time.


You can't teach to change lives if you aren't first connected and re-connected and tight with our Lord. Wrestle through sin issues (like fear and anger and anxiety) before you teach. If you're concerned about how much time this takes away from lesson prep, put it aside. Hear the testimony of experience: lesson prep will go smoother and faster and better AFTER personal devotion time with the Lord.

YOU are the tool God will use to reach people. Put yourself in a regular position to be "worked on" by the Master, and you will be much more useful to Him.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"Teach the Jesus Way" available again

The "Teach the Jesus Way" training course is available again.

This is a very thorough set of audio, text, and online video lessons about using questions, story, and dialogue -- as Jesus did -- in your teaching.

Over the past few weeks I made a lot of information available about this topic. Check out the blog if you'd like to get caught up.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Recommended: Wild Goose Chase

Mark Batterson's new book, "Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God" is delightful, accessible, and just the thing God could use to speak to you.

If you aren't yet where you need to be, get this book. It would also be an excellent book for class or group discussion.

Highly recommended!

Teach the Jesus Way

If you've not been keeping up, check out all the great content about "Teach the Jesus Way." It will be available Tuesday, Aug 26th.

Monday, August 18, 2008

But You Only Waited 1.873 Seconds!

It's a common problem for teachers who are using questions in lessons, and trying to promote dialogue: not giving enough time for someone to answer. You ask the question, and then...the silence and lack of response hangs there...and your brain is screaming, your emotions are churning...and you go on without waiting for them to answer.

The fact is, you waited about 2.249 seconds.

I know it felt like an eternity. I know it was long enough to hear inner voices shouting "What's wrong with them!?" and "I must have asked a horrible question!" and "This is taking!"

So you ask another question. And you wait about 1.873 seconds. Your brain is watching this scene is super slow-motion replay.

Here's a tip to help you wait a more reasonable time for a response, and best of all, have a better mindset:

Sing a line from the hymn, "Amazing Grace" in your head. (Not out loud, please!) That's it. Just sing, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me."

That will take about 4 to 5 seconds. And your mindset is more focused on good things, rather than thoughts of the class spinning out of control.

You'll need to train yourself to do this, because it is a new habit. The payoff is terrific: a calm pause after you ask the question will give people time to think and respond. And they'll sense your calmness, rather than anxiousness.

Do you think this tip will help?

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Creating Creative (and Effective) Sunday School Lessons

The Sunday School Revolutionary has some excellent counsel -- and links to several additional articles -- about creatively planning adult Sunday School lessons. I heartily concur with the emphasis on creating lessons out of time invested in prayer, studying God's Word, and spending time with the people you are teaching.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Free Lesson : Teach the Jesus Way

Later in August I'm going to be releasing an updated version of "Teach the Jesus Way," our intensive training course on using questions, story, and dialogue to teach powerfully and effectively -- as Jesus did.

Leading up to that I plan to share a lot of related information. I have only one requirement: you need to "raise your hand" and let me know you're interested. This is easy to do! Just go to this web page, enjoy the three minute video, and sign up to receive the first audio lesson and transcript free.

Go there now, enjoy the video, and sign up.

Qualifications for Sunday School Teachers

Our friend at the Sunday School Revolutionary has a 2 part blog post on the qualifications for a Sunday School Teacher. Recommended.

Read it, and re-read it. Where can you improve?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Penalty for Possessing a Bible

Veith points out: "In the heyday of Soviet Communism, the penalty for possessing a Bible was 3 years in prison. Think of that the next time you dare to read that dangerous book."

That would be whether you read it, or believed it.

When I was in college I spent some time with a young man who had fled Russia. (This was before Gorbachev and glasnost.) He told me that he figured out there must be a God, and capitalism must work, because there were only two things the Communist Party teachers repeated over and over and over:

"There is no God."
"Capitalism is corrupt."

Everything else they pretty much said one time. So he logically concluded that they were afraid of God and Capitalism, and repeated these mantras out of legitimate fear.

Friday, July 25, 2008

BiblePlaces.Com -- Terrific Resource

You should add this site to your Favorites list:

Amazing photographs from hundreds of Bible locations described in the OT and NT! These can be useful in your teaching, to give people a sense of geography and scale of the places where the biblical story took place.

Accurate Depictions of Golgotha and Jesus' Tomb

You probably have some images in your mind of what Golgotha looked like, and the tomb where they laid Jesus' body. Some of that might be wrong! Check out these short interviews with Leen Ritmeyer:


Tomb of Jesus

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Books on Preaching

I know there are many pastors and other serious students of the Word who read this blog. There is a significant overlap in the process of developing and delivering a sermon (preaching) and creating interactive learning environments for effective teaching. So books on preaching can be terrific material for Bible teachers to study. Peter Mead has an excellent list of recommendations for you.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Teaching Tips -- They Work!

Sharing two responses I've received in the past two days:

Wanda tried my suggestions about using a hymnal for devotion time, and then used a hymn as part of the class:
"Now , Glen, this tip brings me great joy!
About three months ago while
praying, studying,
and preparing for 7-9 year olds Sunday School
I found
such a hymn..... then I sang
it to the class that Sunday.
Know which
one it was......"I Surrender All".
Well they were so amazed. Never
- had a teacher sang to the class.
Midweek Praise and worship was much
the same with hymn "prayers"
we all know, " Jesus loves the little children",
Jesus loves Me".

It improved our relationship....
changed their behavior and participation."

Elmer writes about the value of using what he's learning:
"It's a big help Glenn, from now, I start reading in a loud voice and I've seen
already the improvement of my speech.
I do more interaction in my teaching,
manage my time always, and coaching my co-teachers on how to become more
effective in their teaching.
I'm planning now to buy a bible with a large
margin and some of the teaching tools.
I praise God for directing me to your
site and in giving me this ebook.
Thanks also for your coaching

Way to go, Wanda and Elmer! Keep on teaching to change lives. If you're interested in taking your teaching up to a whole new level, go here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Be a Learning Session Designer!

I trust your teaching ministry is going well, and the Lord is showing himself strong through you -- may many lives be changed because you are cooperating with the Lord!

Here's a challenge for your next class:

Instead of thinking of yourself as a teacher, think of yourself as a learning session designer. The objective of any Bible study, lesson, or devotional time is to help people grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.To that end, then, what can you do to design the opportunity to maximize the potential to learn?

* How do you set up the room?

* What questions generate more learning?

* How can you use illustrations to give people something tangible or memorable, and increase retention?

* What kind of handout materials will improve interaction and sustain attention?

* How can you set up the timing of the parts of the lessonor study so people don't get distracted or bored or overwhelmed?

* How can you inspire them to do pre- or post- work to learn more on their own?

Why do I recommend you think this way? Because often when we think about ourselves as the teacher we get too focused on -- ourselves.

Thinking about how to best todesign a learning session puts our focus where it needs to be -- on the students. Try this approach. I'm sure you'll come up with ever better ideas and strategies.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Power of Encouragement

The Lord frequently reminds me of the power of encouragement! I received this delightful letter from one of God's great teaches in Phoenix. Check it out, pray for him, and then ask yourself -- whom can you encourage today?

Hello Glenn, I have taught 'teen and/or adult Bible study my entire adult life (I will turn 73 in a few months). Started at 17. God has blessed this calling.
I'm writing this email to thank you for the email I just received with the title line,"I'm just writing to encourage you"
You see, I just walked in the door of my home, from a visit with my doctor. He told me that I have prostrate cancer and wants to do some scans and further testing to know the full extent and possible treatment. I walked in, turned on my computer, opened up my email, ,at the top of the list of un-opened messages was your "Encouragement" letter.
I'm an ol' retired construction worker and am pretty spunky. At one point in my life I had gone over 33 years without missing a days work, for which I give all the glory to He who died for my sins. But I have to tell you, I was more than a little bit "down."
I'm not wanting sympothy, I don't feel a single pain, and look forward to life as usual, totally dependent on HIM. But the word ENCOURAGE simply popped off ofmy screen. And I intend to do just what you recommended. In your words, "Persevere if things are going great. Persevere if things are not "going" at all."
My class of 15 or so adults is presently enjoyingin a study based on James W Garlow's book,"The Covenant." Pray for me as I lead this little group and that lives will be changed as a result of the truths we discover.
In Christ, Wayne Kronz in sunny, hot (113 today), Phoenix, Arizona. P.S. Oh yes. Pray for my situation, also.


Value In the Process of Preparing

Almost weekly I'm asked "Do you have a lesson on ____ that I can use?" Sermon collections abound, and we're awash in pre-made lessons and video teaching series. There is "lesson maker" and "sermon creator" software available. All of this promises the microwave, instant end-product, practically-no-work-on-your-part result.

Don't shortchange yourself or your students. You're better than this. The Lord wants more, much more, for you and for those whom you teach.

The process of wrestling with the Word and praying for your students is good time with the Lord, very good time. "Shortcutting this" denies you the learning and growth opportunity! Crafting a lesson and working it over and over changes you, dear teacher, and helps incorporate the lesson into your life.

And, except for lessons which require special knowledge that you may not have (e.g., a video presentation on the geography and architecture of the Temple of Diana), I am firmly convinced that God will deliver precisely what His children need at this time through the lesson that you and He create together. This is spiritual work.

Yes, it is more work. Yes, it will take more time. The process is beneficial, and the result authentic. Teach to change lives!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Info Overload -- and Little Absorption

From a useful, short article about the problem of information overload (italics mine):

"Even those of us who cheer new technologies for the choices and access they bring realize we're early in the process of humans using these technologies wisely. Data show that technology is a huge productivity enhancer – and a huge source of inefficiency. Research company Basex estimates that more than one-quarter of the day of the typical information worker is taken up by interruptions such as email, instant messaging, Twitter, RSS feeds and other untamed information flows. Less time is spent each day on activities such as writing emails, going to meetings or searching for information. The researchers concluded that only about one-tenth of the day is spent thinking and reflecting."

Now you might be thinking, "Uhm, why are writing about this on a blog for Bible teachers?"

Many of the people that you're teaching are treading water in a sea of information, and spending little if any time reflecting on the meaning of the information they have. So I strongly recommend you work to help people THINK and REFLECT and TAKE ACTON on what they are learning.

May I be blunt? Many of the same people who complain about info overload and being too busy are actually addicted to this state. They love it! How do I know? Given a spare minute, they go get more or start doing something else! (Their motivation may be guilt or pride or fear, or just for the rush of it.) Rather than focusing on one task, they go after the slightest opportunity to be interrupted. ("Ooh! Someone texted me, let me see who that is.")

So in your teaching preparation, dear teacher, understand what you're up against. Teach less material in a very engaging way. Teach for deep understanding of a single verse. Give a powerful, useful framework for topics so they can fit in what they learn more accurately, and retain it. Teach for application -- what will they do today with what they learned from the Word?

And to those who beg you to go faster, cover more, drown them with more patient and mature -- but teach to their needs, not their wants.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught at an underground seminary at Finkenwald for a time. His rule for the pastors-in-training was to focus on one verse per week. 52 verses mastered and absorbed well would be worth much, much more in their spiritual development than thousands of verses considered poorly.

I'll be interested to see your comments on this important issue.

Software for Planning a Sunday School class

You might be interested in this free "Easy Sunday School Planner" software from RCL software. The company also provides a whole range of software for churches and pastors to use.

I have not tried this software myself yet, but wanted to give you a head-start in checking it out.

HT: Paul

Friday, July 04, 2008

Antennae Up!

What is God teaching you these days? Today?

I encourage you to be aware of what you're learning, and be aware that you, as a disciple of Jesus, are in learning mode. You know how difficult it is to teach someone who isn't open to learning, right? Don't be guilty of this yourself!

Get your antennae up and out, so you're ready to take in lessons from the Word and what you observe in your experiences every day. Waggle those rabbit ear antennas if necessary so the signal comes in stronger. Focus your attention on Jesus. Pray, "Lord, teach me. I'm yours." Renew your confidence that the Lord himself is your Teacher, Friend, and Guide.

Remember that YOU are a tool that God will use to teach, encourage, and instruct others. He's going to prepare you before He uses you. What a ride!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

We Could Use a Few More Studds

Mark Batterson points us to a daring twentieth-century missionary, C.T. Studd, who said

"Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Meditating on the Word

Christian meditation is the practice of focusing our thoughts on the revealed Word of God -- not trying to empty our minds, which is the Eastern meditation strategy.

I recommend this article on meditation by Henry Blackaby. He has a wonderful definition:

"Meditation is that moment when God confronts you with the truth about Himself. It is that moment when you go into the presence of God and let God discuss it with you until you know exactly how to respond to Him, however long it takes."

If you're dedicating yourself to teach the Bible to change lives, then you want to help bring your students to the brink that experience with God, right to the edge. And you need to have gone there yourself in order to teach this way.

Aren't we privileged men and women? We have an Awesome Lord and God, who personally instructs us!

HT: Sunday School Revolutionary

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Diving Deep in the Mysteries, and Coming Up Worshipful

Melinda at "Stand to Reason" captures something critical for Bible teachers: we explore the depths of the Bible on doctrines like the Trinity, with great humility about our ability to truly comprehend, and come away with greater awe and worship.

"The Bible teaches us truths we can apprehend, but these truth are also facts we'll never master because they are so deep and profound. We don't abandon trying to understand the revelation; we work hard at it as a way to honor God's revelation of Himself to us. And the more we learn, the more we are moved to worship as His greatness becomes more apparent in the details rather than leaving things in blurry vagueness."

Help your students experience this truth as you teach. Give them the opportunities to be drawn into the Word and into experiencing God. Model it for them.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Quote the Text

If you are studying and preparing material for a while, you tend to forget that your students haven't immersed themselves in the text and know it as well as you do. So you need to need to make sure you quote the biblical text.

Say it out loud!

John Piper does something consistently in his sermons that every teacher should do: he quotes the biblical text specifically. He repeats the specific part of the verse that he is referring to. He does not say, "As Jesus said in John…" but says, "Look at John 17:7." Then he quotes the text. "Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you." Then he explains his points. Sometimes he quotes the text again.

Quote the text directly, and out loud. Do your learners a tremendous favor and quote specifically. Don't leave them scratching their heads wondering which verse you got that
idea from. You want to them to be able to put their fingers right on the text.

It's ok and appropriate to repeat key texts two or three times. The Word is meant to be heard.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pew Forum Results Don't Surprise Me -- Here's Why

The Pew Forum recently released a study of religious views in the United States -- and it's getting a fair amount of media exposure. Don't depend on this blog post or sound bites in the media if you're really interested. Check out the actual report for yourself.

The analysis is based on a survey of 35,000 people. This sounds like a big number, but given the breadth of religious groups identified, some of the groups might have 50-200 people, and are those numbers representative? Maybe. I'm not a statistician, but it's likely they've done some reasonable analysis.

Survey results are often skewed by the way questions are asked. When 21% of self-categorized athiests say they believe in God (yes, it's in the report), you have to wonder if it's the questions, or is that genuinely true for the group? Also, respondents are grouped as politically liberal, moderate, or conservative -- how was that determined?

Having written a few surveys over the years, and looked at the results, I know how difficult it is to do them well. And this makes me very suspicious, by experience, of political polls and politicians who would steer by them!

Let's assume that all the results are accurate, all the labels are legitimate, and large numbers of Christians believe there is more than one way to heaven, that God is an impersonal force, or that the Bible is not the authoritative Word of God.

I'm not surprised by this. It shows up in the way American Christians live. The biblical knowledge of many -- including those who have been in church services regularly for many years -- is shallow, and they have a weak doctrinal foundation. There is an incredible syncretism between secular and non-Christian religious ideas and orthodox Christian teaching. These things are evident to Bible teachers and pastors everywhere.

But rather than being discouraged, I am encouraged. Our Lord has granted us a wonderul ministry opportunity, a MASSIVE opportunity! Let us keep teaching the Bible to change lives!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Place of Bible Commentaries

I'm regularly asked for advice and recommendations onBible commentaries. Here is an article explaining my convictions about the place of commentaries in your Bible study toolkit:


If you teach frequently, you may find that you are in a rut, teaching the same way, using the same kinds of devices, even relating stories again after only a short while.

Your students will likely notice it sooner than you do.

Pray about this, and try using a different approach. It might not feel comfortable. It might not feel as effective. Set aside your self-judgment on this, and push out. You'll grow in your abilities as a teacher.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Attention! Attention!

One of the most significant challenges teachers face is capturing -- and then holding -- the attention of the people in your class or study group.

(A nice article documenting the extent of the problem today is here.)

Better results come from a combination of improving the skills of the teacher, and from practice and discipline on the part of the listeners.

You can encourage and foster the latter, dear teacher, through prayer and by working on your teaching craft. Sharpen your hooks to open the lesson and get them engaged. Try using even more questions and discussion to keep their attention on the content. Recommit yourself today that you are in a ministry to teach to change lives!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Message from Pastor Laurence

I wanted to share this message from Pastor Laurence in Belfast, Ireland, to encourage all of us to remain true to our calling from the Lord.

Hi Glenn.
Pastor Laurence here. Yes I am enjoying your course, and I always look forward to your readings. Your reading plan for going through the Psalms and Proverbs is very good. I intend to bring it into my church. I pastor a little church is East Belfast. I'M sure you heard of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Well The Upper Room Church is situated in the middle of the most troublesome area. We have had bullets shot through our windows, paint graffiti sprayed all over the walls, car windscreens broken, foul language painted on the doors, and much more. If the church was filled to capacity it would hold 90 people, our congregation is between 15-25. It is a very hard location, but God has me there. It is not a rich church, I don't get a wage from it, but God meets my needs somehow. Thank you for what you are doing on behalf of our most gracious Lord. May you continue to do what you are doing for Him. Thank You and May the Lord bless all your loved ones and bring to pass all your visions
and dreams you have for Him.
Pastor Laurence Belfast

May our Lord continue to bless your teaching ministry! Be a stalwart teacher.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sharpen Tools, Sharpen You

Here's an insightful quote:

"We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us." -- John M. Culkin

Mr. Culkin was speaking about technology advances like the plow, water wheels, steam engines, electicity, automobiles, and computers.

But you can shape better tools for Bible study and teaching, too, and they will improve your ability to bring the meaning and application of the Word of God to the people God puts in your life.

I strongly recommend you mark up your Bible and make it yours. (I like a wide-margin Bible for this purpose -- more space for notes.) Capture key sermon points next to the text as you listen. Capture the insights God gives you from devotion and study time in His Word. These quickly become the basis for devotions and lessons in the future. You can work directly from your Bible without any other notes.

Add photocopied paragraphs or lists that you find useful. For example, I have a list of recommended Bible passages to use during hospital visits taped in the back pages of my Bible. I've also tucked in a compact Bible timeline booklet that is a great reference guide. And I have a photo-reduced copy of my 52 Model Questions tucked in there, too, when I need some quick help. A friend of mine keeps copies of his favorite hymns with his Bible.

All these efforts add up over time to make your Bible more and more valuable to you as a tool for teaching, encouraging, and correcting. And you'll find that when you interact with your Bible this way, marking it up, you actually remember more as well. Plus you're developing a tremendous gift to leave behind for another generation -- they will see your record of our Lord's faithfulness to you over years and years.

Teach to change lives!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Teacher Training Materials

Daryl Wilson points us to a large collection of free teacher training materials. Check it out!

If you're involved with church Sunday School programs (children or adult), make sure you monitor Daryl's great blog, the Sunday School Revolutionary.

Growing Big People

Good insights from Mark Batterson:

“I think we focus too much energy on church growth. I think it's all about personal growth. It's not about growing a big church. It's about growing big people--people who serve sacrificially, give generously, dream ridiculously, and love gracefully."The fundamental task is to achieve smallness within a large organization."The way to grow larger is to grow smaller via small groups. I honestly don't think God will grow us beyond our ability to disciple people. And if small groups are our primary context for discipleship, then the number of small groups we have will determine our growth potential as a church.”

Make sure your teaching ministry focuses on the needs of the individuals in your groups and classes. Some needs you will learn, as you work hard to shepherd the flock in your charge. Others you likely only understand as you pray, pray, pray for them! The Lord knows exactly what you should bring to your next teaching opportunity, in order to bless His people through you.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Which Study Bible?

I'm periodically asked, "What study Bible should I use?" There certainly are many available!

My recommendation is the Thompson's Chain Reference Bible. I wrote a special report on this study Bible to explain why I prefer it over study Bibles, and I posted a short
audio message about study Bibles.

You can check out my other Bible study tools recommendations .

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

50 Years and Going Strong

I received this wonderful email yesterday:

I have been teaching Sunday School for 50 years since 1958 and I truly wish I
had access to these materials back then, however I am thankful to have them now.
These materials and guides are wonderful. Thank you so much for letting us take
a peek.
I am 74 and will be teaching a series in a Bible group of
primetimers. I am used to the Sunday School setting but this will be a far
larger group. More comments for more intense learning. I am so
looking forward to it.
Please pray that the Lord will continue to prepare me
as well as the group.
In His Service,
Diana Cofield

(Diana gave me permission to share her email.)

Way to go, Diana! It's encouraging to see how God's faithful servants are engaged in teaching ministries around the world, loving people and encouraging them. May the Lord bless Diana's teaching ministry and yours, for years and years, for His glory!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Let's Pray for Our Brothers and Sisters in Iran

Recent news indicates that persecutions against Christian converts in Iran is increasing (see this story, and this one), even as extraordinary numbers of Muslims are converting to Christianity in many predominantly Muslim countries.

There is actually a long and rich heritage of Christianity in Iran.

Let's pray for our brothers and sisters in Iran, interceding for them, and asking our Lord to show His Wonder and Power there.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Leadership Lessons from the Church at Corinth

It's not easy to lead churches. Or any organization of sin-encrusted flesh-and-blood people with a finite range of spiritual maturity.

1 Corinthians is a fascinating letter in many ways. The church at Corinth obviously had a lot of problems, and Paul must have been hearing about things from a distance (e.g., "...some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 1:11) This must have been hard to endure as a leader. I'm sure Paul was distressed, possibly even angry.

But notice two things:

First, look at how Paul opens his letter:

"I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1 Cor 1:4-9)

Paul is looking not at the demonstrated weakness of the church at Corinth, but at the greatness of the Lord. He's more amazed that anyone is saved in Christ than he is that church communities have problems.

That's a great leadership lesson for people leading churches.

Second, Paul's letter to this sick, struggling church has some marvelous instruction and beautiful theology -- on marriage in chapter 7, on love in chapter 13, and more. God was able to bless many in that generation and in many since, all because they had problems.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Too Dynamic To Be Safe!

Mark Batterson talks about Jesus as a rebel:

One of the things I love about Jesus is that He remained the rebel his
entire life. He didn't bow to the Pharisees. He didn't bow to Pilate. Truth is,
He didn't bow to anyone except His Heavenly Father. That is what it means to be
a spiritual rebel.

In the words of Dorothy Sayers: "To do them justice, the people who
crucified Jesus did not do so because he was a bore. Quite the contrary; he was
too dynamic to be safe. It is has been left for later generations to muffle up
that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We
have declawed the Lion of Judah and made him a housecat for pale priests and
pious old ladies."

Makes me think of Aslan: "not a tame lion," and we find Him bigger as grow up.

In your teaching ministry, don't let Jesus become a domesticated housecat.

Don't Distance Yourself From Your Students

Peter Mead has some excellent comments about teaching from wholeness, with integrity, being open and engaging with our students:

Early on Palmer is describing what makes a good teacher or a bad
teacher. He quotes one student who could not describe her good teachers
because they were all so different, but she could describe her bad ones because
they were all the same. “Their words float somewhere in front of their
faces, like the balloon speech in cartoons.” Parker notes that bad teachers
distance themselves from the subject they are teaching, and therefore from their
students also. But good teachers join self and subject and students in the
fabric of life.

How true this is for preachers too. We preach poorly when we
distance ourselves from our message, but we preach well we make sure the message
is coming from inside us and going directly to our listeners. True
preaching, by definition, is the delivery of a text’s message
“which the Holy Spirit first applies to the life of the preacher, then through the preacher, to the listeners.” (Robinson’s classic definition).

Remember the simple, yet profound formula in Palmer’s book – effective
teaching is much more about identity and integrity than mere technique.

He's referring to Peter Palmer's book, The Courage to Teach.

Please remember that your teaching is a ministry, not just a task. This means your efforts are co-joined with the Life of Christ in you, so that you abide in Jesus and the Word (see John 15), and work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. That's the way to teach to change lives.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Team Preparation for Teaching

One of the most powerful and helpful ways to prepare lessons is to work with others.

I haven't done an official survey, but I observe that the large majority of Bible teachers do their preparation alone. (Same for pastors preparing sermons.) That approach, so long as you are prayerfully studying and preparing, is effective.

I do recommend you prepare your lesson by working together with others.

We have several adult classes at our church, and often are teaching the same topic or study series. We've periodically been able to get the teachers together, and simply worked through the Scripture together, sharing ideas and insights from the text. We could share our ideas and plans for hooks, illustrations, questions, and application. We sharpened one another, and enjoyed rich fellowship in the process.

You can engineer this kind of preparation, even if you are the only teacher. Get a few people together and study. Put your thoughts and ideas forward, try out your questions, and practice reading Scripture out loud.

(Yes, this means you have to be working days in advance, rather than procrastinating to the night before. Trust me, you'll find that having others involved makes it easier to work farther in advance, because you create some automatic accountability for preparation in good time.)

This is also a critical approach for mentoring other teachers. Share in the teaching process, and they'll learn faster and better!

Monday, May 26, 2008

And On Day 8, There Was Grass!

Eight days after planting the grass seed, I see little green shoots! There is much rejoicing!

(See this post for the back story.)

"For Glenn planted, and Glenn watered, and watered, and watered, and watered, but God made it grow." -- 1 Cor 3:6, the selfish Glenn version

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Holding All Things Together

Here's a diagram of the structure of the laminin protein, which is a cell adhesion molecule -- literally holding things together.

Isn't that cool?

Louie Giglio has a fun story about how he learned about laminin, in this short video:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Home Golf Course

If you want an update on my effort to replace 18 trees with grassy areas, check out this post on my blog for husbands and fathers, "Bold and Gentle.

Who Grows More, the Teacher or the Student?

Teachers often learn more than the students. This is because of the preparation time, and the effort required to master material well enough to present it to someone else. (I encourage the adults in my classes to use what they're learning in their small groups, with their families, neighbors, and coworkers -- that will cement the learning in their hearts and minds.)

The question becomes, will you as the teacher grow more than your students?

Spiritual growth is not only about intellect, but about the condition of our hearts before the Lord. Spiritual maturity, biblically, is relational rather than intellectual. Relational is seen as action (or specific lack of sinful actions), rather than a body of factual knowledge.

Isn't knowledge important? Absolutely. But knowledge alone does not lead to godliness and spiritual growth into maturity. Satan knows the Bible very well, better than you or I do.

Therefore let me remind you, dear teacher, to be concerned about the condition of your heart. Be humble before God, and give Him all the praise for your ministry opportunities and challenges. They're designed to create better soil for growth, both your students' and yours.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It Takes More Dirt Than You Think

We had 18 trees taken out of our yard a couple of days ago. Some were too originally planted too close to the house, some were dying. It was an amazing process over 6 hours -- 10 guys, chain saws, chipper, two trucks to haul away the chips, stump grinder -- and a lot of hustle.

So now I need to fill in 18 holes and plant grass.

First step is to pull out more of the roots. The stump grinder does a great job, but there are still loads of roots around the edges, and I needed to pull them out. I worked over two holes in the front yard with a mattock and yanked out a nice pile of roots.

Then I picked up ten 40lb bags of dirt at our local Ace hardware (because I like to support the local hardware store) and brought them home in the back of our 1987 Saab. I expected I'd get 3 or holes filled, then repeat the process a few times.


I emptied all ten on 1 hole in the front yard. One. 400 lbs of dirt for that hole!

I'm sure there is a Sunday School teaching illustration in here somewhere :-)

New tactic needed -- get a 3 ton load of dirt delivered to our house.

Did I mention my muscles are aching today?