Facilitators Can Raise the Bar

During my 40-plus years of teaching experience, I have taught from first grade through college—every grade. And, without question, students at every level have one thing in common: They sometimes don’t do their homework!

I have also often taught adult Sabbath School classes. Again, some class members followed the daily lesson plan. Some studied once—usually on Friday night. But many didn’t study at all.

Now, here’s the tough part: I have attended Sabbath School classes throughout my life. And, again, with much humility, I admit that sometimes I studied regularly—and sometimes I did not. Sorry.

So, with all this experience as both the learned and the learner, I should have some guaranteed methods for motivating people (including myself) to study.

Not really.

Maybe the week simply got away from the busy mom. Just perhaps, he really did misplace his quarterly. Well, you’ve heard all these excuses from others—and maybe others have heard them from you.

The question is: Should these folks feel unwelcome in a Sabbath School class? Of course not. In fact, Sabbath School is for them above all others!

On the other hand, an experienced adult teacher in the adult division should practice specific techniques that might, at best, improve the prospect that members will arrive with an awareness of what the Sabbath School lesson is about. This article’s intent is to encourage Sabbath School teachers to understand and incorporate two beliefs into their teaching philosophy and practice:

  1. 1. Members need to learn how to read the quarterly. That’s methodology.
  2. 2. Members should be motivated to read. That’s ideology.

Learning to Read the Quarterly

Skimming is not reading. The design of the lesson quarterly, however, makes skimming easy: daily divisions, summary titles, questions, quotes. The format is reader-friendly—make that skimmer-friendly. 

So what can a teacher do to train class members to read the text at the deepest possible level?

First, regular facilitators have an advantage. They not only have the current week’s lesson in mind, but also the upcoming lesson. It would serve them well to look ahead at the next lesson and prepare a list of 10 short questions on that topic to hand out at the close of the current lesson study. Everyone can talk over the questions without the teacher giving away any answers. After all, the point is to encourage the class to study!

It’s OK to make the questions a bit ambiguous and somewhat tricky:

  • True-False questions are fun.
  • Opinion questions are challenging.
  • Multiple choice questions are interesting.

Remember: This is a pretest on the upcoming lesson. I’m willing to suggest—quietly—that many members will look ahead in the quarterly during the church service.

The following week, go over the pretest questions as they are introduced in the appropriate places. People will be thrilled to tell you that they guessed right the first time. Or that they found the answers. Or, if they missed an answer, that your question wasn’t clear. Or even that the quarterly is wrong! In any event, healthy conversation will ensue.

This method connects one Sabbath’s lesson to the next and jump-starts the possibility that members will study.

Listen Up!

Another method is to tell members what to listen for in a passage to be read aloud:

  • quotes
  • Scripture
  • descriptive paragraphs

Then you (or someone else) reads the section orally. Afterward, have folks discuss the answer. This works, because it sets up what a person should listen for. The facilitator might even want to read the passage a second time after the discussion, understanding that repetition increases understanding.

Neighbor-Nudging and Setting the Course

After reading a key point in the text, ask people to turn to someone else and discuss the meaning of the passage. This works to get everyone talking, because even a shy member can usually talk to a neighbor, a seatmate. And another little-known benefit: Some people learn what they think when they talk!

The facilitator might find it valuable to tell members to look for news items that pertain to the next lesson. Of course, previewing the lesson becomes mandatory.

One of my co-teachers taught a women’s Bible study that involved five daily lessons of preparation each week. She knew that many women were busy with career and family, so she announced that if they didn’t have time to do all five lessons, they should “be sure to study Lesson Three (as an example), because that section will be our focus next week.”

This teacher was pleased that when a woman came to the Bible study without completing the entire lesson, she had at least done Lesson Three. Announcing that emphasis honored busy schedules, gave the class a heads-up on the focus for next week, and also guaranteed that each woman would at least study something. 

In my opinion, the announcement also preserves the dignity of people who (for one reason or another) do not usually get through an entire lesson study.

Reading to Learn

Perhaps a more crucial concern in the Sabbath School lesson study is that people will actually read to learn. George Santayna wrote: “The wisest mind has something yet to learn” (Laura Moncur, Motivational Quotations, No. 2221).

The primary medium for learning in the current lesson quarterly system is through reading. Kelly Gallagher, author of Deeper Reading, has coined the term “assumicide,” the death of a reading assignment that occurs when it is assumed the reader “possesses enough prior knowledge, connections, and motivation to make higher-level reading possible” (p. 49).

Regular facilitators need to understand the demographics of their class: New Christians? Lifelong Adventists? Retired theologians? English language learners? Young adults? Other?

Gallagher offers this suggestion: “As teachers, we have to shake off any remnants of assumicide by planning framing lessons to address these gaps before our students [i.e., class members] attempt the challenging reading” (p. 50). “Framing lessons” means preteaching and providing beneficial background.

You don’t need to necessarily be thinking Sabbath School Lesson for Dummies, however. While a person might not be an expert in one topic, he will certainly have expertise beyond anyone’s imagination in another. Class members will appreciate facilitators who do their research, anticipate comprehension issues, and demonstrate a desire for all to learn.

A Study of . . .

So, what if a teacher looks at the next lesson and still isn’t sure how to focus? Consider the phrase “a study of.” As the teacher skims the next lesson, he says to himself: I see this as a study of/in (concept). Simply insert a familiar concept that works for that lesson, i.e., grace, faith, trials, witnessing, commitment, unity, self-control. Say to your class, just before dismissal: “We will look at next week’s lesson as ‘a study in’ self-control. Please think about that as you prepare.” While the Bible study may be difficult, “self-control” they understand!

Please notice that I’m talking here about concept—not topic. Daniel 2 has Nebuchadnezzar’s statue as the topic; the concept is God’s sovereignty. Genesis 1 has Creation as the topic; the concept could be design or order. In Exodus 20 the topic is the Ten Commandments; the concept is obedience.

So What?

In Sabbath School classes, facilitators should care that members know how to read the quarterly and also that they learn. The idea isn’t to grow smarter—although they will—but to grow deeper in God’s Word.

For as surely as facilitators have done their part to enhance methodology and nourish ideology, the Holy Spirit will do His part to fine-tune the theology—the part that matters the most anyway.

Eugene Brewer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists