The Skillful Use of
|How did the son feel as he approached the father near the end of the story? |
How did the father feel?
What was the elder brother feeling?
Abraham offering Isaac.
|What was Abraham thinking as he got up early in the morning to take Isaac to be sacrificed? What was he feeling? |
How do you think he felt when he saw the ram?
Nathan confronts David.
|As he was preparing to talk to David, what was going through Nathan's head? How did he feel as he stepped to the door? |
How do you think David felt when Nathan said those dramatic words, "You are the man."?
Paul's conflict with Barnabas over John Mark?
|Why did Barnabas feel so strongly about keeping John Mark on the team? |
What were Paul's feelings on the matter?
What do you think John Mark felt?
Was this a polite disagreement, or were they really angry? Do you think they raised their voices?
When you ask emotion questions you are not just looking for one answer. Many times we have mixed feelings--that is, we are feeling a variety of things. You might have several in mind and if the group does not name an emotion you might just ask, "Do you think David felt defensive or convicted?" (Maybe both, which makes it a good jump ball question, which we will talk about next.)
So far we have looked at three types of question, can you remember what they are?
When I get into the heart of the lesson, I like to have a good jump ball question. A jump ball question is a question that can legitimately go either way. If I write the question well there will be some who will answer the question one way, while others take the opposite viewpoint. If I do this successfully, I just sit back and let them wrestle it out for a while.
What I am trying to create is a discussion where I am a player, even the most important player, but just a player still. This is very different than many questions that are just a dialogue between the teacher and one student at a time. I am trying to get the students to interact with each other.
Here is an example of a good jump ball questions I have used. If you teach a group, you might want to use this one the next time you are together and see where it goes.
Is Christianity easy or hard?
As far as I am concerned, this question can be answered either way, depending on what you mean. Experience will teach most people to naturally react that it is difficult, and there are verses that point in this direction. But, Jesus said, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:30). In my opinion, Christianity is either easy or impossible. It is like good dancing. It requires discipline and practice. But if you are struggling with it, you are probably losing. It ought to look easy. There ought to be a grace and a poise and a joy in it that makes it easy. This is why the Puritans taught us that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Christianity is at its best when we enjoy it. Yet, it demands everything. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. We must give up everything to be his disciple. So, in a way it is easy and in a way it is hard. That is why this is a good jump ball question.
Sometimes, the trajectory of a jump ball has to be altered slightly, either because you miscalculated the release, or because of the mind set of the group. For example, with the above example, you might have a group that will land completely one way or the other. If this happens, you take the other side.
Suppose they all say, "Christianity is hard." Ask: "What about the verse that says, 'My yoke is easy.' What is the answer according to that verse?" If they all say it is easy, I ask, "Is it always easy for you?"
Sometimes I alter the trajectory just to push the discussion a little farther, or in a new direction. Here is an example of a question I used in two groups, and got completely different reactions. I had to alter the trajectory of the jump ball question in order to create the discussion. In order to launch the jump ball, I had to tell a story:
I was talking to a guy the other day and at a certain point in the conversation I said to him, "You are saying to me that a sinner comes to God and says, 'please help me quit sinning' and God might say to him, 'no'." "That is exactly what I am saying," he replied. Reflect on that for me? Is that true? How could it possibly be true?
After they discussed for a while, I altered the trajectory: "What about with reference to knowing God--could it ever be that someone would come to God and ask to know Him and God would say, "no"?
The point of the first question was to impress the students with the idea that it is possible to come to God and ask him for help in dealing with sin and your motives be all wrong. It may be you have no real interest in God, it is only that sin has become inconvenient. It has messed up your life and you simply want a better life for you. Maybe you have some habit or addiction that has gotten out of control and you want God to do what Weight Watchers or AA could not do. In this case you may not really be interested in God of the kingdom. God becomes a Jeanne, another self-help method. I have turned to tapes and books and they didn't work; I want a better life so I turn to God. God may say, "no".
In a similar way, it is possible to come to God asking him to know him, and the motive be all wrong. Jesus said to Peter, "Peter, do you love me more than these?" (I think he was speaking of the nets, not the other disciples in John 20.) I think that is not just a question for Peter, but for everyman. Jesus points to the various attractions in our life and says, "Do you love me more than these?" It is possible to want to know God because we think that is part of the good life as we define it. The question about Job is also every man's question, "Will Job serve God for nothing?" Will you? Will I? Or do we want to know him for what we will get out of it. There comes a time in every believer's life when he does to us what he did to Abraham when he says, "Take your son, your only son whom you love. . . and sacrifice him."
This is an abbreviation of a 5 minute lecture I would give in class after the mind has been opened with the jump ball question.
Application is the point. As Howard Hendricks says, "We are not out to make smarter sinners, but saints." Application is not something we tack on the end of a good discussion. It is the point of the discussion. In teaching at its best, all roads lead to application. Every question, story, verse, illustration, example, lecture--all of it leads to application.
Application questions are pretty straightforward:
How can we apply this to our lives?
What difference would it make on Monday morning if we knew God?
Specifically, how do we go about enjoying God?
What advice would you give to a friend who did not see himself as the righteousness of God, as II Corinthians 5:20 describes? (People are often better at giving advice to a friend than they are telling exactly how they would do something.)
What specific steps could we take to make this a reality in our day to day lives?
What is one thing you could do for your spouse this week that would demonstrate a servant's heart. Name something you were not already going to do anyway.
The key to good application questions is their specificity. Resist like the plague the temptation to be too grandiose. Talk about specific things they can do this week.
People forget most of what they hear. They even forget a lot of what they see and talk about (though the percentages go down). But we remember a lot of what we do. If you can get the group to do one small thing in application of the truth studied you greatly multiply the chances of them permanently altering their life.
The other side of the application issue is that there is a lot more to being a disciple than doing. There is being, feeling, knowing. If people come to understand that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, wise, immutable, transcendent, holy, loving, kind, etc, it will alter the way they think, feel and live. In fact, you could argue that it would not be possible to really be a maturing disciple without most of our concepts about God being accurate. These are not always easy to apply. The fact that I am thoroughly impressed by the fact that God is holy is important. Application can come later. I just need to understand something about God. We need to relax and not push for application where it is not appropriate. We also need to be aware and push for it every time we can.
Time to review. Let me hold you accountable for what you have learned. How many of the questions we have talked about so far. How many types of questions can you remember?
Open groups--that is, groups that people can walk in on anytime--have an inherent limitation with reference to accountability. In a closed group you can build some discipleship momentum so they know they will be held accountable every week for their quiet time or scripture memory or whatever. It is difficult to do this and be an inviting, including, evangelistic group. Both kinds of groups--accountability and evangelistic--can be used by God in the disciplemaking process.
Still, there can be accountability in open groups. The accountability, however, needs to be short term. If I give an application this week about having the world on our heart and praying for a missionary of a country this week, I need to ask them about it the next. If I challenge the group to memorize one verse this week, I need to hold them accountable the next. People who are new to the group will not feel they have come in on the middle of something. They will realize this is an assignment just given last week, and if they come next week, they will be right up to speed.
Another kind of accountability has to do with beliefs. Say we teach a lesson on the idea that we are to enjoy God (Psalm 37:4; Philippians 3:1, 4:4). I might ask the next week, "Did anyone have any moments this week when you enjoyed God? Tell us about it" Or, more simply, if I teach a lesson on the fatherhood of God, I might ask the following week, "What did we say last week, is God more like a policeman, or a father? Have you had a chance to think about that the last week?"
In addition to accountability in class, the teacher should be pushing for personal accountability between members outside of class. This will be dealt with in more detail in a later section. (p. 134)
Are you up for another review?
Most people are more persuaded by the group than they are the truth. That is why we facetiously ask our kids, "If all your friends jumped in the fire, would you?" The ironic thing we seldom think about is that the answer to that question is "yes" more often than we know. Think about Jonestown. I have a guy in our church that was among the first team of people to go to Guyana and investigate. He explained why the early estimates of the number of dead were so low (about 300 verses about 900). They knew about how many people lived in the commune, yet they did not see that many bodies. They assumed hundreds of them had run away. That is a logical, because we think that is what we would do. We would run into the jungle if someone asks us to drink cyanide laced kool-aid. We forget the pull of the crowd. What they did not realize was that people took the cyanide and laid down on other dead bodies to die, so that the dead were stacked three and four and five deep. There is an incredible power in the influence of the group.
We often think of peer pressure as a teen issue. It is not. Peer pressure effects everyone. The role of the teacher is to capitalize on this fact in the disciplemaking process.
This is why testimonies are so valuable. Consider this, in nearly all Sunday School classes there is a wide variety of maturity represented in the people present. Rather than just telling everyone, for example, that they ought to have a quiet time, why not allow three or four of the people to share their story?
What does it mean to them?
What specifically do they do?
Where do they sit, what time, what are the details?
How did they get started?
Why do they do it?
What are the rewards?
These testimonies will be far more valuable than your persuasion. People are persuaded by their friends. They do what they see their friends doing. In almost any area of application you can ask for testimonies of people who are doing it.
By the way, I have seen testimonies work the other way, and it is disastrous. Suppose a group was holding one another accountable for having a daily quiet time. The leader comes in and asks how the group did this week. One pipes up, "I didn't do so well. Not a single day." "Yeah, I didn't do any better." "Well, I read one day, but I didn't get too much out of it." This teacher is in deep weeds.
What have we learned so far? See if you can recall the seven kinds of questions we can use to teach a group.
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