What makes a lesson in church remarkably good?
Church lessons are unlike college lectures. I do both often, and this has been n my mind of late. In a lecture, I am mostly disseminating information, teaching what is. In a church lesson, I am mostly working for wisdom instead, hoping to help people put what they already know into new light. In a lecture, I offer what I say mostly on my own authority or sometimes with some backup of logic or published research results. In church, I offer what I say as one possible lens into the words of Lords anointed. In lecture I have a set of learning objectives that I want all the students to reach; in church I instead just want each student to gain something, but I don’t usually care a great deal if they each gain something different. And so on.
Yesterday my lesson in church did not go as I had envisioned. I had carefully reviewed the subject material and had prepared two open-ended questions pulled from the prophet’s words to put people in the right frame of mind, after which I had half a dozen more-or-less stand-alone lesson bits to use as time permitted. But my entire time was consumes in just the two opening questions. Conversation blossomed and we never moved to my prepared lesson ideas. We could probably have spent another thirty minutes on the opening if we had had time.
I was pleased; the conversation was a good one. Others there were also pleased, as manifest in a few of them telling me it was one of the best lessons they had had. One brother told me, in all earnestness, some superlatives about myself as a teacher that were too positive for me to feel it proper to repeat. But really all I did was write a question on the board, field their responses, and repeat with a second question fifteen minutes later. Admittedly, there is some skill in posing a good question and handling comments well, but does having developed that skill make me noteworthy?
My friend Matt, a skilled teacher in his own right, recently shared with me an experience he had where an opening question in an Elders’ quorum lesson become the only part of the lesson the class got to. In his case, though, the class reacted differently: they “became embroiled in a (somewhat bitter) discussion” about controversial and emotionally-charged issues. The difference is not that I can handle a discussion and he can’t (far from it!); rather, the difference was more collaborative, the impact of the particular set of students present in his class.
Sometimes I think what makes the best church lesson is asking the right questions and then getting out of the way. You add in a bit of scripture or a clarifying question now and again, but basically you let the individual devotion of the class members carry the conversation.
Other times I think my success in open lessons is as much luck or divine providence as it is anything else. Clearly some of my fellow quorum members think it is skill, and perhaps that does figure in to it; I spend a lot of time and mental energy thinking about how to teach and how to improve my teaching. But if it is skill, I don’t know what the skill is.
I hope to post a series of ideas herein about what I do know or believe about running a church lesson and see if they sum up to something important.