Finding the balance between active and passive teaching

Each of us has a philosophy of teaching. Some believe that learners should be passive; their role is to listen to a lecture Tightropeand absorb the content we pass along to them. Others of us believe that learners should be actively engaged in the learning process; experience has taught us that people are more focused and they remember and apply lesson truths more readily than do people who are passive in their learning. What’s your philosophy? Do you lean more toward passive or active learning when you lead a Bible study group?

Hebrews 1:1-2 states that God the Father spoke to His people through the prophets, and He did so at various times and in various ways. God is masterful in the way He has communicated with man in the Old Testament, and when Jesus arrived, He continued His Heavenly Father’s creative way of communicating the “content” He wanted to deliver.

As a Bible study group leader, I want to do all I can to mimic God’s communication style. The last thing I want to be is predictable when I teach the Bible. Jesus used a variety of ways to communicate, and you can, too. Sometimes the approach He used was more passive in nature; at other times, Jesus used active learning approaches to engage people in conversation, capture their attention, and shape their thinking. In groups all across the country, well-meaning Bible study leaders repeat the same learning approaches week after week. Their style is predictable, and they stick with teaching methods they prefer, seldom engaging their group members in the Bible study; they’re in a rut!  Jesus didn’t limit Himself when He taught; perhaps you and I shouldn’t, either! Consider these 8 ways the Lord taught others and actively engaged them:
1. Jesus lectured. You might think that lecture is one of the worst ways to teach, but it isn’t. It can be a highly effective way of communicating. Luke 5:1 contains a series of teachings delivered by Jesus to the people, and He used a one-way style of communicating. A monologue isn’t bad…but it should be used when the setting dictates it (i.e. when there is a lot of information to pass along quickly), but it should be used sparingly and in conjunction with more active forms of teaching.
2. Jesus used visuals. Once, when the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus, He stooped down and wrote with His finger in the ground. We aren’t sure what Jesus wrote, but it was seen by all of his opponents (John 8:5b). On another occasion, Jesus called a little child to Himself and took him into His arms, telling His disciples “Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in My name welcomes Me” (Mark 9:36f).
3. Jesus led question and answer discussions. Jesus frequently quizzed His disciples and engaged them in dialog. In Mark 8:27ff, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say I am?” He went on to probe further upon hearing the answers provided by His disciples.
4. Jesus made assignments. Luke 10:1-12 records that Jesus sent out 70 disciples in pairs with an assignment and clear instructions about healing the sick, staying in people’s homes, eating food set before them, and more. What did the disciples learn from this experience? “Even the demons submit to us in Your name” they said (v.17).
5. Jesus used teachable moments. Walking along the road, Jesus overheard his disciples arguing about who was the greatest among them. In Mark 9:33-35, Jesus stopped along the road and called His disciples to His side. It was there he delivered an impromptu correction and informed the mistaken disciples that greatness in His kingdom would result from a life of service to others, placing their needs ahead of their own.
6. Jesus used drama. At the beginning of Passion Week, the Lord rode a donkey into the city of Jerusalem. He used the occasion to make a commentary about Himself and His reason for being in Jerusalem. In Jewish culture, this was known as an enacted midrash.
7. Jesus taught in different locations. Jesus lectured on a hillside, taught from a boat, spoke in synagogues, talked with people at the temple, communicated God’s truth in a living room, and much more. Jesus was also very skilled in taking things from His environment ( fields ready for harvest, for example, or the temple (which he pointed to and said that all of its stones would be torn down)) and turning them into quick object lessons…He was simply alert to the possibilities that the location offered Him.
8. Jesus told compelling stories. In Matthew 13:1-3a, Jesus communicated God’s Word to people through parables. The stories were short, memorable, and easily re-told. Many of His parables are so memorable that you and I heard them years ago as children, but can recall them with amazing detail even today.

The next time you lead a Bible study, remember to incorporate a variety of teaching approaches. Don’t go overboard…your lesson will feel “schizophrenic.” But do begin to use a variety of teaching approaches over time so that you actively engage people in the study of God’s Word.


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