Jump Start # 2931
Matthew 5:2 “And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying,”
I taught a Bible class the other night. I worked up some really great handouts. I thought the material was good and useful. It was a cold, rainy night. The crowd was small and seemed tired. I don’t think I did a good job connecting. I wasn’t upset with the class, but myself. After all these years of preaching, there are still times when I feel like I strike out. Something was missing. I had a hard time sleeping that night. I want people to feel that it’s worth their while to come and that they gain something helpful for their journey. Somewhere between the idea, the development and the delivery things were lost. No one said anything negative. In fact, a couple said they liked the lesson, but I just didn’t feel like it was my best.
I wonder if Jesus ever felt that way. I doubt it. Our verse today is how the Sermon on the Mount begins. At the end of that sermon the crowds marveled. They had never heard anything like what Jesus was saying. Other times people were offended by what Jesus said. And, there is that John six passage where some walked away from Jesus.
Connecting with adults can be hard. I think it’s harder than connecting with kids. Especially on a Wednesday evening, when we have a full day of the world, work and life, it’s a challenge to pull thoughts toward the Scriptures.
Here are some things I learned:
First, not every class and not every sermon is going to be a home run. We want them to be but it just won’t be. Babe Ruth for decades held the record for hitting the most home runs. He also lead the league in striking out the most. In a crowd of people, there are so many different needs and concerns and things going on, while one may be lifted up and helped another might not have gotten much out of that study.
Second, don’t give up. Evaluate where you think you missed it and then do better the next time. If we quit the first time we fell off a bike, we’d never know how to ride. Mistakes, off days, not connecting, just drives us to do better the next time. Consider a different approach. Consider more engagement from the audience. Consider involving more people. Very few of us preachers did a good job the first times we preached. We didn’t quit. We hung in there and preached and preached until we got comfortable and better.
Third, the measurement of how well one does is simply hard to measure. Is it how many participated? Is it how many complimented afterwards? Is it how many shared it on Facebook? What about that disciple that sat quietly, said nothing, but felt that you were talking directly to him? What about that person who saw himself in that passage as you read it? I have run into people who twenty years after I preached a sermon were still talking about it. I had long forgotten that sermon and probably couldn’t find it anymore. But it stuck in their hearts and made a difference. The way we value a class or a sermon shouldn’t be how well it made us feel, but rather how much closer it brought us to the Lord. That sermon may have stuck it to us. It may have made us hang our heads in shame and guilt, but if it led us to changing for the better, then it was a success. Changing lives and bringing people closer to the Lord ought to be the focus of all of our classes and sermons.
Fourth, one never stops trying to improve. That’s one thing I learned from this. I’ve been preaching and teaching for four decades. That’s a ton of sermons and classes. But there are still things I need to do better. The humble teacher will realize that. He will look at how others teach and pick up some pointers. He’ll learn from those younger than he is. He’ll learn from those who are his same age. Never be satisfied with where you are. Always try to do better. Always try to step it up another notch.
It is amazing to me that we do not find Jesus teaching the disciples how to teach. How would Peter, who spent most of his days in a fishing boat know about eye contact, connecting, answering questions and being bold, yet kind? I believe there are two answers to that. First, he saw the best teacher, Jesus. He saw Jesus teach and teach and teach. He saw Jesus one-on-one with some. He saw Jesus before massive crowds. That would have left an impression. Second, the Holy Spirit was helping those first teachers. Through that power and gift, they would have said just the right thing every time. And, from their example, others like Titus, Timothy would have learned how to effectively teach.
Finally, what helps connecting in teaching is connecting in person. I was reading about the early revival preachers in Kentucky. One of the traits that made them so effective was that they were not professionals, but farmers. All they knew was that simple Bible. But they also knew their fellow farmers. They knew what to say and how to say it. When trained clergy from the East arrived, they were shunned. They were out of touch. They spoke words that the frontiersman never understood. Connecting is easier when you know the people.
Another class is calling my attention. Grab that bat and get back in the batter’s box. The great Mickey Mantle was asked how often he thought about hitting a home run. He said, “Every time I come up to bat.”