One Vital Question that will Transform Your Teaching

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You look out and see glassy eyes. Shoulders drooped. Sagging jaws. Boredom. You’re trying to speak the very words of life, the greatest story ever told, and they look, well, asleep.

Have you been there?

How does this happen? We spend hours preparing. We study the passage. We research the topic. We tell our most interesting stories. And still, we fail to see transformation. If God’s Word changes lives, why do they look so much the same?

Of course, it could be a lot of things—even things outside of our control. Maybe they stayed up too late last night. Maybe they have hard hearts. Maybe they had a fight with their best friend this morning.

But sometimes, it’s on us. Sometimes, no matter how much we study, how many stories we tell, and how many clips from YouTube we use, we fail to connect. We fail to engage. We fail to answer everyone’s most important question: Why should I care?

It’s a deceptively simple question, really. We might brush it aside as the “soft and mushy” part of teaching. We might be tempted to think we’ve already answered it with a good application. Or we might think the sheer weight and brilliance of our presentation is enough to carry students along.

Deep down, we know that none of those things are true. We’ve all sat through sermons or talks that are full of good information, practical application, and witty stories that fail to ultimately engage our hearts. We’ve received the information, filed it accordingly, but felt no stirring at our deepest levels. Why? Because the speaker failed to convince us that we should care—and that is the fundamental job of every teacher or leader.

Answering this question isn’t always easy, or else every teacher would do it every time. But it is possible—and essential. Here are seven strategies that help me:

  • Understand how people are “wired.” The Bible is clear: our heart sits in the driver’s seat of our soul. It’s only when our love changes—when our motivations are engaged—that we change. As teachers, we cannot settle with merely engaging the mind (although the mind is important). We must chase after the heart motivations of people.
  • Spend time on it. I find that I spend about half of my lesson prep time answering this one question. I don’t do it all at once. It’s more fluid than that. But too many of us spend all of our time studying the text, gathering the content, and packaging the delivery. In the process, we fail to consider the hearts of our people. This takes study and preparation as well, and is equally important if we’re going to teach for transformation.
  • Imitate Jesus. Jesus was the master teacher, and he used all sorts of tactics and strategies to engage the hearts of his people. One thing he never did was merely communicate information. Read the Sermon on the Mount, or the Upper Room Discourse, or the parables in Luke, and one thing is clear: He always thought deeply about theWhy should I care? question.
  • Try to figure out why you care. Often, if we can figure out why this topic is important to us, or how this passage impacts our hearts, it will give us insight into the hearts of those around us.
  • Expose a weakness or a problem. Educational theorists call this disequilibration, and Jesus was a master of using it. If we can show students where their understanding of the world or their engagement in the world doesn’t make sense, they’ll suddenly sit up and listen in new ways.
  • Try to see an “old” truth from a new angle. I find the hardest passages and truths to teach are the ones that are best known. Jesus died on the cross? Yawn. Sexual purity? Here we go again. God loves me? Yes, I learned that song when I was three. But we need to teach these truths, and many others, again and again. That means we have to do the work of connecting these to students’ lives in new and compelling ways—ways that make them care.

Why should I care? It’s the difference between transmitting information and teaching for transformation. It’s not a question for them. It’s a question for you. Whether you’re leading a small group, guiding a mission trip, or teaching at a camp this summer, this is the one question that will transform your teaching—and your leadership.

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