In the first part of the series I laid down Five guidelines. I will repeat them here.
Guideline One: Don’t lecture unless there is no other alternative.
Guideline Two: Six days study cannot be done in 40 minutes.
Guideline Three: Good discussion engages the whole class, leads to learning, and avoids arguing.
Guideline Four: People are used to the other ways and will misbehave. Be prepared for that.
Guideline Five: Expect the class to have studied before they come to class. Proceed accordingly.
In this blog I intend to deal with guidelines two and five. The lesson is structured to be studied over a period of six days. It is unrealistic to think you can get through six-day study in forty minutes. So you must expect the class to have studied before they come to class. Announce these two ideas at the beginning of your class. Something like this: “There is no way we can get through six whole days of study in the time we have allotted. So I’m going to assume that you already done your study. Instead of going through point by point, we want to highlight the central themes, the essence of this lesson.”
If your lesson has practical value, people will remember it and be blessed by it.
This will require some preparation on your part, but if you have agreed to teach the class, you have essentially agreed to take on that responsibility. Here’s how to structure your lesson.
After you’ve gone through the whole lesson personally, pick out what you believe to be the most important points of the lesson. How do you know which are the most important points?
1). Is it a central doctrine? Things like salvation by faith, God’s wonderful grace, God’s interaction with his people, the reliability of Scripture — these and many more.. In my teaching of the book of Revelation, I stress that it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, not the Revelation of the devil’s antics, not a focus on the terrible punishments of the wicked. Revelation is about Christ, so I want to find that in every single lesson.
2). Is it a major theme within the lesson? For example, then lesson on seven Seals, it is important to stress the progressive unsealing of the scroll. Each seal broken reveals another part of the Lamb’s plan to deal with Satan. Don’t get caught up so much in the details that we lose sight of the major point. If this is a major theme for the entire quarter’s study, so much the better. We want the class to end the series of lessons with a sense that they understand the whole topic better.
One key to understanding Revelation is that the book itself has its own narrative. It is not simply blocks of symbols unrelated to each other. The Trumpets, for example are God’s answer to the question posed by the Saints under the altar in ch. 6:10 “They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?'”
When we see the Mighty Angel in ch. 10, whose face is like the sun, and his legs like fiery pillars, holding an open scroll in his hand, the larger narrative helps us understand this. In ch. 1, we saw Jesus whose “face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (v. 16),” and whose feet “were like bronze glowing in a furnace (v. 15),” the identity of the Mighty Angel becomes clearer. And since the Lamb took the sealed scroll (ch. 5:7), and then broke every seal (ch. 6; ch. 8:1), we can easily identify the open scroll in his hand. That’s an example of how remembering the overall narrative of Revelation helps us understand it.
3). Does it provide guidance for living a godly life? I always ask myself the question, “So what good is this on Monday morning, when you have to go back to work, when you have to face the world and all its trials and temptations?” If your lesson has practical value, people will remember it and be blessed by it.
In most cases, you will want 1 to 3 main points. In no case should you have more than 5. This is not an arbitrary number. Scientists tell us that our brains have 7 short term memory slots; give or take 2. In other words, most of us probably have seven, some may have nine, but many have only three. There may be rare cases in which there are more than five points that you want the class to remember. If you do, you should then provide a handout listing those points. But even in that case your main lesson should have no more than five.
The time period will not support more than five, and many of the class will forget two of those anyway. People will have a sense of accomplishment when they can remember the main points of the lesson. They will often tend to feel confused when they cannot.
Generally speaking, if you think you have more than three main points, you almost certainly have sub points — that is, minor points which belong under one of the main points. As we will see, you can also have 1 to 3 sub points under each of your main points. But that those sub points should support, clarify, and reinforce the main point, not compete with it.
This is especially important when the lesson covers a large amount of material. For instance, the recent lesson on the 7 trumpets covered 4 entire chapters of Revelation, including all 7 trumpets (chapters 8 and 9), the Mighty Angel with the scroll (10) and the Two Witnesses (11). You must have an effective outline for that lesson, or it will inevitably trail off in hundreds of details.
Having accomplished all of this will give you a good start on having an excellent lesson.
But then you must deliver. Which leads to the next guideline:
Guideline Six: Know where you’re going, and get there.