Spanning The Ages Part 3 - Teaching AdultsThis is Part Three in a series of articles on teaching/preaching to a group which spans the ages from young children to our senior citizens. Parts one and two can be found here: Teaching Children, Teaching Teenagers
In this article, we look at some of the things we need to understand about adults in order to be effective teachers in this age group.
When you are teaching adults, you are doing something which is entirely different from teaching children and teenagers: you are teaching your peers. Because of this, there are some very wise words from scripture that apply (although you may never have thought of these words in this context!) In the Sermon On The Mount, Jesus said, "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you."
Since the adults are your peers, every time you get up to speak, you should ask yourself this question: If I was in the audience, instead of behind the podium, what would I want/expect/need? If you can answer that question for yourself, you will be very much ahead of the game when it comes to teaching others. When I ask this question, I come up with some very basic and simple guidelines.
Don't: Waste My Time
This goes right along with one of the important lessons for teaching teenagers. Your audience is not there simply to be entertained. They are there because they have a hunger for something more than what the world is offering them.
Does this mean you shouldn't try to be funny and entertaining? No, it doesn't mean that. What it does mean is that even your humor should have a point. Don't tell a joke simply for the sake of telling a joke (at least, don't make a habit of doing that!) If you want to be humorous, do your best to make sure that the humor you share helps to drive home your point, or make it more memorable.
In addition, the Don't Waste My Time principle means that you will be well organized and prepared. For myself, there is nothing that drives me up a wall more than a speaker who keeps taking bunny trails that lead nowhere, or keeps repeating himself again and again, because he can't figure out where he is going. Because it drives me up a wall, I'm fairly careful not to do that to others.
Do: Tell Me Something That Matters
Again, this goes back to the quest for meaning. If I'm sitting and listening to a speaker talk for 40 minutes about the doctrine of justification (which certainly does matter!) I don't want to just understand justification, I want to understand why it matters to me.
If I don't understand why it matters to me, then you might as well be speaking about the physical characteristics of the eighth moon orbiting Jupiter.
Do: Be Specific
How many times have I heard a speaker give some broad generality (examples: "You must love your neighbor as yourself", or "You must surrender your life 100% to Jesus!") and then moan and complain because no one is listening, no one is doing it.
The problem is not that people are unwilling to listen and obey; the problem is that they don't understand what it means from day to day. So when you speak in generalities, your audience (quite correctly) recognizes that you have given them an incomplete lesson - you haven't told them the specifics of what that lesson means. So they are still waiting for you to finish your lesson.
Your own personal life can be a big help in being specific. As you have learned lessons in your own life, you have not truly learned them until you have discovered how they make a difference in your own life. So when you are speaking in generalities, you can move from general to specific by saying something like: "When I started to understand this lesson myself, one of the ways I began to put it into practice was..."
The simple, specific illustration or example helps your listener visualize just what you're talking about.
Don't: Berate Me
When you are teaching, you should use what I refer to as my "Optimism Principle". The Optimism Principle comes from I Corinthians 13, which says "Love hopes all things". In other words, when you are teaching, teach with an optimistic assumption - the hope that your listeners will, when clearly shown what is right, respond appropriately.
The beraters are the ones who begin from the pessimistic assumption that the congregation will not respond appropriately.
What happens when you berate your audience? Let's take a specific example (You see? I'm following my own advice about being specific!)
In my church we always find it challenging to come up with enough workers for our children's program (AWANA). Let's say that we've got 120 people in our congregation, and our AWANA program needs 10 adult leaders, and we only have 7 leaders currently working in the program. This means we need 3 more leaders to function effectively.
Now, when I have the opportunity to ask for more volunteers, it is tempting to berate the congregation, saying "How come you people aren't helping out?"
But remember this: the book of Ephesians says that God has fitted us all together. This means that in this congregation of 120 people, there are 3 people that God as groomed and prepared to step into those positions. So if I berate the congregation, I'm actually being completely unreasonable to 117 of the 120 people!
And those remaining three? Well, there's a good chance they were just waiting for the opportunity to serve, but when you berate them for not volunteering, when they didn't even know there was a need, you have turned them off, and increased the odds that they won't volunteer, just because you've implied that they aren't doing what they were supposed to be doing in the first place!
The Golden Rule
Now it is your turn. Ask yourself the question: If I was in the audience, instead of behind the podium, what would I want/expect/need? The answers you give will help form your manner of teaching.
Part Four of this series can be found here: Teaching Senior Citizens
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