Some college classes have prerequisites. In the church, I think there are prerequisites for teaching; not just the technical qualifications needed, but the attitudes necessary. I find that I teach better when I keep the three following goals fixed in my mind.
First, I want to take people seriously.
I don't want to just entertain or impress people. I want to choose and teach subjects that really matter to people with an eternal destiny.
I think it's terrible stewardship for a class on building Christian relationships to sit around answering questions like, "What's your favorite vegetable?" People are dealing with life-and-death issues, and they don't have time to waste like this. I think we can build nurturing relationships by dealing with significant content that challenges and deepens Christian understanding.
This doesn't mean everything has to be deep and serious. In fact, learning should be fun; it should intrigue. But the subject matter must be worthy of people's time.
Second, I want people to learn and grow as Christians.
My goal isn't to display my learning, to teach creatively, to convey information, or a host of other things. Instead, I want most of all to see changed lives—obedient Christian disciples in the world.
Many years ago while I was teaching a series on Romans, a member of the class said to me, "I love your teaching on Romans. You make it so clear. I really feel like I understand it when I'm with you. I feel dumb when I read it myself at home; I can't make any sense out of it."
She thought she was complimenting me. It was actually a rebuke. She was impressed that I understood Romans. But she didn't. She couldn't read her Bible for herself and make sense out of it.
But I'm not going to be with her when she hits a crisis and needs to know that Romans 8 is God's Word to her, or when she's struggling with the messed up social order and needs to know how a Christian should deal with her environment.
So, when I'm done with a class, I measure my effectiveness as a teacher by answering the question, "Have these people learned more about how to be disciples of Jesus Christ?"
Third, I want people to experience authentic Christian community.
Jesus may call us as individuals, but only so that we might join others in the journey of faith. Discipleship brings about community, not isolation. We not only need to love one another, we really need each other in order to live the Christian life. It's crucial that I help people through my teaching to connect with each other.
When I was on staff at Las Canada Presbyterian Church, a group of women said to me, "We want to do a small group Bible study, but we want more than a series of Bible lessons. Frankly, we get bored and turned off by that."
Since these women were from Hollywood, I agreed that they would need something a little more creative. So I began by asking what was going on in their lives, where they were struggling, how meaningful their prayer lives were, and what they were learning about their faith.
From that I got a fix on their needs and their learning style. Together we designed a study on the Book of Psalms that became a turning point for many of the women.
Not only did they read and meditate on the Psalms, section by section, they also danced, sang, and wrote their own versions of them. They ended up doing a presentation of the Psalms for some other women in the church. They lived in the Psalms in a way that changed their lives.
Earl Palmer, Roberta Hestenes, Howard Hendricks, Mastering Teaching; Knowing What to Teach, and How, pp. 27-29.