This is the second article in a five-part series by Prof. Stephen Geiger, who teaches education and New Testament at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, the seminary of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
How many teachers do you have in your Sunday morning Bible study?
Before you start trying to figure out whether you have any grade school or high school or college instructors in your class, let’s agree that every person is a teacher. You have the privilege of holding ultimate responsibility for the teaching that occurs. But you know that the group of Christians with you possesses fine knowledge of Scripture and a storehouse of life experiences.
We are looking at five key characteristics of adult learners. They are self-directed, experienced, task-oriented, problem-solving, and interested in immediate application. The characteristic in focus today? Experienced. Adults are unique in that they have had so many different life experiences. They have been single. Many have gotten married. They have had children. They have gone to college. They have had many jobs. They have suffered tragedy. They have been to many worship services. They have had witnessing opportunities, both pursued and missed. They have sinned. They have been burdened with guilt. They have cried tears. They have found relief. They have been converted. They have been lifelong Christians. They have had more than one pastor. They have lived through war. They have faced ridicule for their faith. The list of life events is almost endless. The only limitation is one’s own memory.
These experiences are treasures to be tapped. But how? How could my teaching of a Sunday morning Bible study be different if I keep this particular trait in mind?
- Increase talk time: Not only do adults have multiple experiences but most enjoy talking about themselves. This can be a symptom of selfishness, but it surely doesn’t have to be. What can be a challenge in Bible study is that there are only so many minutes for people to talk. If everyone has the chance to share a particular life experience, that’s all that will happen—when will we talk about the word of God? One way to permit more to share experiences is to divide the class into smaller groups for a time. Ask a question that taps into adult experience, but then ask groups of 4 to 6 to share those experiences among themselves. After that five-minute activity, you can decide whether it serves the larger purpose to have a few sample experiences shared with the entire group.
- Surrender the floor: Examples from life illustrate truth. Always be ready with one of your own to share before trying this, but consider presenting a concept and then asking if anyone has a good example that illustrates the point. You don’t want this to take a huge amount of time, so discretion in implementing this is key.
- Prep with help: Giving yourself enough lead time will be the critical piece to this puzzle, but if you can pull it off, involve fellow Christians in your Bible study design. You are preparing a Bible study on 1 Peter. Persecution of God’s children is a focus, but you want to be sure you develop questions that get at what is really going on today. Send an e-mail to five of your members. Tell them you’re prepping a Bible study that will touch on persecution. Then write, “To craft better questions, I want to understand the kinds of pressure that Christians are under today. Could you share with me examples of how you personally, or perhaps a family member or friend, have felt pressured or have been ridiculed because of your Christian faith?”
- Question design – Tap the treasure: Craft questions that directly ask adults to talk about their experiences. For example, a recent Bible study on Revelation chapter 2 occurred the week after the 2015 visit of Pope Francis to the United States. After looking at Revelation chapter 2 and its reference to testing those who claim to be apostles, this question was asked: “Have you had any conversations this week regarding the visit of Pope Francis? Share your own impressions of his visit or the impressions that others have shared with you.” Individuals spoke about this within smaller groups, and the buzz was evident. Almost everyone seemed to have something to say. This was real life, and it was also an opportunity to see playing out in real life the very same strength that Jesus saw in the Ephesian Christians. Not much later another question followed: “Describe the sin that concerns Jesus as he thinks about the Ephesian Christians. In what different ways do you find that same temptation challenging you?” That question tapped into adult experience too—when have they seen themselves in danger of “losing their first love”? In many ways, that is the goal of our questions—to help people better understand how the living word of God speaks to their very real, living experiences.
So much can be said about life experience. The writer to the Hebrews encourages, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). Whenever you can tap into such Christian experience, do it!
In next month’s issue — Adults are … Task-oriented