Jay, I have been asked to be the new head of a group at our church that oversees the adult education curriculum. The shepherds at my congregation are intently interested in doing more than “caretaking” when it comes to adult education: specifically, they are wondering what new and/or successful and/or helpful approaches have been adopted by other congregations to improve the quality of adult education. (“Success” does not necessarily mean “increased attendance,” but perhaps more engagement and spiritual growth). Any ideas? Are you familiar with any of our schools (or folks outside our faith family) that might have ideas about this?
I’m 62. I’ve been involved in adult education in a leadership capacity from about 1980 until I retired from the eldership about 2 years ago. I taught my first adult Bible class in 1978 (while studying for the Bar). So that’s 36 years of experience and over 2,000 classes taught — not counting OIJ. And I have no idea what the best plan is. But I do know some things.
- Rotate teachers at least every six months. People tire of the same face, the same voice, the same sense of humor — even if it’s mine. And if you don’t rotate, then Br. Smith’s class becomes an institution and that class never hears any other point of view. No point of view is that holy — not even mine. Rotate! No choice. No discretion. No exceptions. Churches that split split along class lines because they learn two different theologies. Rotate!
- People who aren’t gifted to teach shouldn’t be allowed to teach. Respect the work of the Spirit, find people who actually have a special fire in the belly for adult ed, and get out of the way. I mean, the best teachers want to teach. They may need to be asked, but they enjoy Bible study, lesson prep, and teaching — and they’re good at it — or could become good with some training. But the guys who desperately want to teach but don’t have the gift have to be pointed in other directions. A bad teacher can destroy a class, even an entire program. Hence, don’t give a new guy a whole quarter. Let him substitute a few times and see how the class reacts. Or have a quarter where you try out four or so teachers, and then remember who had the gift. (You may have to say “no” to very good friends. It’s not fun, but destroying a class with 13 weeks of insufferable teaching is even worse.)
- Be wary of class-chosen topics — because the teacher matters more than the topic. Years ago, I surveyed my class and ranked 20 possible topics for future classes. Over a few years, we covered nearly all those topics — and the best classes were the ones that scored lowest and the worst classes were the ones that scored highest. Two reasons that I could discern: (1) better teachers for the lower-scoring topics and (2) the higher scoring topics were based on popular books. And pop evangelical literature rarely makes into a good class — because the writer usually says everything there is to say on the topic. I mean, Max Lucado writes a great book, but what do I have to add to his words? Not much. Different answer if the material is sufficiently challenging that you can meaningfully discuss the material and you have a decent discussion leader. (Most author prepared questions at the end of the chapter just ask you to repeat what the author said. Use a book where the questions challenge you to go deeper or to question some of the author’s conclusions.)
- Don’t overly focus on class discussion. The best classes are often primarily lecture because when you’re teaching new material, the teacher does most of the talking. In fact, I once surveyed a class regarding their favorite all-time Bible classes in the history of the world, and nearly every class mentioned was more lecture than discussion. They liked the class because they learned — and learned things that mattered to their Christian walk.
- That is, all received wisdom is false.
Here are some earlier posts that might be of some benefit:
Preliminary Thoughts on a New Approach to Adult Education (prepping teachers using a master teacher)
Hermeneutics and Blue Parakeets: Further Reading; How to Teach Hermeneutics (theory but practical)
Galatians: Introduction for Teachers Only (on the Community Bible Study approach)
That’s almost enough for a book! Except most of the posts are pretty short. As discussed in the posts, we’ve experimented with having a “master teacher” teach the teachers on Wednesday night so they’ll be prepared on Sundays. But a good set of notes serves the same purpose unless it’s very controversial material, such as the role of women or MDR.
We’ve done the Community Bible Study approach (see the Galatians post), and it was okay, but it’s a lot of work for someone to put together.Nothing tops excellent material and a gifted teacher. And if you have a great curriculum writer, use him or her.
There are gobs of materials here adapted for teaching. In fact, I’ve taught through all the books posted here. They are battlefield tested.
We’ve done 9 months on The Purpose-Driven Church, and that was a huge success. So was our 9-month study on The Story. But our staff and volunteers worked very hard on that. The Believe material has not been as strong. These are rare opportunities you likely can have this kind of success every five years at best.
We’ve had great success with the Ray Vander Laan videos. The Exodus material does spend a little too much time showing desert panoramas. Well, nothing’s perfect. These come HIGHLY recommended. Just don’t try them for three years in a row. Use them like hot sauce. Good on black-eyed peas, but not everything. And I’ve posted lesson notes for many of them.
Some of the best lesson plans are stolen. PLEASE use my stuff. Erase my change-agent name if you have to. But don’t re-invent the wheel. Matt Dabbs has posted a zillion lesson plans at Kingdom Living.
Oh — and don’t underestimate the intelligence or intellectual curiosity of your students. Church of Christ members tend to be very serious Bible students — and desperate for something new and better. Challenge them. Our professional staffs tend to underestimate what you can cover without a Bible degree and an M.Div. Just cover the text, and never water it down. Our church members are hungry for the Word, and we are blessed to live in an age of excellent authors and other resources.
PS — The worst classes I’ve attended were taught by very gifted people who were just so very, very reverent and serious. God has a sense of humor. Jesus shows the humor in his teaching. Paul was capable of some killer sarcasm. Take things too seriously and the human mind balks at absorbing the lesson. I mean, it is very serious — but nothing is so serious that we can’t laugh at ourselves. A gifted teacher necessarily has a sense of humor– especially when it comes to laughing at himself.