Love is the essence of making disciples. Instructing people in the faith requires quality material, skilled presentations, and leadership gifts. However, all these characteristics are readily available in the world, but what is not available there is a caring heart, motivated by the Holy Spirit, that places the highest priority on people. Christian disciple making is set apart by love for God and for each other that draws both leader and learner into the journey of spiritual growth.
Being new in our church, we had to choose where to become connected to our congregation's journey. After sampling several classes, we settled into an elective called Homebuilders. We love it. Our reasons for choosing and staying in this learning environment have a lot to say about the ways adult ministry leaders can design their instruction methods. To schedule classes and count attendance is not enough. Everyone--staff and participants--should be loving what is going on. I love my class for these reasons:
I love my class because of Gary
Gary teaches the Homebuilders. I love this guy. His teaching style is casual, peppered with challenges and questions, and never preachy. His heart is full of evangelism, the subject we are studying, and his willingness to be transparent with his students allows us to feel that heart rather than just hear his words.
What is even more impressive, Gary actually does personal evangelism in a way that is relevant to secular people. He understands where our culture is spiritually and, by using examples from his own life, he is helping us understand how to reach out.
If you want people to love your teaching, draw these applications with me:
* Teach from the heart. If you have the option, teach material in which you have a personal interest. The motivation you bring to the class will be contagious.
* Discover relevant methods. Use the approach that suits your learners. I like Gary's vulnerability because I am a baby boomer. Other age groups might find this unnerving or distracting. Talk with those you teach to discover the approach they relate to best.
* Take responsibility. Research is clear: The teacher is the key to effective instruction. Your class will never rise above the level you set. Don't invent excuses but answers.
I love my class because the other students are like me.
Sometimes when I visit classes, I feel oddly out of place. The people may be warm and the topic interesting, but the chemistry just isn't right. I am drawn to our Homebuilders group because I have things in common with the other students. Some are married, some are single, some are parents, some are not, but we share similar interests and outlooks of our generation. Most importantly, many of them are younger than I am, so associating with them makes me feel younger too.
Lessons are here for creating a class people love:
* Understand personal agendas. They are always more important than program agendas. Just as I associate with my class to feel the energy of youth, your students are motivated by many factors that have nothing to do with a lesson. Get to know your learners so you can discern what is driving them. Do they need a potluck or a support group? Answering these questions will lead you to effective ways of demonstrating your love for them.
* Accept personal differences. Not everyone who comes to your ministry will choose to stay. Teachers who love teaching cannot accept this. Teachers who love people can. Wanting what is in the highest interest of the learner, whether it's in my class or another, is what sets the Christian discipler apart. Doing so means being reconciled that some will visit us and move on, but everyone needs to be receiving instruction somewhere. Teachers who love people do their best to make sure students who cannot relate to their class are placed in a group to which they can relate.
I love my class because it is interactive
Boredom never happens in our class. My teacher's informal style conveys the message that we are all learning together. His relaxed approach makes me feel that my comments are welcome and creates a nonthreatening environment in which we can all share. Gary moves things along by asking us well-thought-out questions to provoke our thinking on various Scripture passages, life applications, and personal experiences. The result is interesting discussions that carry us deeper into the material with little effort.
Lessons in this are:
* Atmosphere creates involvement. Subtle things like body language, room layout, and the teacher's attitude send strong messages to students about participation. Saying I am open to questions and discussion is different from actually being open. Atmosphere does not just happen. A teacher who loves people enough to want them on board during every excursion in learning has to create it. Check out your classroom, your methods, and your attitude to see if they are conducive to group learning. (If you're not sure, ask someone to sit in on the group and give you candid feedback or have yourself videotaped for later debriefing.)
* Questions create involvement. Carefully crafted questions will tap the student's own curiosity to create a moment when truth is discovered. High-quality study materials will always offer suggestions for such questions. Beware of using them only as an introduction. Space your questions at regular intervals throughout the session.
* Involvement creates learning. Learning is an experience, not an event. When something becomes meaningful to me, I learn. The most powerful way to create this experience is to persuade me to do it for myself by pulling me into the process. Otherwise, a class is just a speech given for an audience of spectators.
"When something becomes meaningful to me, I learn."
I love my class because I am making friends.
On Sunday morning, several hundred people worship at my church. It is unlikely that I will ever get to know anyone by staring at the back of his head. Almost all of our relationships and connections in the church have come through our adult elective class. By interacting with other baby boomers around the lesson material, we took the first tentative steps toward building bridges between our families. Many of those early connections have turned into friendships we cherish.
We can apply several things here to the instruction process:
* Students are people, not information sponges. Knute Larson has noted that "in surveys all over the country about why adults come to Sunday school, the number one reason is fellowship. Relationships. Getting to know others." (Growing Adults on Sunday Morning, Victor, 1991, p. 10.) Focusing around relationship building will bond your people to one another and to the learning experience. The association is good for both.
* The simple things are the best. Elaborate strategies for involving students in friendship formation are often unnecessary. While some strategy needs to be in place, the obvious method is usually the best. Food and beverages can take the "lecture hall" feeling out of the air at the beginning of the session. Allowing up to a third of your time for fellowship shows the group that relationships are the core of the experience, not an afterthought nor a ritual.
* Escape the classroom. Real bonding to the teacher and one another often means having experiences together outside the formal class setting. Getting together for pizza after church tells everyone that we are more than students--we are brothers and sisters who love one another.
Making disciples through instruction is all about loving people into discovering and acting on the truth. The teacher accepts people where they are and leads them gently to where they have never been. While only the presence of the Holy Spirit makes this kind of love possible, only the labor of a caring teacher makes it practical.
The Value of Variety
Even the best instructor can wear out his students by using the same basic method week after week. My teacher uses many different ways to communicate truth to us. This requires more planning on his part, but the results are apparent: We look forward to attending every week. This variety of methods includes: class members sharing personal testimonies; class members teaching on topics in which they have expertise; guest speakers from outside the class and the church; learning exercises that require us to write responses to questions; missions projects outside the classroom; and fellowship events outside the class that bind us together.
The Acid Test
Here is an easy way to diagnose how your group is reacting to your ministry. Supply the class with paper and pens and have them write the answer to this question: "After church last week, what did you say or hear about our class?" If you're brave, ask volunteers to share their responses or put the students in groups to discuss how they feel about the ministry; then give a brief summary to the whole class. If you lack the courage for this, take the coward's way out and have the answers turned in without names. Many students may remark that nothing was said about the class. You will need to pray about what that means.
Earl Creps III, Ph.D., director of the doctor of ministry program at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary Springfield, Missouri, is the author of several books on Christian education, including "Investigating Commitment to Membership" (GPH).Promotion and Training Department .Sunday School. All rights reserved. Used with permission.