Teaching Deeper, Part IX: Slowing Down to Go Deeper
Dr. Kevin E. Lawson
Director, Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs in Educational Studies
Editor, Christian Education Journal
Talbot School of Theology
We often face pressures to move our Bible teaching sessions along in church, sacrificing depth of teaching impact to save time and keep on schedule with the lesson plans. What do we lose when we do this, and how might we respond to these pressures to ensure greater depth of impact in our teaching?
Back in July, as part of a description of how to teach for growing instead of just for knowing, I talked about the need to slow down the pace of our teaching if we wanted to see deeper impact. Here is what I said in that blog:
Slow Down to go Deeper. The typical curriculum materials designed for studying and teaching the Bible has aspects to help us better understand the meaning of a passage we are studying and its importance or significance for Christians today. They tend to move from understanding the content of the passage to examining principles and implications for following Christ today, to eventually encouraging possible ways to respond in obedience to what we have learned. This is all good, but to do all of this well requires more time than is often available in a group study session. For those teaching in a Sunday School context, there is typically less than an hour available to carry this out. For those teaching in home Bible study groups, there may be more time, but it still may not be enough to process and work through the material to an adequate discussion of how to respond to what we have learned. We have to slow down, not feel compelled to move on to the next lesson when we meet again, but take time to ensure that we are really dealing with what we are learning, allowing God to work it into our lives, not just into our brains. (July 2011)
While I think we would all agree with this, it is not always easy to do. I know, because I have been wrestling with this myself in my own teaching ministry at my church. Even though I know and value this, there are pressures on me to keep the session moving along, ensuring we can get through the lesson, even if the lesson is not getting through to us. Here are some of the reasons why I feel like I cannot always slow down the pace of the lesson to allow for deeper impact:
- We often plan out our curriculum for several months, with schedules for when a series should end and another one begin. If I slow down the pace of the lessons, we won’t be done in time for the new series to start.
- When I share the teaching load with others, which often happens at my church, someone else may have already prepared to teach a lesson next week. If I slow down and do not finish the study of the section we are focusing on this week, it impacts the teaching plans of others. They may not always be able to postpone their teaching another week due to other responsibilities.
- I sometimes feel that if I slow down, some in the group will be impatient and want to move along in the lesson. If we take time to discuss things that are significant for us, will we bog down too much? If I allow everyone to comment on what we are studying, will it all be productive, or will it get redundant?
- Sometimes, there are special sessions planned in our schedule, with visiting missionaries or other special guests. If I allow my lesson this week to slow down, I may not be able to finish it until two weeks or more from now, losing the context of some of our discussion.
I am currently teaching a series in I and II Peter in my group at church. Even though I am the only teacher for the series and can control the pace of what we do each week, I still feel the pressure to keep things moving along. I had planned to finish the series just before Christmas, allowing us to move on to a new study at the beginning of the new year. However, I find that I am already falling behind. I don’t want to rush what we are doing, but it now appears that we won’t be done before Christmas. I won’t be able to teach the first few weeks in January due to other commitments, so it now looks like I won’t be able to finish teaching the II Peter series and will have to ask someone else to wrap it up while I am away. So what should I do?
I could speed up the pace of our lessons, settling for helping those I teach have a survey knowledge of what we are studying. How often have I said, “well, we don’t have time to cover all of the rest of the passage, here are a few key issues worth focusing on?” My fear is that if I do this, I simply reinforce the experience of many who attend Bible studies that they are gaining a familiarity of the Bible, but not seeing much value to their study because of limited implications or impact. I don’t want to contribute to that cycle of familiarity without influence.
So what will I do? I will not speed up the pace of the study and sacrifice the potential impact of the study in our lives. It is too important to rush. I will have to recruit someone who can pick up wherever I leave off and teach the weeks I am not available. If the other teacher completes the study before I am back, I will be thankful for his help and trust that God used the study for His purposes. If the other teacher ends up also going slowly because there is much to digest and reflect on, I may be able to return in time to hear about what I missed and help with finishing the study series together. I have to be willing to let go of the teaching responsibility, allowing others to give leadership, if I cannot be there to do it all. This is God’s class, and He is our teacher. It is notmy class, or my study to teach. So, I will go at a pace that seems to allow us to really attend to what God wants to teach us and use to transform us, even if it means missing our planned study completion dates. We’ll have to adjust our schedule, but I don’t think the group will mind, as long as they see that what we are doing is going deeper.
Let me invite you to find ways to slow down to go deeper in your own teaching. It’s worth the hassles it creates in our plans. Feel free to interact with me about this. It’s not easy, but it is worthwhile. May God help you learn to slow down in appropriate ways.