Connecting Young Adults with the Rest of the Congregation

One of the problems with generation focused ministries (youth ministry, young adult ministry, seniors ministry, etc) is that isolation can happen very easily. On one hand it is good for people who are at the same stage in life to have time together. It is helpful for young parents and newly marrieds to talk with others in the same situation and learn and bond through those times. However, a problem arises when those are the only connection a young person has in the congregation. Isolation can set in and a tremendous disservice is done to the ministry for failing to connect them with the broader congregation. There is much wisdom to be gained from having relationships with those who are more experienced than ourselves.

Connecting Up:
One thing our 20s & 30s ministry is doing in the month of January is to do Q & A sessions in Sunday Bible class with the more experienced in the congregation. Last Sunday we had in three of our elders and their wives and the class asked them questions for a full hour. It was very informative. It made our elders seem more approachable. It connected our class with them, which might open up more doors in the future. Overall, it was a very healthy and needed experience. This Sunday we are having two couples in our class who are a few decades older than most of the people in the room. I am very excited about this because it means our 20s & 30s will learn from them and they will grow closer to them through this process. In a few more weeks we are going to have several of the most senior members of the congregation in to talk with us.

This is just one way to connect a young adult ministry with those who don’t fit demographically into the group. I think it is extremely important that ministries don’t become isolated or insulated from the rest of the congregation. That happens when the only people they spend time with are others their same age.

Connecting down & the Result:
I have mentioned before that we have already been making efforts to reach downward as well. We send members of our class down to the college class to teach and encourage them. We also send 20s & 30s into the youth group to get to know them. What this does is help the younger people feel more connected when it is time to “move up” to the next class. It is hard to break into a class or ministry where you don’t know anyone. Many people fall out before they will take that step. So we are trying to be proactive and preventative to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future.

Highly Recommend Houston Heflin’s Teacher Equipping Workshop

This past Saturday we had Dr. Houston Heflin come and share some very practical thoughts about teaching with our teachers and small group leaders. He was engaging, informative and practiced what he preached. What I mean by that last part is that Houston actually incorporated the techniques he was teaching into the format of the workshop. I love that. He wasn’t jut telling us. He was showing us and helping us engage in the learning process rather than just listening to him lecture about why we shouldn’t always lecture. Good stuff Houston!

If you want to sharpen up your education program and Bible class teachers I recommend having him come and share some time with your congregation. Thanks Houston for a great event and for the ways God has equipped you to teach others how to teach more effectively! If any of you want to have him come you can get more of his credentials and his contact information at the ACU Bible Faculty page.

You can also subscribe to his podcast called The Weekend Teacher where he shares thoughts about how to teach more effectively. There you will find 31 free podcasts that would be helpful for your teachers and small group leaders to listen to.

Teaching Workshop With Houston Heflin This Saturday

Northwest is hosting a teacher training workshop this Saturday from 9-12 with Dr. Houston Heflin of ACU. I have known Houston for at least 10 years and have a tremendous amount of respect for him. If you live in the Tampa Bay area or even in central Florida come on over to Northwest this Saturday for a treat! Breakfast and lunch will be provided. If your congregation would like to host an event like this I am sure you could email Houston at the email address below and work it out.

Here is a summary of what he is teaching and a schedule:

Teacher Equipping Seminar

Northwest Church of Christ

Saturday January 7, 2012

Dr. Houston Heflin

This seminar will look at the creative teaching methods of Jesus to learn from the master teacher. We will consider how to lead classroom and small group discussions, and share ideas to make our teaching more engaging and their learning more memorable.


8:45 – Arrive, breakfast/coffee

9:00 – Welcome

9:05 – Session 1: Learning Styles Theory

10:00 – Break

10:05 – Session 2: Preparing for Effective Lessons

10:55 – Break

11:00 – Session 3: Teaching for Spiritual Formation

11:50 – Final Words / Closing

12:00 – Lunch

 Lesson Descriptions

 Lesson 1: Learning Styles Theory

As teachers, it’s helpful to understand how we like to learn. Many people teach to their own learning style. This session will help teachers identify their learning preferences and how to connect with students who learn differently. During the session we also consider if learning styles are in fact real, or just a theory. What if there are some principles that apply to all students, regardless of how they think they learn best?

Lesson 2: Preparing for Effective Lessons

From the moment you learn you will be teaching to the last minute of your class there are many things you can do to ensure a successful experience. This step-by-step conversation about creating learning objectives for students and teaching notes for teachers will help you have more confidence when you enter the classroom. You’ll be able to put the pieces of a lesson together much more efficiently and effectively as a result of this training session on writing your own curriculum and preparing to teach it.

 Lesson 3: Teaching for Spiritual Formation

There are many spiritual practices that can supplement the learning that occurs during class and small group times. This session equips teachers with ideas such as written prayers, retelling stories, lectio divina, scripture memorization, incorporating lyrics to the songs we sing, and breath prayers.

New Bible Lessons Uploaded From James Glasscock

James Glasscock has graciously allowed me to post four of his Bible class series here at the blog. Thanks James!

New Lessons Posted on Deuteronomy, Daniel, And Missional Church By Mark Hamilton & David Wray

Thanks to Mark Hamilton for allowing me to post his lessons on Deuteronomy & Daniel. Mark is a professor of Old Testament and Associate Dean of their graduate Bible department at ACU. The material looks great.

Deuteronomy – Now Choose Life

Daniel – Keeping Faith in a Distant Land

Thanks also to David Wray for allowing me to upload his series on Missional Church (12 lessons, 61 pages) to the Bible Class Archive. The archive is now over 700 free lessons and over 2500 pages! Thanks to all who keep submitting lessons. It is much appreciated.

You can find more free Bible lessons on ACU’s website at this link.

Bible Class – Shifting the Paradigm from Title to Time

In the last post Tim Spivey asked the following question,

Matt, as one who recently started a church…one thing I’d love to hear your thoughts on is… if or when you might think starting Bible “classes is a good idea. I’ve always loved Bible class, though felt it in huge need of overhaul. But, when it’s not already in place, it changes the way you see it paradigmatically.”

One of the great things about church planting is you get to take fresh look at things and decide what their purpose should be and how that purpose will concretely be accomplished. While there are many advantages to being a part of an established congregation, one of the disadvantages many of us face is that we may have never defined what the purposes of our classes and ministries are and so you never really know if they are being accomplished. So what do you do with Bible class? I want us all to step back and take a look at the big picture here because I believe the paradigm is broken and needs to be shifted to something more effective and relevant.

Old Habits are Hard to Break:
It is hard to honestly and accurately assess something you are extremely close to. Many of us have had the Bible class model drilled into us our whole lives and it is hard to envision anything different. So when we say “Bible class” you have already worked yourself into a corner because we all know how Bible class is supposed to go. So for this particular discussion, let’s throw that word out entirely. I want to work you through an exercise that will hopefully help you shift your paradigm into something that is real and powerful. The purpose here is to change our thinking from title (Bible class) to time (creating opportunities for growth and maturity). Add to that concrete steps of accomplishing those purposes.

Get out a piece of paper and a pen. Write on the top of the paper “60 minutes of opportunity.” Ask yourself this, “What things can I write on this piece of paper that would be essential components to developing and nurturing a healthy relationship with God?” In other words, we are no longer thinking of the thing that happens before or after worship as “Bible class” proper but as a chunk of time dedicated to helping people grow through whatever means necessary. So let’s start thinking through what we write on this page. What activities would it take? How much time would you spend in silence, listening? What scriptures or Bible stories would be relevant? What relevant topics would need to be dealt with? What would never happen during this time? What things would you need to create this environment? How will you make people feel safe to be real and authentic? How might you use scripture and prayer to help people have a conversation with God? What biblical practices and disciplines could be incorporated? What encouragement might people receive? How can you encourage confession and support? What will it take to create a place people feel close to God and to each other? How can you build it so that people can go out from there and know how to continue practicing these things the other 167 hours of the week? How do you put God in the center of it? How do you model dependence on God and the Holy Spirit in a way people can practice it in their daily lives?

So what does your paper look like? What things do you know would be effective but know “that won’t happen here”, why not? This all has to be drenched in prayer. What happens on your list will fly or fail depending on what God knows is best. So we are dependent on God in this process to show us what really needs to happen. I want to mention that this is not saying the Bible is irrelevant and so we need less time in study. The Bible is just as relevant today as it was 100 or 1000 years ago, the delivery systems need adjusting. In fact, I would say this approach is saying the Bible is even more relevant because we are expecting something to happen more than just contemplating “application questions” for five minutes at the end of class.

Last, this means this 60 minute block of time won’t be the same every week. Some weeks you may have a need to slow down and listen. Other weeks, there may be real events that have taken place in people’s lives that God needs praised for or prayed to. Still other times, there will be some scriptures that you need to dive into to teach people biblical principles on areas relevant to their lives.

I am curious to get your feedback on this…what did you write down? How do you see this being more or less relevant than what you are currently doing?

Bible Class – Not Enough Time to Grow Mature Disciples

In my previous post, Bible Class – Throwing Away the Template, Paul wrote,

“One complicating problem is that so many people have such a limited understanding of the Bible, and we only have so many chances to really teach the text. I agree the old template may be flawed, but I do believe there must be a time for serious, reflective study of the Scripture.”

The context of his comment was my post that basically said our template for Bible class is broken and needs to be fixed. That was probably too strong but the point I was making is that often Bible class becomes one more “to do” rather than actually being an environment that encourages growth, authenticity and a real relationship with God. We have all probably felt like Paul at some point and maybe feel that way right now. I know I have many times over. However, I think it is a flawed way of thinking about the problem of and solution to people’s lack of biblical knowledge. I say that lovingly and humbly because I think that view is one that comes out of a sincere love of God’s Word and a desire to teach it. However, we have to be realistic about the need/problem and the solution.

First, we don’t study the Bible to memorize lists of facts. I am not saying that is what Paul meant. I am saying that is often how it approached. That doesn’t mean biblical knowledge is unimportant. It does mean that biblical knowledge is not an end to itself. It points us to a relationship with God that is informed by scripture. Second, people will never study enough in Bible classes (1-2 hours/week) to actually become a mature Christian. It is flawed to think we provide what they need in Bible class once or twice a week.

So what do we do? If we can make them hungry, they will eat. If we get them seeking God, they will find Him. If we provide environments that encourage the relationship they will spend more time with God. Growth has to do with what happens outside the building. What happens inside the building, like in Bible class, is just a catalyst. So I am starting to see Bible class more as a place that launches people to grow during the week rather than the fire hose approach of having a professional teacher fill them with biblical knowledge for the week to come back the next week and do the same. That doesn’t mean we don’t or won’t teach the Bible. It does mean that Bible teaching is going to take us beyond covering a topic or teaching through a book in 13 weeks.

This all boils down to using our time in equipping, launching, and catalyzing growth rather than seeing Bible class as a stand alone spiritual need meter.

I am going to do several more posts that will include details of how to create environments that can stimulate growth through Bible class. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, feedback, criticism (constructive of course!) and questions.

Bible Class – Throwing Away the Template

There is a problem that has been on my mind for a while now. What happens on Sunday is so much different than anything else most Christians have going the rest of the week that I am afraid it often doesn’t actually connect. Also, if we aren’t careful, Sunday can just become one more “to do” in our busy schedules. More on the second one later. Now, addressing the first issue I have decided to throw away the typical Bible class format for a while and try some things that seem to me to be more authentic/real.

Over the last few Sundays we have been trying new things in our 20s & 30s Bible class. The idea has been to throw away everything we have ever come to know Bible class as being and just do what is most meaningful and helpful to real people living real lives. For example, I have come to realize that most people are extremely busy and distracted. The result is a lack of connect with God. So instead of spending 60 minutes talking about how many things they need to do in order to have a less busy, more God-focused life we tried something else. We started with some questions about our lives, our distractions, and our lack of focus on God in our every day lives. We read a couple of verses and I then “gave them permission” to go wherever they like (empty classrooms, outside under a tree, wherever…) that they could spend some time in quiet stillness. Some went outside, some went to other rooms and some went who knows where). When it was all done the consensus was that we needed more time! Here I was afraid the silence might be too awkward for some and yet it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough because it was a need and they could feel that silence was beneficial. I don’t think they would have felt that way had we just talked about our need for stillness. That is just one example. There are many more we could talk about.

Here is my question for you – what would Bible class look like if you threw away your template and asked, “What is the very best use of this time to grow the lives and faith of those in the class?”

How Useful is Giving Out Class, Sermon and Small Group Notes in Advance

A friend recently asked the question of whether or not it would be beneficial to share sermon notes in advance of the sermon or if doing that would be distracting. The only times I have ever given out notes to a sermon in advance is to our lady who does sign language. I talk pretty fast at times and it helps her see where I am going or catch up if she gets behind. So I am not sure how well it would work in a sermon unless it was an outline of the main points.

I do think there is benefit in giving out Bible class and small group lessons to people a few days in advance of the class. Recently I have been providing the small group lessons to the congregation in advance during our current series. I also gave out the Bible class notes to our 20s & 30s class in advance for the last three classes. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea at first but there were a few things that I thought might be beneficial.

  1. When you prepare a lesson you take at least a few hours to put it together, formulate your questions, pull together scriptures, come to your conclusions and then figure out how to communicate it. Then you hit people with some BIG questions that took you hours to wrestle with and expect them to get it and have a sufficient answer within seconds. This is especially true in class and groups. I find myself asking a question that I have thought about for a long time and then only allow them a few seconds to answer it. How can I expect them to come up with an answer faster than it took me to get it?
  2. When you give lessons out in advance people can come prepared. Too often we hit people with random topics and they aren’t ready to hear it, wrestle with it, etc. What results is people know they have to answer with something so they through out an opinion that may not be very well thought out or informed which leads others to throw their opinion in the ring. Now, this is not all bad and much good can come from it. Wouldn’t it be better if people had already thought about all this before they came?
  3. This makes people equals around the table rather, as those who have studied the same material and are ready to learn and grow.
  4. This disconnects the idea that a professional minister does all the work for you, presents it to you, you absorb it and go home. This involves and engages them in the study and makes them active participants.

I don’t really have an idea of how much benefit has come from this but I plan on doing it from time to time in the future, especially if the topic is a more difficult one.


Revitalizing Bible Class – Determining a Better Win

One of the most important lessons I learned from Andy Stanley’s book The Seven Practices of Effective Ministry is that it is crucial for ministries to identify the win for a ministry and communicate that win to those involved. When you do that everyone is on the same page working toward the same goal. Stanley uses a baseball analogy where he says in baseball all the players know what the win is…you have to cross home plate enough times to win the game. The problem in ministry is we don’t always tell people how to get to first base much less second or third or home plate. Just hitting a ball somewhere doesn’t constitute a win. This happens in ministry when the win is not communicated. The deacons, ministry leaders, teachers, staff, elders, all make their own determination of what a win looks like so everyone ends up running in whatever direction they choose.

What is the win in your education program and individual Bible classes? Has it ever been communicated or does each teacher each quarter determine it on their own, most likely based on what they have seen in the past? In my experience the win of most Bible classes is this: have 60 minutes of teaching from the bible or teaching a topic with related scriptures and hope people show up to hear it or participate in it (depending if the format is lecture or discussion). That is just my assumption after having been in Bible classes since I was a baby. I have never heard anyone actually say that is the goal but that is the problem. When no one says what the goal is no one knows how to get their so people make up their own and go with it. Stated or not that is informally communicated by the way Bible classes are set up in many congregations.

Defining and implementing a better win:
Personally I don’t think that is a very good win. It is not up to me to tell you what the win is for you education program and Bible classes. It is for you to think about, pray about, have a meeting with the elders, staff and teachers about and come to a consensus on. Then you have to make the necessary changes in order to create a different result. Those changes will depend on the direction you take but my point is, if you want a better direction it is going to take more than agreement on what the direction is. You have to take action. It has to be visibly different, even if it is just in small ways. Maybe your classes need more obvious application….so you discuss with all your teachers the need to spend the last 5-10 minutes of every single class discussing application and praying over it all. That is just one example. You may also want to communicate that to the congregation so that they can get on board in a more purposeful way.

Here are a few questions that may help you define the win:

  • What is the most important thing that can ever happen in your classes?
  • When have you seen that happen, why?
  • What obstacles do you face to taking a new direction?
  • Which of those obstacles are fixed and which are movable/manageable?
  • Which might be manageable two years from now? (this move may have to come in steps)
  • What adjustments to your ideal vision do you need to make based on the congregation’s maturity and perspective?
  • How many people is it going to take to get this done?
  • How will they be equipped, informed, and empowered to lead in this new way?

None of this changes until someone realizes the win is either poorly defined, not defined, or just too small to accomplish what we hope our classes accomplish.

How would you define the win for your adult education program? What things have you found helpful in having transformational teaching in your classes?