Two good (and opposite) ways of teaching

If you study writing, you will learn about two good (and 

opposite) ways of writing. The same ways can be applied to teaching.

Article style: don't bury the lead. Good  articles are written like an inverted pyramid, so that the most  important things are first. If you only read the first two  paragraphs, you get the gist. If you want more detail, keep reading.  It is a good way to teach.

Novel style. A good novel has a twist; it has a  surprise ending. You keep this surprise buried. This too is a good  way to teach.

Test: which style is this article?

Clearly the first. If you don't read any more, you get that there  are two good and opposite ways to teach. Good communicators lean in  one direction or the other, they don't try to do both. It you want  more information, keep reading.

What is the big idea?

My life was forever marked by listening to the fine preaching of  my friend Sam Shaw. He was my pastor for five years and is one of  the best communicators I have ever heard. You wouldn't have to  listen to Sam talk for long before you heard him speak of the big  idea. Every sermon has to have a big idea: a main central truth that  the communicator is trying to communicate. Whether you use the  article style (don't bury the lead) or the novel style (surprise  ending) you need to be clear about the big idea.

I ought be be able to stop you before you walk into class and  ask, "What are you going to teach today?" and in a sentence or two  you ought to be able to give me the central truth that you are  trying to communicate.

I ought to be able to ask any one of your students after class,  "What did you talk about today?" and they should be able to give the  same big idea.

Good teaching has focus. Good teaching has simplicity. Good  teaching has one big idea. Andy Stanley says it this way: less is  more. Here is a Josh Hunt slogan: we teach so little because we try  to teach too much.

Once we have the good idea in place, then we need to decide on  one approach or the other of communicating this big idea. Either  tell them right up front, or, spend much of the hour making them thirst  for the answer. Depending on the content, either approach could  work. You do well to lean one way or the other.

These days, I am using the "don't bury the lead" approach in my  Double seminars. It starts this way:

My goal in this seminar is to infect  you with an idea about doubling groups. Doubling groups are  intriguing to me for two reasons. First, it is so incredibly  possible. All it takes to double a group every two years or less is  for the average group to go from ten to fourteen in a year. That is  40% growth and if you keep that up you can double your class every  two years or less.

Doubling groups are intriguing to me  for a second reason. A group of ten that doubles slightly more  quickly, every eighteen months, will reach a thousand people in ten  years. There is a world-wide movement by which this is happening. I  want to invite you to join God in what God is doing in a world-wide  movement of doubling groups.

If you don't get anything beyond that, you get the big idea. If  you want more information, keep reading.

On the whole, I probably prefer this approach. Simple.  Straightforward. Clear. But, there is another effective (and  opposite) way.

How to make the surprise ending work

It starts with the big idea. I think I said that already.

This big idea is framed in the form of a question:

    • How can an undisciplined person become effective in having a  regular quiet time?
  • How can a shy person help with evangelism?
  • How can we get over really bad hurts and forgive--really  forgive those who have hurt us deeply?

With the question in place, we offer some answers. The order of  these answers is crucial. Save the best for last.

The surprise ending often has to do with a balancing truth. It  leads people into the narrow way. It is easy to fall of one side or  the other. Effective teachers teach balance.

Suppose you are teaching on how to be pleasing to God. Some key  points could be

It takes faith

And without faith it is impossible to  please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he  exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews  11:6 [NIV]

It takes living by the Spirit

Those controlled by the sinful nature  cannot please God. Romans 8:8 [NIV]

It is a gradual process

Note the phrase, "more and more."

Finally, brothers, we instructed you  how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now  we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.  1 Thes. 4:1 [NIV]

Surprise ending:

You already please God. You are His son  or daughter. He loves you. Nothing you could do would make him love  you more. Repent of the idea that if you just behave just so that  you will earn God's approval. He sings over you as a mother singing  lullabies to her baby:

The Lord your God is with you,

he is mighty to save.

He will take great delight in you,

he will quiet you with his love,

he will rejoice over you with singing."

Zeph. 3:17 [NIV]

One more example

Suppose the big idea is all about the developing the Biblical  character of diligence. Here are some key verses:

He who gathers crops in summer is a  wise son,

but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.

Proverbs 10:5 [NIV]

Diligent hands will rule,

but laziness ends in slave labor.

Proverbs 12:24 [NIV]

The lazy man does not roast his game,

but the diligent man prizes his possessions.

Proverbs 12:27 [NIV]

The sluggard craves and gets nothing,

but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.

Proverbs 13:4 [NIV]

All hard work brings a profit,

but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Proverbs 14:23 [NIV]

You spend much of the hour talking about the benefits of hard  work and the cost of laziness. You give examples, ask the group for  examples, read verses, make lists of cost and benefit of working  hard, show a video clip, pound, pound, pound on the idea that we  need to be diligent. Then, you turn a corner. Here is the surprise  ending.

The twist

Don't work too hard:

In vain you rise early

and stay up late,

toiling for food to eat--

for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Psalm 127:2 [NIV]

For some of you, your sin is not laziness, it is drivineness. Work  has become your god. You need to lay down in green pasture or the  Good Shepherd will, as Psalms 23 has it , "Make you lie down."  Sometimes, the most spiritual thing you can do is rest. Resting one  day in seven made it into the the top 10, the 10 Commandments.

What not to do

What I wouldn't do is both of these approaches at once. Give the  big idea right up front, or save it back as a surprise ending, but  don't let it get lost in the middle.

Research on learning suggests we tend to remember two parts of the  talk most: the beginning and the end. Don't let the big idea get  lost in the middle.