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Advice From an Experienced Leader

Advice From an Experienced Leader
Ryan Pazdur

Adult education teachers should know the Lord, their craft, and their students.
Psalm 32:8

Advice From an Experienced Leader

After graduating from Hope College in Holland, Michigan in 1997, Ryan Pazdur served as an intern at Corinth Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan. As part of that experience, he began teaching adult education classes. He stayed on at Corinth through his seminary years, and now serves the church as pastor of congregational life where his duties include equipping new teachers. Lee A. Dean, former associate editor of BuildingChurchLeaders.com, interviewed Pazdur about what goes into making a great teacher.

What are the three most important things a new adult education teacher should keep in mind?
• The goal in teaching is not just information, but transformation. It’s not only about facts, figures and details. Teach in a way that inspires and motivates people.
• Teaching is not just about creativity and effort, but also about dependence on the Lord. That frees you to focus on what you’re called to do and not to do things you can’t do.
• If you don’t enjoy teaching, your people won’t enjoy it either. If you’re not interested or passionate—or at the very least curious about what you’re teaching—people don’t get interested.

How would you advise a new teacher to prepare for a lesson?
Discern your topic and your goal for what you want to teach. It’s about discerning the needs of your people and where God’s creating a hunger. Then decide on a format that matches your material and your goal. To prepare for a single course, lay out your outline, find out how many classes you will teach, how many topics are in each class, and break it down into manageable sessions. Think of good questions, illustrations, PowerPoints, handouts, and videos. Pray every time before you go in to teach.

How can teachers create a welcoming atmosphere in their classroom?
By smiling! This always puts people at ease. Share your personal background. Invite questions. Make sure at the beginning and throughout the class that you always want people to stop you and ask questions. If all else fails, having food on hand is great. This breaks the ice and tells people that it doesn’t have to feel like school.

What should the first class look like?
Set up the big picture of why the students are there. Create a sense that this matters. That’s why I begin with an engaging story or an illustration that communicates the overall message. Be as clear and simple as you can in the first class. Don’t overwhelm them at the beginning. If the class is discussion oriented, give people a chance to know each other. They may not come back because they like you but because they relate to others in the class. That’s okay—you’re not the only teacher in the room. People in the body of Christ learn from each other.

How should teachers balance speaking and listening?
That depends on format and topic. The best thing is to keep a 50-50 balance, which includes discussion and questions. The worst thing you can do is plan to talk the whole time. You have to leave room for questions and discussion. Think of good questions if people don’t have them.

How do you keep discussions on track once they begin to wander?
It’s so easy to let people tell a story that may not relate to anything on the topic. A few people may find the diversion interesting, but the rest of the class wants to hear the material. Sometimes I’ll say, “This is a great topic and we may want to offer a class on this someday.” If not that, I might invite people to continue the discussion after class.

What should a teacher do when someone gives a “wrong” answer or strays into territory that may be heretical?
Keep in mind that people are learning and in process. None of us have 100 percent perfect theology. You have to affirm the person. Nicky Gumbel (developer of the Alpha Course) would say, “That’s interesting. I’ve never heard that before.” That doesn’t mean you agree or disagree, just that you haven’t heard that before. Affirm that they may have a valid point, but bring it to back to, “Have you considered what Scripture says?” Don’t shut down their questions or comments. You can’t shut a person down who is in the process of learning.

What should a teacher say when he or she doesn’t have an answer to a question?
Say, “I don’t know the answer to that. I haven’t thought of that recently.” That’s where humility comes in. Write the question down and say you would like to follow up in next week’s discussion or communicate directly with that person. You’re better off admitting what you don’t know.

How can a teacher measure success?
Get a spouse or a friend whom you trust to be in the class and get their feedback. This person will be your “truth-teller.” I also invite students to share what they learned from the last week at the beginning of each class. That can be scary, but it’s a great opportunity to review. It doesn’t do any good if week after week no one remembers what you’ve taught.
 2008 Christianity Today International/BuildingChurchLeaders.com

The above article, “Advice From an Experienced Leader” was written by Ryan Pazdur. The article was excerpted from BuildingChurchLeaders.com

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”

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