I dreamed about teaching. In my dream, it was the first meeting of a new session of Bible study and my nerves were shot (that part is more reality than dream). As I opened my Bible and shuffled my notes–notes that were, by the way, highlighted and color coded in various shades of neon (definitely more dream than reality)–I grew increasingly panicked because there were no fellow Bible students in attendance excepting a couple of my friends who were busy with some task unrelated to Bible study over in the opposite corner of the room. I checked and rechecked the calendar and my watch, asking my friend each time if the date was correct. Finally I began my lesson, only to then discover I was woefully, desperately ill-prepared. In fact I could not even mutter a complete sentence, as in subject and verb, let alone a sentence that made any sense.
It’s every teacher’s nightmare.
The dream continued as most dreams do with all sorts of random and nonsensical developments, one of which included me frantically gathering spilled goldfish and pretzels from the floor.
I know, I know. WEIRD.
Thankfully it was only a dream. While I have never felt the sort of full fledged, desperate panic of this dream I know well the anxiety of the inadequate and ill prepared. In fact I know it too well.
I’ve taught many a lesson by the skin of my teeth, lessons I knew I hadn’t done justice in terms of preparation and study. And, while I’m keepin’ it real, I’ve also taught lessons puffed up and full of self righteous arrogance. I am ashamed of both.
I’ve learned a lot in the decade-plus I’ve spent in the teacher’s chair, a lot about lesson preparation as well as a lot about myself as a teacher. I’ve never received formal instruction in either homiletics or hermeneutics and any strength or gifting that may come my way in this role is surely and unequivocally the grace of the Lord who calls and equips.
But I want to be better. I want to improve. I want to learn how to craft a lesson well, particularly as my current mode of instruction is lecture. As upside-down as it seems I want to know my inadequacies and faults, not so I can compensate for them necessarily but so I can learn and relearn the humility-producing truth that I need the Lord. As I said, I’ve taught lessons–not all but some–in my own strength. I’d much rather know the strength of the Lord. As difficult as it may be, I know His strength best in my weakness.
It’s out of this desire to be a better teacher that I read Christ-Centered Preaching by Brian Chappell. True confession: I’m a lazy reader. Forget highlighting and underlining and copying down quotes; I just read, straight through. Sometimes this approach is lacking, like in the reading of this particular book. There was so much practical advice that I’d wished, as I don’t often do, that I had been a more diligent reader. One of my goals this summer is to skim back through and take notes for handy reference and future help.
As I said, Christ-Centered Preaching contains much to encourage and edify the humble teacher. Though there were many such paragraphs I could share, the following brought tears to my eyes when I first read it as I considered my calling and the Lord’s gracious gifting. Chappell is writing about the importance of good introductions, a fact that isn’t usually apt to induce weeping (!), but his words on the teacher’s inadequacy and corresponding confidence in the Spirit’s working do my soul good…
Even if your message makes you feel inadequate for its proclamation or you are unprepared for the task, introduce the message without spoken or implied apologies. The outset of a sermon is no time to prejudice a congregation against you, your message, or the potential of the Holy Spirit to work in spite of human weakness. Look directly at your listeners, square your shoulders, take a breath as you pause and pray for the Spirit to work beyond you as well as through you, and then begin–with confidence in his working and his Word.
Yes and amen.