Healthy Leaders


Teaching Adults: The Agony and the Ecstasy

David GoodmanDavid Goodman

Do you ever feel like they aren’t listening? You’re leading a Bible study, teaching a class or maybe even preaching. Within five minutes, eyes grow distant and minds seem elsewhere. And you prepared so well!!

Don’t take it personally. It’s not you. That’s the agony of teaching adults: ever since they discovered learning was no longer going to be fun (perhaps as early as the first or second grade) they have steadfastly refused to give the benefit of the doubt to any teacher. But the ecstasy side more than makes up for it.

Understand that most adults have no desire to go back to “school.” Do a word association with “school” and unless you are working with a valedictorian’s support group, you will find a high number of negative impressions. Remember all those occasions you asked yourself (and maybe your teacher), “Why do I need to know this?” Sometimes you ended up using it, but often …

So where’s the ecstasy? Most adults have developed into tenacious learners of anything they are convinced they need to know. If they know they need it, they will grab it. If you want to see those wheels turning, want to witness someone
in the group grasp a concept in a whole new way – the ecstasy side of teaching adults – then you as a teacher must start by asking yourself, “Can this truth make their lives better or more interesting?” If you can answer with a “yes,” you know you’re dealing with something they need. That will define how you begin any lesson.

Most of us have a short attention span and within no more than five minutes will decide whether we need to keep listening. As a teacher, use those precious first minutes to convince the group what you are about to say or study together is something they really need.

If you are still reading this article, it’s probably because you’re a communicator who wants to get important truth across when you teach. Keeping a group with you for half an hour or more requires more than the initial need to know. Even your most profound point will lead your audience away as they ponder it (while you move on to your next point).

Whether preaching, teaching or leading a Bible study, forget about holding their attention; think in terms of continually regaining their attention. Our minds are too active for any communicator to hold us firmly in their grasp for very long. You must plan ways to get learners back, over and over again. A lesson or message should be a series of quick sprints, not a marathon run. A Bible study must be guided by compelling questions that refocus and propel the group forward. In every case, the need to know will help accomplish this goal.

You might think, what if I can’t identify anything in my lesson the learners need to know? The answer is simple. You have just saved everybody a great deal of time. Now find something they do need to know and go with that.

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