Guidelines for Substitute CT Teachers

Many substitute CT teachers approach CT as if they are merely giving a home church teaching with a PowerPoint added in. In reality, there are major differences between teaching home church and teaching CT. This paper attempts to spell out some of these differences based on mistakes that many of us have made.  Its goal is to raise your awareness of some of these issues so you can be better prepared and have a more positive CT teaching experience.

1. Be seeker-sensitive, aiming for the non-believing skeptic and the newer believer

The non-believing skeptic and the newer believer are the types of people we are aiming for in our CT teachings. When a CT teaching isn’t crafted with this in view, you risk losing your audience because they find the material irrelevant or confusing. You must put yourself in the non-believer’s shoes while preparing your points. We want to answer typical objections non-believers have, and we want to speak to the prevailing world views they typically identify with.

Also, work hard to avoid Christianese and Xenos jargon. Not only does this language cause non-believers to feel left out; it also often reinforces the belief that Christians have their own weird sub-culture. It’s not that Bible teachers intentionally use these words and phrases, but they will use them without realizing it.

2. Keep it short!

Shoot to start on time and teach no longer than 45 minutes for college CT or 35-40 minutes for high school CT. 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, antitheses, analogies, humor, videos, and storytelling rather than jumping from one verse to another without much explanation.

Some teachers also use too many slides, which probably means too much content. It’s preferable to make a few points well than a lot of points poorly.

After the teaching, you should take 2-4 questions and then move quickly to prayer. Don’t worry if people still have their hands up. We 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. Limit the questions and corporate prayer to 10-15 minutes total.  We don’t want people sitting more than an hour.

3. 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. Sometimes substitute 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 the 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.

4. You need to bring more energy and power than is required for teaching home church

Projecting into an auditorium filled with hundreds of people takes a lot more power than a living room filled with 30 people. The microphone alone is not enough to amplify your voice. It must 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 shouldn’t yell, but you should feel like you’re talking louder than you would if you were having a conversation or teaching home church.

You will also need to have strong posture. New teachers tend 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. Women 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). This can also happen when the teacher preaches to the screen instead of people’s 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. New teachers tend 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 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! The same goes for loud shirts with flashy logos or writing.

It can be hard to get people’s attention at the beginning of the teaching. Some teachers try to give an intro before the opening prayer, and it is usually ineffective. Try to get the audience to settle down enough to hear you announce that we are going to pray. That will quiet and focus people. High school CT teachers should just pray to begin the teaching instead of expecting the students to pray.

You will need to preach 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.”  This is important, so marshal your efforts in this direction. Your teaching and preaching will suffer without this aspect. Know that this “hardball” should only be used selectively, though, since being loud for the entire teaching becomes monotone and in the end is just as boring as listening to some who gives a consistently quiet teaching. 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 the side of 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.

5. 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. If you really want to have certain content on a single 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 dark text on a white background it is hard to see on a projected screen and will hurt people’s eyes in a dark room like the ones we use for 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-‘90s.

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.

6. 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 your ally. Actors view stage fright as beneficial to their performance because of the energy they get from it. Nervous energy often turns into positive energy like excitement or emotional engagement once you get on stage to start the teaching. We also find it helpful to pray with others right before the teaching.