Recently my wife and I spent a Sunday morning serving in the preschool teaching ministry of our church. We normally lead an adult Bible study group, but on one particular Sunday extra help was needed in the 3 year olds classroom. My wife volunteered us, and I’m really glad she did.
We spent two hours teaching preschoolers about Moses, Pharaoh, and the fact that God had a plan for those two men. We helped the children learn that God has a plan for each of them, too. We reviewed the biblical story, marched around the room and left Egypt, and used the home living center and other focal points to reinforce the morning’s teaching. Over the course of the time we spent with these wonderful little people, I learned several things that will change how I lead my adult Bible study group. Here are 3 key things I learned about leading adults from my little preschool “teachers”.
1. Knowing names is very important. Henry and Charlie are brothers. They are different as night and day. Because I had never taught their preschool class before, I accidentally called Charlie “Henry” on two occasions, and he was quick to let me know that his name is Charlie. With a look of exasperation, he repeatedly corrected me when I got it wrong. Everyone likes the sound of their name, and little Charlie didn’t appreciate the fact that I couldn’t keep he and his brother straight in my mind. He expected me to know he is Charlie. No excuses for being incorrect! I finally did get their names right by creating a nemonic (Henry had a full head of curly hair…so he became Henry Hair to me…at least it helped me to keep he and Charlie differentiated!).
Then it occurred to me how important it is to call people by name in my adult group, and to use names often in conversations throughout the Bible study experience. “Phil, thanks for contributing that last thought” and “Leon, I appreciate your faithful attendance” not only reinforce names, people like knowing that you know them. Remember the television series, Cheers? The setting was a pub “where everybody knows your name.” There is something comforting about having a place where people know you and are thankful for your presence. It’s too bad that people come in and out of Bible study groups without group members really knowing them. I’ve made my group members wear stick-on name tags every week since the group began meeting, and we know each other. It also helps guests quickly fit into the group because we are able to call them by their names, too. No more “Hey guy” or “Thanks, brother!” – we can call them by their real name.
2. Flexibility is very important. I had a teaching plan to follow with the preschoolers, one that had been prepared for me by the person in charge of our church’s preschool teaching ministry. It was an easy-to-follow teaching plan that told me exactly what to do throughout the teaching time. The trouble was, though, that what I had to say wasn’t necessarily what the kids wanted to hear! They wanted to talk about their puppies, how a dad snores in his recliner, and the kinds of foods they like (and don’t like) to eat. I realized that although I had a plan, I had to be flexible and find ways to incorporate it into our spontaneous conversations in the learning centers. Playing with Play-dough and rolling it flat became an opportunity to talk about how God’s people ate flat bread because they had to leave Egypt so quickly when Pharaoh finally said “go!”
Sometimes in my adult Bible study group, flexibility is also required. There are days I feel great about the lesson I am going to deliver, only to find out that the group’s needs and interests are different that day. In spite of my best efforts to prepare a group Bible study that is engaging, the Lord is up to something in the lives of my group members that is the real thing they want to discuss. It’s my job to “know when to say when” and go in a different direction at the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Flexibility is very important!
3. I can trust God to use me in His service. Let’s be honest…doing something outside your comfort zone and experience can be nerve-racking. I wasn’t very excited when I first learned that my wife had volunteered us for the double-duty of teaching preschoolers, especially since it had been years since I had done any teaching in a preschool classroom. But guess what? The kids and I related to each other just fine – they liked me and I liked them. I found out that I was able to tell them the Bible story, relate it to other activities during our time together, and teach them effectively. I learned how to referee two disputes related to the possession of certain objects in the classroom! I found out that I actually can be an effective preschool teacher. Did I feel awkward at times? Yes. Did I feel like I wanted to be back with my comfortable adult Bible study group? Yes. But through it all, I learned that I had no need to fear these little people. No need to fear the unknown. God was with me, and He used me to make a difference. I can’t wait for the next time we are asked to help teach in our church’s preschool ministry. I’ll be quick to say yes.
So although I thought I was the teacher, the preschoolers my wife and I taught actually put me in the role of the learner. They taught me 3 important things during our time together. Names are important, flexibility is important, and trusting God is important!