The Value of Collaboration & Team Teaching

PBL2013-classHave you ever co-taught with someone? Five years ago the Spiritual Growth Workshop director asked Donny Dillon, Eric Brown and me to teach a class on outreach to young adults. It was one of my first big tastes of collaboration and I really enjoyed it. Beyond just being an enjoyable experience, I grew a lot from that experience. Since that presentation I have been blessed to use that format on several occasions (like this picture from presenting on reaching and discipling young adults at the Pepperdine Lectures with Charles Kiser & Eric Brown last May) and each time it reminds me of the value of collaboration and sharing multiple perspectives.

When preparation and presentation are done in community it makes things a lot higher quality. You are able to filter out the things that don’t need to be in there and sharpen each other’s thoughts by running it by people with a wider variety of experiences than just one person before it is ever presented. When it is presented, each person sparks thoughts from the other that just happen naturally that wouldn’t take place otherwise. There is great value in hearing a few people who have experience in something publicly talk shop together about a relevant issue.

The reality is, most of our teaching isn’t done in lectureships. It is done on the local/congregational level. With co-teaching and collaborative preparation having the potential to be so effective it makes me wonder why we tend to only use this model when teaching children and rarely use it in adult education. There are mediums of teaching that are highly effective but often avoided often either due to tradition or just lack of considering alternative possibilities. I could see using this approach in a Sunday school education program. It would give teachers a little less prep time as they share the teaching responsibility and improve the quality of teaching as they are able to give each other feedback on past lessons and dialog with each other each week at different points in the lesson.

Last, have you ever thought about how collaborative the work and ministry was in the New Testament? There were a few lone rangers but you don’t run across them very often. I think there is a reason for that. There is power in collaboration in ministry. It makes me wonder even more why we don’t do more team ministry and collaboration in the church. At Northwest we have gone more toward pairs of deacons than stand alone deacons over various areas. When you do that the quality of the work goes up as accountability and support increases and the work load is able to be spread across more people.

Have any of you co-taught or use collaboration in sermon or class preparation? If so, I would love to hear about your experience.


Why I am Teaching On Thanksgiving the Sunday After Thanksgiving

Some time ago Eric Brown mentioned to me something he thought he heard from N.T. Wright…that is that in the Gospels and Acts teaching, discussion, and debriefing usually followed events rather than preceded them. Yet, somehow, we usually teach first and then try to do some kind of application after the teaching. Think about it, let’s say you want to address poverty so you teach a three week series on the poor and finish it off with a canned food drive or handing out lunch bags to the homeless. But what if you did it the other way around? What if you handed out the food and then got everyone together who experienced it to talk about what it was like, what they learned from it, etc? Doesn’t that make so much more sense? So we are going to be discussing thanksgiving after thanksgiving this year because people will be more informed and better prepared to have the conversation after the events rather than before them.

Just a small paradigm tweaker post for you.

Staying Relevant: Six Things to Keep In Mind

I once read that the reason the world is dissatisfied with church is because the church spends too much time answering questions that no one is asking. That one hit me between the eyes. We have to be relevant…no compromising on that one.It is important that the church understands its own relevance in the world. There are a few things that will help us understand and communicate relevantly to a lost and dying world and to Christians who are trying to grow in their relationship with God.

1 – Relevance requires discernment. We have to be able to distinguish minutia from core/foundational teaching. There is a place to discuss minutia, just not every time, all the time and to whoever shows up. There is a place to discuss core/foundational teachings from scripture…the vast majority of our time with those who are willing to listen. Core/foundational teachings are by default relevant…otherwise they wouldn’t be core teachings would they? Now, we can communicate those things terribly and make them appear irrelevant. It takes great effort to do that but I have seen that done and probably done it myself. In the same way, a good communicators can take minutia and present it in such a way that it appears relevant. All that to say…we have to be relevant. In order to do that our agenda must be set with things that are relevant to those who come and my belief is that there is nothing more relevant than teachings that are foundational to Christian faith.

2 – The world doesn’t set the agenda as to what is and is not relevant. One thing we have to remember is that the world will always be the world. The world does not set the agenda for the church. God does through Christ and scripture. So while we have to be relevant to the world (salt and light) we don’t have to set our agendas based on what the world wants to hear. Dead people don’t know the way to new life otherwise they wouldn’t be dead long. That means they don’t always know the right questions to ask. What they might think they need to hear (itching ears) will not always be what they need to hear. They might not know something is relevant to them when it is exactly what they need. That is why Paul said, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18). So we cannot set our agenda based on what the world believes to be relevant.

3 – Relevance is countercultural. The truth is, what we most need to hear is not something we learn naturally. The way of Christ is not something that comes easily or lines up with the rest of the world around us. If we are just communicating things that soothe the world we are neglecting what is most relevant to them. We shouldn’t be countercultural to push envelopes and be edgy for the sake of being edgy. You can get a lot of attention and publicity that way. We have to be countercultural in areas where the world runs counter to God’s kingdom in order to reorient people to God’s way of doing things.

4 – New is not always relevant. One of the things that I drives us to discuss things that aren’t relevant is the search for something new. When you have been in church your whole life you pretty much guess you have heard it all. There is a drive for something new, something fresh…a new way of looking at the same old thing for the 5000th time. Preaching can feel like a burden to take something old and make it sound new or else pull some random story out of the bowels of scripture to shed new light on something (ever read the Prayer of Jabez?).

5 – Creative is not always relevant. That is why book and movie titles (and plots) are so terrible…if you have to come up with a new one after millions of good titles have already been taken, what do you do?  You get creative. The Gospel doesn’t need our help. It doesn’t need our creativity to bring life where there is death. Certainly good communication seems attractive and can be quite powerful in how we experience the message…but what is most important is not all the packaging, wrapping paper and bows. The most important thing is what is inside the package, the core truths that are transformative. Creativity can be a mask for lack of relevant and meaningful content.

6 – Relevance is counterintuitive. The things we most need to hear are often not what we want to hear and run counter to everything else we have ever been taught. That is why Jesus said if you want to save your life you have to lose it, if you humble yourself you will be exalted and just because you aren’t honored by the world doesn’t mean you aren’t invited in as a welcome member of the kingdom of God. If you are worldly you shake your head at these things and deny them. If you have a desire to follow Christ, these things are transforming.

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.

Teaching Forgetable Bible Classes and Redefining Success

The world throws so much data at us that we now forget more than the average person consumed 10-20 years ago. This has a direct impact on our teaching. How many Bible classes do you specifically remember over the last 5-10 years? If your answer is, not very many, it shows us that the goal of Bible class cannot be purely the retaining of data. I don’t think the answer is ever going to be that 100% of what we teach is retained. That is just not possible. I do believe that it is easy to frame this issue in an unrealistic manner and then come to some invalid conclusions. It is impossible to remember everything you have been taught. I studied for hundreds and hundreds of tests in college that I memorized thousands of pages of information for. Ask me questions from my notes and I doubt my % of recall would be all that high. That is not all bad. That is to be expected. The question is, what did that information do to me? If it helped me grow, mature, handle tougher challenges, etc then it was useful.

If we are teaching information for the sake of those in class retaining all of it we will fail. But if we teach toward transformation and spiritual growth, even when the specific details of the information have faded, the effect is still there. So while you don’t remember all the classes you have been a part of in a given congregation there is no doubt that some of those classes have had a profound impact on the way you live, the way you see the world, the way you serve, the way you treat others, etc. It is imperative that the goal of our teaching is not information retention. That is a losing game. But if our goal is transforming the lives of those present one step at a time, success is just that much more attainable.

Toward the end of the Gospel of John, John tells us why he recorded all those events,

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” – John 20:30-31

John says that he wants the reader to understand the information but that is not the end game. He wants that understanding to have a profound impact on the life of the reader by bringing them true life through Jesus Christ. That is transformation. So when you prepare a Bible class, sermon, or small group lesson ask yourself this, “When this lesson is over how will it lead toward one small or large piece of transformation in the lives of those present?” When we start thinking and creating things through that filter we will have more success.

More on information vs. transformation here – The Information to Transformation Shift

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.


Ten Principles for Grooming Future Teachers

The pool of people who are capable of teaching a Bible class with a high degree of skill is getting smaller and smaller. I am not saying that in reflection of those who teach at Northwest. Our teachers do a great job. But the number of people who are interested in teaching and skilled enough to do it well is getting smaller and it is getting harder to fill all of our classes with people who can get the job done.

I have often told our men at Northwest that leaders in the congregation aren’t formed on accident. It takes years of time, attention, experience, and personal spiritual growth for leaders to be formed. Circumstances can find a way to form a leader faster than that but typically that is the case. The same is true with teachers. Not everyone who comes to Bible class was born a teacher. Not everyone should teach (James 3:1). There are some people who have the gift and passion to teach. Others just know how to fill one hour with something or taking something exciting and break it down into minutia. Still others are somewhere between those two extremes. It is important that we get intentional about training people to teach. When I say that I am not just talking about teaching a formal Bible class on Sunday, Wednesday, or in small groups. We need people who know how to teach others about God one-on-one as well.

So what do we do about that? Here are ten principles for grooming future teachers:

  1. Train people – We are fortunate here at Northwest to have the staff to spend time training people. I am seriously considering spending one quarter each year teaching people who to teach. Not every church will have someone on staff to do that. So what then? Start with what you have and the people you have and go from there using some of the following principles.
  2. Inspire people with God’s Word – I hesitate to put someone super boring up to teach a Bible class. I am not saying every teacher needs to be Mr. Enthusiasm but we do want people to see that the Bible can be exciting, relevant, and life changing. That also means even in sermons the text needs to be brought to life in ways that are inspiring, motivating, and life changing.
  3. Teach to make people hungry – We want our Bible classes to make people hungry for God’s Word. When they are they will equip themselves and grow into mature Christians. If we want people to be motivated to teach they have to learn to love the Scriptures.
  4. Avoid default mode – Too often I think we fall into default mode where we know we have four or six or ten classes on Sunday to fill and so we fill them with whoever teaching whatever. Then we wonder why no one wants to teach.
  5. Don’t overwork your teachers – My experience is we also overuse people and don’t let them know there will ever be a break. The best teaching comes from a heart and a mind that is full and rich. When people teach every week for years and years they often experience emptiness places and teach from there. The result of that can be less than inspiring.
  6. Teach for transformation – The best classes are those that challenge you to grow. We don’t just want the text to be taught and people to learn facts, details, lists and genealogies. We want people to grow closer to God and when they can tell that they are they will grow. What is more they also may be inspired to teach.
  7. Line up teachers a year in advance – We often end up filling a class with someone just because the time frame before the class starts is weeks away. Then you get in there whoever will say yes. That is not always a good thing. Schedule teachers a year in advance. Then every three months (or however often you rotate classes) schedule the next quarter a year out. People are also more likely to commit if they have time.
  8. Include your young adults – We have purposefully sent some of our 20s & 30s into the college and youth classes to teach from time to time. They form relationships with those people that makes it easier for them to transition up to the next “level” in ministry. It also gives our young adults a chance to teach and grow in that area without putting them front and center in the auditorium class day 1.
  9. Use two teachers – Using two teachers is a great way to have good teaching and alleviate the concern of some that they may have to be out of town a week or two or three in the quarter but still have coherent teaching taking place. You can also use two to have a dialog over a particular issue or to bounce things around. It can be far more engaging to have two teachers in one class at the same time than to have one guy teaching the whole time. It leaves you wondering what is going to happen next.
  10. Avoid using elders or small group leaders as your Bible class teachers whenever possible – I think we often overwhelm people and have too few people doing too many things. Often things get done half way. Let them do one thing and do it very, very well.

Assumptions and Communication

Assumptions are powerful. What we communicate has everything to do with the assumptions we have about what is going on, who people are, and what people need. Assumptions usually grow and develop based on things being the same or constant for a period of time so that we begin to expect things will always be that way or at least are currently they way they were at some point in the past. Everything we communicate, in classes, sermons, small groups, etc comes through the filter of our assumptions. If we assume people are the same as they were twenty years ago (in their struggles, knowledge of scripture, and worldview) and don’t make adjustments to the way we communicate, don’t keep up with shifts in culture, or aren’t aware of changes in worldview then we assume that our communication is just as effective as it was five, ten, or more years ago. That may not be true. It is important that we evaluate how effectively our message is making the desired impact on the people we are communicating to.

I remember teaching a Bible class several years ago and referencing something about John the Baptist. I made my point and moved on. I didn’t realize until some time later that they weren’t following me at all because they didn’t really know who John the Baptist was, his purpose, or anything else really. I had failed to communicate because I had assumed they knew some things they didn’t know. Someone in their seat twenty years ago would have been with me but they weren’t. Things have changed and so we can’t assume people haven’t changed. The result is we have to adjust the way we communicate.

You see this in ministries that use events as their main way to minister. Maybe it is an event that used to go well but is now struggling or we watch once vibrant Bible classes slide or Sunday morning attendance take a nose dive. It may well be that our assumptions haven’t changed when they should have. It used to be that if you advertised an event or fellowship activity that people would come no matter what and you could fill the place up with very little effort. That is no longer the case. It is easy to assume that if you say we are having a big church wide event that people will just want to come and they will show up so we don’t tell them what to expect or what is happening at the gathering. People don’t come. They don’t come because our assumptions were not adequate to address the people we are trying to connect with,  therefore, our communication missed the mark and the end result was not as effective as it could have been and less people are reached.

This is true in Bible class and preaching as well. Some of what was relevant 5-10+ years ago is still very relevant today but some isn’t. Our culture has undergone change at the most rapid pace the world has ever seen. Has our teaching caught up? Are we still reaching out in relevant ways? Or do we just continue to assume that if it worked in the past it will continue to work? Assumptions are powerful and if we aren’t willing to change them the effectiveness of our communication will suffer.

I want to share a few tips/questions to ask to make sure our assumptions are still accurate. My primary experience with all of this is more through teaching than it is through preaching. So maybe some of you guys who preach on a more regular basis can offer your insights on assumptions in preaching and how to gain effectiveness in that venue.

  1. Is what you are saying in your class/sermon actually making a relevant point? Some times I thought it was until I get in the middle of delivering it and then find out it wasn’t what I thought. It needed to be more relevant. I just hadn’t considered who I was teaching like I should have. Would the lesson have been relevant to someone? Sure. But what is the point if it isn’t relevant to the people who actually showed up?
  2. Are there people in the room that, because of their differences from me, as the communicator, are getting very little from what I have to say? Let’s face it, we all have the things we like to talk about, the scriptures we love, and the approaches that we like to take in communicating our message. But does that leave some people in the dust week in and week out? I am very logical in my approach and I have to be careful with that because I know some people don’t learn as well thinking linearly like I do. How am I going to teach them in the most effective way at least some of the time?
  3. Read and relate to stay relevant – know the culture through reading relevant literature and through having genuine relationships with people from various generations within the congregation. In doing so you will increase your relevance because you will be better connected with what the real issues are in the church and the world.
  4. Go to someone in your class/sermon audience and ask them what they heard you say in the sermon. See if they got the main point.
  5. Listen to yourself – if your class/sermon is recorded go back through it and see if you said what you were trying to say. What worked and what didn’t? I hate doing this and have only done this on a few occasions but it is time well spent in order to refine the communication process for future effectiveness.

What other things have helped you stay relevant in your ministry? What assumptions have you noticed block that process? What tips do you have to make our communication of the Gospel as effective as possible in a culture that is vastly different than the one many of us grew up in.

10 Commandments of Scripture Interpretation

Thanks to Steve Puckett for pointing this one out over at Out of Ur. It is a pretty decent list to at least be familiar with if you preach or teach. Actually, if you preach you should already have somewhat of a handle on these 🙂

10 Commandments of Scripture Interpretation

Learning to Motivate

Pretty frequently Missy asks me how I know different random facts. She thinks I should go on a game show and put my knowledge of useless information to work for our family. Information motivates me. Because it motivates me it is the way I usually try to motivate others. Present the information and people will be motivated to change. But that is not always the case. We are not all motivated by the same things. Some people are motivate more by other things: emotions, humor, reward, etc.

The challenge of motivating others is to go against our natural tendency to motivate others the way we feel most motivated. It is only natural that we typically try to motivate people by the methods and means that motivate us. But that is not always effective. Try motivating an emotion-driven person with cold hard facts and watch your efforts fail to take root. It takes a lot of skill to lay aside our motivators and take up another set of motivators in order to reach as many people as possible or just to reach that one person you happen to be talking with at the time. First, we have to realize that we aren’t all motivated by the same things. Second, we have to realize that although what moves us to action or conviction seems powerful to us, it does not seem that way to everyone. Third, we have to be aware of the content of our Bible classes and make sure to present things in a way that makes use of different motivators.

This post has a problem. Here I have presented some general information. But if you aren’t motivated by that then maybe this post has done little to motivate you to investigate your strategies of motivation. What motivates you the most and why?