I sat down to finish this article (it was just an idea, a few bullet points and a title) and the first thought that came to my mind was, "Should I dare to do this?"
After all, it's been several consecutive years of teaching Sunday School/not attending a regular Bible study and perhaps that means I'm not a good authority on the subject. Yet, I think the transition from student to teacher and the distance with which I've been able to observe, from afar, has helped me better appreciate and (hopefully) benefit from Bible Study--something I hope I can prove when I have the chance!
It's not easy to lead a class, whether you're teaching or facilitating. Let me first say a word on facilitating--that modern take on teaching which is supposed to encourage participation, interaction, and pro-activeness. That's the rosy ideal behind the idea. Usually it results in horribly awkward silences and a traumatized facilitator who ends up babbling wildly, painfully aware that he/she isn't supposed to be talking so much, why isn't anyone saying anything, this lesson was a failure, an epic failure, and what made anyone think facilitating a class was easy? I'd rather go to the dentist! At least they don't expect you to talk. Talk, people, talk!! Why won't you talk??!
From this you can probably tell I've had my share of facilitating failures (could that be considered a pun, or would it more correctly be a sort of zeugma, by the way?)
I think realizing this is probably the first step to being a good student, to improving your classroom experience (since my small church rents classrooms in a school, that's completely accurate; but I suppose this does apply to non-spiritual classes as well, so.)
At the risk of sounding like Christianized link bait, (see title of post!) I humbly offer some simple tips you probably already knew:
1. As a student: Be involved. This sounds like something you'd get from your school counsellor or some college help book like Cal Newport's How to Win at College, but it's true. After all, Bible study isn't that much different from any lecture in school. One person stands up before the rest and is expected to impart pure distilled wisdom within the specified amount of time. That's high expectations, though. I've hardly met many people or even books (my teachers, growing up; textbooks or otherwise) who can do this. In reality, the student's response is just as important as the teacher's input. So before you sit down and routinely succumb to the mysterious muteness and stagnation that attacks so many Bible Study students, I suggest you embrace this thought of the day: (a la all those peppy motivational individualist corny sayings that appear on the classroom whiteboards)
YOU determine how much you benefit from your bible study class.
As a student, when you walk out of the class feeling like you didn't gain anything, it's easy to blame that on the facilitator/teacher's skills. However, if you ever become a facilitator/teacher you'll realize how hard it is to generate interactive discussion without the proactive help of at least several people in the class, which I call your backbone. I just experienced this first-hand at church camp leading one of the discussion groups. I could have hugged and wept tears of gratitude for the several brave souls who backed me up and kept the discussion going, and together enabled an atmosphere that encouraged others to feel less intimidated/crippled, to share what they thought.
Even the best teacher in the world needs backup. Don't let those questions become the long, horribly uncomfortable silences everyone (and most of all, the teacher/facilitator, trust me on this) dreads. Just open your mouth. You don't have to have a earth-shattering insight which draws from three different philosophies, a conspiracy theory, five world religions, and cross-references from six different parts of the Bible. Even if it's just to answer the obvious, in-your-face questions; realize you're doing everyone a favour by helping us move on.
As a student, you never have a passive role. We are not little vessels lined up waiting to be filled with capital K Knowledge (or Facts, to properly quote Hard Times.) Though undoubtedly that would be a much easier way to learn.
2. As a facilitator: Make your questions specific. Address people directly. Take turns, going around, so everyone has a chance to answer, rather than always leaving it in the air for anyone to take. People are usually too awkward and hesitant to answer if you throw the question into the air; they feel exposed and apologetic to claim it (me.)
Or, break down the question into manageable, specific questions. Bible Study questions are almost always big sprawling abstract questions, which are good for discussion; but people usually need help to be brave enough to tackle such tough spiritual food. So cut the steak into bite size pieces for them.
You might want to consider having a balance of easy and hard questions/different types of questions, so as to encourage different people to speak, especially if there are some who have less Bible knowledge under their belt, or are just less confident. Also, it gives people have time in between to think--but still stimulates them, unlike those deadly silences which in all my lifetime have only proven to impede rather than improve brain activity.
In Sunday School I've realized-- by necessity--that different children have different gifts/ways of thinking, because I have a considerable age range in my class. In order to make sure some don't get left out because they're quieter/don't know as much about the Bible/don't think or process things in the same way as the rest I try to have a balance of what types of questions I ask. So we have comprehension questions (after reading the Bible passage, I ask them to retell in their own words), we have stimulating questions ("What do you think David should have done? Did he do the right thing?") and we have application questions where I ask them to give me an example from their own lives, or in our modern context. I shall never forget one little girl who contributed thoughtfully to our discussion on idols, "Oh, it's like my brother and his hair."
Pro tip: Overcome your fear of getting a tough question you don't know how to answer by addressing it honestly (please don't wing it.) Don't be afraid to admit you don't have an answer. Backup resource--establish a "Parking Lot" where all those tough questions are put, so you can take your time to follow up; or--bonus--appoint someone to be in charge of that.
3. As both student and facilitator: Know your ultimate goal. For example, to me as a Sunday School Teacher my ultimate goals are to install in the children awareness of their need for Christ, an understanding of the person of God and themselves in relationship to Him, and a passion to read and study the Bible for themselves. I would think that likewise as a Bible Study teacher or facilitator your ultimate goal would be to stimulate and encourage people to read, study, and think through the Bible with interest and a desire to learn, rather than just spoonfeed knowledge and theology into them--which cultivates passivity and the lack of application, leading to stagnated spiritual growth.
To accomplish that (the motivation to learn, not the stagnation of spiritual growth) is in itself a great step. You need to pray for the Holy Spirit's help to work in those hearts and bless the time they spend, whether on their own or together, studying the Word (something I need to start doing for my kids.)
If you're a student, you should also probably have a more specific goal than a vague walk-out-of-Bible-Study-feeling-on-spiritual-cloud-nine/feeling-spiritually-smart. After all, Bible Study is most effective when it doesn't just take place on Sunday in church, but is still happening the rest of the week, on your own.
4. As both student and facilitator: Be vulnerable. Share from your personal life. Another Sunday School anecdote; sharing about my own experience and temptations, whether my conversion or examples from my life, really enabled me to connect with the children. Being honest about my failures and doubts helped them to share about their own, and--I hope--to have a more accurate understanding about what it means to be a Christian, about what all those theological truths about God mean when they're applied to life.
On a side note, I think it's important, especially for children who grow up in Christian homes. I think I'm not wrong to say that many such kids are actually misled--despite sound theological teaching! think me, who knew about total depravity and sanctification and yet still struggled with this!--to think that being a Christian means becoming almost perfect, because of the overwhelming "Sunday behaviour" they see in the adults around them, or the unconscious, internalized emphasis on external behaviour they've grown up with.
Back to the topic. I believe this also encourages direct personal application of what we learn to our lives. It's safe and non-threatening if we do our little study keeping all the lines we draw comfortably within the context of that Bible story or that historical period. Vulnerability--and more than that, actual transformation--is when we dare to draw the line with the marker from the page to where we are now.
7. As both student and facilitator: See each other as friends. Your relationship should continue, be based on the world outside of the classroom, not just limited to that one hour you're together inside the same room.
When you care for and know each other, it's easier to discuss difficult topics or different opinions, easier to open up and share. When you can see each other first as people and fellow Christians--each with our own baggage of failures, weaknesses, prejudices, blind spots, and differing gifts--rather than simply in your respective roles as "teacher" and "student," with all the respective expectations and pitfalls that go with those roles, you communicate better.
Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law;
Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
And not to covetousness.
Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
Establish Your word to Your servant,
Who is devoted to fearing You.
Turn away my reproach which I dread,
For Your judgments are good.
Behold, I long for Your precepts;
Revive me in Your righteousness.
Psalm 119: 33-40
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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