Monday, February 07, 2011

Preparation Strategy for Teaching

Mary asks a terrific question: "How much time and how does one find enough time to prepare fresh new material each week? There are so many distractions during the day that I have no control over, I regret this. Am I the only one with this problem?"

Mary, rest assured that you're not alone on this time crunch! Of course, saying this doesn't help you.

I've got a three-part strategy: focus, rhythm of prep, and prayer. Let me walk you through it.

Distractions plague us all. Low-value activities abound and attract our attention. We confuse activity for real contribution. We're human.

This is why we stand truly amazed at Jesus' prayer in John 17: "I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do." (v4) He finished all the work? Really? Wow!

Jesus didn't preach to everyone in Israel. He didn't heal ever leper or care for every widow or answer everyone's individual questions. He did the work that the Father had given him to do.

We, too, must be clear about our focus. You don't need to run down every commentary or every cross-reference or every study guide on a Bible passage to teach a good, life-transforming lesson that honors the Lord.

Let's talk about time and how to use it. Focus and intensity are needed. Be purposeful about setting aside time and not allowing distractions in. And use rhythm to your advantage! Here's my own practice, which I heartily recommend you try:

1. I spend 10-15 minutes each day in the passage(s) I will be teaching. Since I usually teach over a series of weeks, I'm actually looking at passages for the upcoming week and the following week -- so I'm two weeks out. My attitude during this 10-15 minutes is listening/observing. "Lord, teach me. Show me what's critical for my students to understand. Give me ideas about how to organize the lesson and life applications."

2. I dedicate a 60-90 minute time a day or two before I actually teach (usually Friday or Saturday) to really work out the final details of the lesson and practice it. I do this very early in the morning, before others are awake. Stay away from the computer and other distractions! This must be guarded, intensely focused time.

This combination approach keeps my mind engaged without burning out, and helps me avoid deadly procrastination.

Finally, prayer. The less time you have to prepare, the greater fraction of that time should be prayerful. If I only have 5 minutes to prepare, I'm going to pray for 3 minutes of it. Never shortchange prayer time, because apart from the work of the Spirit in you and your students, no amount of eloquence or style matters.

So in sum, here's my recommended strategy:
1. Focus on what is essential and most valuable
2. Dedicate a few minutes a day and at least one longer block of time
3. Don't shortchange prayer.

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