Why Your Teaching Isn't As Effective As You Think by Sharon Hodde Miller
If you are a Christian leader, I want you to take a moment and think about this question:
Whether you write, speak, or preach, what do you hope to accomplish with your teaching?
Now, I'm not talking about the big picture here. Set aside the long game for a minute, and focus on the immediate. When an individual reads your words or hears you speak, what do you hope will happen in that moment? What do you hope will happen in his or her life?
If you're like me, you hope to encourage, to challenge, to produce growth, and to inspire learning. In short, you hope to change. By the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God, you hope to teach.
The problem is, our teaching isn't always as effective as it could be. This is due, in no small part, to a misunderstanding of what teaching is. Too often, teaching is confused with preaching to the choir. Progressive bloggers ranting against conservatives is not teaching. Preachers ranting against the sins "out there," while ignoring the actual sins in their church—that is not teaching. All these leaders are really doing is tickling their listeners' ears and fortifying their already held beliefs.
That's why it's so important for people of influence to pause and ask themselves, "Who do I want to teach?", "What do I want my teaching to accomplish?" and, "Am I teaching in a way that will help me to accomplish it?" If your teaching does not land squarely on the shoulders of your actual audience—the people who actually trust and listen to you—then you are probably failing at the latter.
Among learning theorists there is an idea that, for real learning to take place, a learner must experience a thing called "disequilibration." This term refers to the disorientation of the learner. When a learner hears something that challenges pre-existing knowledge or beliefs, she experiences "disequilibration". This is what happens when young Christians go to college and take their first class in Religion. It is what happens any time an experience does not fit into your pre-existing categories. It disorients you, and it can be scary, but it is in that moment that you learn and grow.
Good teachers seek to disequilibrate their students from time to time. You see this whenever a blogger or teacher capitalizes on the trust they have built with their audience to say something hard or challenging to them. But more importantly, you see this a lot in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus loved to disequilibrate his listeners. Depending on the audience, he over-turned traditional notions about the law, about holiness, and about the Kingdom. Jesus was constantly disequilibrating people.
Jesus' example reminds us that the form of disequilibration will vary depending on the hearer. Saying a "hard truth" to someone who already disagrees with you is not disequilibration. Your opponents expect you to condemn them, so it will come as no surprise.
That said, if you want to teach for transformation, then you need to take seriously who is actually listening to you—or who you want to listen to you—and what kind of disequilibration is required. Challenging those within your sphere of influence will look altogether different from challenging those outside. Your own audience can handle a pointed rebuke, but for your opponents, sometimes the most disequilibrating act of all is to listen, to be charitable and kind.
In fact, if you want to know your effectiveness as a teacher, listen to the feedback of those outside your "camp". Do they feel heard by you? And are they able to hear what you say, even if they ultimately disagree?
Disequilibration is by no means the only way to teach. Jesus asked open-ended questions and issued rebukes, but he also preached the Sermon on the Mount, taught in parables, and used visual illustrations. He always tailored his approach to the audience.
The question you need to ask yourself is, who is your audience? Who has God given you influence over? And what kind of teaching/encouraging/disequilibrating does that particular audience require? Not the people "out there." Not those other Christians who wouldn't read your blog or attend your church in a million years. But the actual people in your actual audience. For those people, how can you teach in a way that transforms their lives, and the world around them?
If you are a Christian leader who labors to be a vessel of transformation, these are the questions you need to ask yourself. These questions not only help us to be effective teachers, but teachers whose methods are essentially Christian.