By Scott Risley
This paper was written for home group bible teachers who are preparing to teach in a large meeting setting for the first time. In our church we call these meetings “Central Teachings” (or CT). These principles would apply to anyone attempting to teach the bible in a setting larger than a home.
Many first-time CT teachers approach CT as if they are merely giving a home church teaching with a PowerPoint added in. In reality there are some major differences between teaching home church and teaching CT. This attempts to spell out some of these differences based on mistakes that I have made and have seen others make. Its goal is to raise your awareness of some of these issues so you can be better prepared and have a more positive first CT teaching experience.
1. Don’t pick a weird passage
Typically, in home church teaching you are assigned a passage, but when you teach CT you are often free to pick whatever text you would like. Many first-time CT teachers pick an obscure OT passage that no one has ever heard taught at CT before or a problem passage that needs a lot of explanation. Resist this temptation to be novel or unique for your first CT teaching. Just pick something simple. It’s probably best to stick with the New Testament, preferably something you have taught before that received good feedback. This will give you a strong starting point.
2. You need to bring more energy and power than is required for teaching home church
Projecting into an auditorium filled with 300 people takes a lot more power than a living room filled with 30 people. The microphone is not enough to amplify your voice. It has to come from within. Otherwise you will sound like a quiet person talking through a microphone. It comes down to the difference between speaking from the throat and speaking from the diaphragm.
You will also need to have strong posture. New teachers have a tendency to keep their hands and arms in, and to even have a hunched over posture. It’s almost like they are trying to become physically smaller, cowering down. Girls especially tend to do this. You need to keep your shoulders back, your feet apart, and square up and face the audience. Beware of just facing one direction the whole time (often the part of the room where your HC is sitting in!). This can also happen when the teacher preaches to the screen instead of peoples’ faces. You should try to give relatively equal coverage to all sides of the room without pacing back and forth. Try to make eye contact with people in the audience too. New teachers have a tendency to stare over people’s heads or at the screen. It might help to look at their foreheads instead of directly into their eyes. This has the appearance of eye contact but avoids potentially being distracted by their facial expressions.
Wear non-descript clothing. You don’t want people to notice what you are wearing. We all know that you are good looking, but short shorts, low-cut shirts and excessively skinny jeans will distract people from what you want them to focus on! Same goes for loud shirts with flashy logos or writing.
It can be hard to get peoples’ attention at the beginning of the teaching. Some teachers try to give an intro before the opening prayer, and it is usually ineffective. Yell at people and try to get them to settle down enough to hear you announce that we are going to pray. That will quiet and focus people. If you think you will have a hard time with this then get a loud, well known person to introduce you.
You will need to preach in order to bring the kind of conviction necessary for a CT teaching. This means there should be one or two points in your teaching where you come after the audience in an aggressive and convicting way. It should almost feel like anger. This is directly related to your burden for the teaching and usually addresses the audience as “you.” It took me years to even develop a category for this and I think my preaching suffered greatly for it. This “hardball” should only be used selectively though, since being loud for the entire teaching becomes monotone and it will be boring for people. The key is to have full range of voice, building to a peak at important points and then backing off again.
In general, if you feel like you are really going over the top with energy and enthusiasm, then you are probably not even half of where you need to be! Some temperaments need to pull back on having too much enthusiasm (i.e. making every point the most important point). However, we can probably count fifty people who are boring and unenthusiastic for every one person, who errs on bringing too much heat.
If you are worried about Q & A you should consider ending with a discussion question instead of leaving it open for the audience. Either way be sure to finish strong through discussion. Some people feel like they are “finished” once they get to discussion and then get boring. Exude plenty of energy even through the end of your closing prayer. Then you can relax.
3. Don’t go too long
Shoot to start on time and teach for 45 minutes for a college teaching or 35 to 40 minutes for high school CT. No one has ever complained about a teaching being too short, so do not be afraid to land the plane early. Remember the old dictum: Your audience can forgive bad, but they can’t forgive long.
After the teaching you should take 3-5 questions and then move quickly to prayer. Don’t worry about the fact that people still have their hands up. I have seen new teachers give a great teaching and then take more than twenty minutes of questions afterward, leaving everyone bored and looking at the clock.
To avoid going long, consider cutting excess material. Often, new teachers feel that it is imperative to add every conceivable cross reference to their passage. Instead of quoting many passages from all over the Bible, try to stay in your passage and develop the flow of thought. Make sure to pack your teaching with illustrations, analogies, humor, videos, and storytelling, rather than jumping from one verse to another without much explanation.
Some teachers use way too many slides, which causes them to have to rush and to read from their PowerPoint because they have too much material. It’s preferable to make a few points well than a lot of points poorly.
4. Consider some of these guidelines for PowerPoint presentations:
Try not to go below 36 point font. If you can’t fit everything on your slide, just break that up into two slides. It’s impossible to have too little content on a slide. You can make more room by reducing the line spacing to .9 or .85 (highlight your text, then right-click and select “Paragraph…”)
Use white text on a dark background. If you use black text on a white background it is hard to see on a projected screen and will hurt peoples’ eyes in a dark room like CT.
Resist the tendency to be gimmicky. Some people use tons of pictures or crazy fonts and animations. Don’t make your slides look like a web page from the mid-90’s.
Ask an experienced CT teacher to look over your PowerPoint presentation a few days in advance so you can get aesthetic feedback (i.e. yellow on green, faded colors, etc.) along with other feedback on your teaching.
Load up your slide show on the sound booth computer well in advance of your teaching. Some computers use different versions of PowerPoint and different fonts, which might mess up your formatting. You need to leave enough time to fix any errors that occur.
5. Don’t freak out
You will probably feel nervous leading up to your teaching. Don’t worry about this. Take some deep breaths and focus on your identity in Christ. Remind yourself of your value in God’s eyes no matter how you perform. Believe it or not, your nervous energy can be a positive ally. Many actors view stage fright as beneficial to their performance because of the energy they get from it. I’ve found that my nervous energy often turns into positive energy like excitement or emotional engagement once I get up on stage. I also find it helpful to pray with others right before the teaching.