At the end of today’s Sunday School lesson, the teacher apologized that there was so much lecture. I had not really noted the difference until he pointed it out. And yet, I had not been as engaged in the lesson as usual. I had not made my normal verbal contributions.
Reflecting on the experience, I began to think about the major elements of a life-changing Sunday School lesson. All of them assume that a proper amount of prayer and preparation have taken place. I want to challenge you to stop now to think of what those elements are. What elements should every effective lesson contain? When you can name them (or have written them down), continue to the next paragraph.
Over the years, I have seen difference phrases for the three I will share. You might have a preferred term that is different from one of my choices. But I cannot prepare a lesson today without the following three coming to my mind. The following triangular sides are slightly sequential, but they also ebb and flow throughout a good lesson. They should also be balanced. Life-changing lessons include these three sides:
CONNECTION. Connection starts with a relationship with learners, or at least the beginning of one. This side is based upon a growing knowledge of learners and their affinities, needs, spiritual progress, learning styles, and more. Connection is strengthened by spending time with learners outside of class. Connection is addressed in lesson preparation by prayerful consideration of what learners need to do as a result of encountering God in Bible study. It is addressed by considering how to get learners interested. If a teacher does not gain learners’ attention early in the lesson, they are likely to benefit less from the experience. Icebreakers, stories, testimonies, and questions are often used at the beginning and throughout the lesson to create interest in the truth of the passage for the day. Connection presupposes a growing relationship with God in which the teacher has sought a encounter with God in Bible study personally prior to leading the group to do the same. Connection looks for opportunities to get learners to participate in the lesson in meaningful ways. This participation leads to greater connection with God, His Word, each other, and the teacher.
EXAMINATION. Examination involves study of and meditation on God’s Word. This side is listening to God speak through His Word. Examination begins with meeting God in personal Bible study where the teacher listens to and asks God to help him/her personally understand the truth. Then out of the overflow of that personal encounter, examination in the classroom is an exercise in helping learners to do the same. It is helping learners listen to what God is saying for themselves. It is more than a teacher sharing what he/she discovered in studying the lesson–because that is simply a testimony. Instead, examination is made personal. Each person is led to examine God and His Word for himself/herself. As a teacher, I cannot life-change into your life. It is only God in His Word who can do so, and that means that you must encounter God for yourself. So it is the teacher’s responsibility to lead the class in an examination of the passage until learners meet God and the truth of His Word face-to-face.
APPLICATION. God expects change as a result of these encounters. Again, this side begins with a teacher who has an encounter with God in His Word. He/she has listened to what God had to say and realized a need for change in attitude or action. And as a result, he/she makes a commitment to God to be obedient. Then, class time becomes an experience in utilizing connection and examination to lead learners to do the same: to realize the need for change and committing to obey. This depends on those connections (with God and l earners) in order to know how best to help learners apply the truth of God’s Word. This is where learners recognize what God is saying and what it means for their lives. This is where commitment and response are needed. This is also where a good class holds one another accountable to live out the commitments class members make.
Teachers who shortchange the prayer and preparation process tend to create lessons which are distorted triangles rather than balanced ones. They focus too much on connection. Or they skip connection and move right to examination. And very often there is no attempt at application. Many lessons run out of time before application is begun.
In my experience, when one of these three sides is missing, life-change is much less likely to result. Teacher, which of these three sides is your favorite? Which one(s) need a little work in the year ahead? What can you do this week to strengthen that side? What can you do in your prayer and preparation to ensure that there is less distortion and more balance resulting in life-change? Begin practicing now in your personal encounters. Seek to change as a result. And seek to lead life-change. Be revolutionary!