Teaching Tune-Ups

By James M. Rochford

After you master the basics to teaching (see “Teaching Essentials”), spend some time tuning-up your craft with these helpful insights (see Gary Delashmutt’s paper “Homiletics: Do’s and Don’ts”).

Make eye-contact. Eye-contact is a dominate behavior in animals. When we look directly into someone’s eyes, we communicate authority. Instead of staring at the ceiling, floor, or above the heads of your listeners, look directly into their eyes.

Posture and appearance. Shoulders back, chest out, demonstrative hand motions. Don’t slump or cower. Come across relaxed, but take authority. Your clothing shouldn’t be distracting, so be sure to look presentable.

Voice. Louder than usual. When you rehearse, always have your friend sit at the far end of an empty room. This reminds you how much you need to speak up. Change your tone, speed, and volume. Utilize silences without being melodramatic.

Show emotion. Move your eyebrows, smile, squint, show your teeth. It’s okay to get choked up at times, belly laugh, or raise your voice.

Balance heat and light. “Light” refers to the knowledge or content (“teaching”), while “heat” refers to your exhortation and inspiration (“preaching”). Teachings without heat are boring, and teachings without light are manipulative or intimidating. It’s often helpful to ask your colleagues for insight on this.

Speak as a fellow-learner and as a prophet. If we only speak as a prophet, the listener will feel like we’re being self-righteous. If we only speak as a fellow-learner, they don’t feel challenged or inspired. Explain the indicatives and imperatives of your passage to keep balanced here.

Avoid Christianese. “Christianese” is language that only Christians use. If teachers use Christian slang like this, their listeners will do the same. This unnecessarily alienates non-Christian guests. Put the vocabulary of biblical truths into your own words. When you teach, list out synonyms for the Christianese words that you think you might use. For instance, if you’re teaching on sanctification, you might have a word bank that says: “Spiritual growth” “Transformation” “Healing” “Character change.”

Don’t go long. We should be able to teach any passage in 45 minutes. If we can’t, then we should work on being more concise. Remember, this isn’t a seminary class; it’s a homechurch. Edit as much as possible while still keeping your main point intact. The old maxim is still true: “We can forgive BAD, but we can’t forgive LONG!”

Shoot for the “iceberg effect.” Like an iceberg, you allow 10% of your content to be above seen, while 90% is hidden. Often additional points can be brought out during discussion. Leave people wanting more, rather than force-feeding them every detail.

Rehearse your teaching. This helps you to feel comfortable with your content, and sometimes as you rehearse, you see where the holes in your teaching come from. Often this is where you develop some of your best illustrations or remember to add key points you may have forgotten.

Don’t disqualify yourself. Never tell people, “This is my first teaching” or “I’m not a very good speaker.” Instead speak with the authority that you get from Christ.

Don’t make the topic your opinion. Learn to say, “God says…” or “The Bible teaches…” This helps to avoid timidity. A woman once virulently disagreed with a friend of mine who was teaching the Bible. After the teaching, he said, “I honestly didn’t make this up [pulling out the Bible]… You can see it right here for yourself.”

Don’t talk about your prep for the teaching. Instead of saying, “I heard an illustration for this…” just say the illustration.

Don’t radically change your outline 24 hours before you teach. Experienced teachers might do this, but it usually results in panic and confusion for new teachers.