“Teaching isn’t telling…learning isn’t listening”
Posted on October 23, 2014
By Ken Braddy
One of my favorite heroes in the area of Bible study and teaching was Dr. Howard Hendricks. Although I never sat in one of his classes, I read his books and participated in video training in which he presented ways to be a more effective group leader.
Dr. Hendricks once said, “Teaching isn’t telling … learning isn’t listening.” That simple little phrase became burned into my brain, and I have tried to remember that every time I teach a Bible study group or lead a conference. It is my sincere belief that many Bible study group leaders have approached teaching with a mindset that “teaching is telling…learning is listening.” When a group member doesn’t have to do a lot during the Bible study (other than sit there and listen), then it’s a given that passive learning is taking place.
Dr. Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay Research, coined a new favorite phrase of mine in the book Transformational Groups. He said that what groups needed was not so much a monologue or a dialogue as it was a “groupalogue.” He maintains that learning increases dramatically when people are talking and discussing the Scripture text. He is exactly right.
John Milton Gregory reminds us that active learning is powerful learning in his book The Seven Laws of Teaching. He said that Bible study group leaders should “excite and direct the self-activities of the pupil, and as a rule, tell him nothing he can discover for himself (p.74). He said that “each sense organ is a gateway to the mind of the pupil…the mind attends to that which makes a powerful appeal to the senses” (p.32, ibid).
Think about how Jesus taught (He has been called “the Master Teacher” more than once!). There were occasions on which He lectured. At other times he made assignments (the sending out of the 72 and their subsequent reporting). Sometimes he used objects (like a coin in a fish’s mouth) and at other times he used visuals (he wrote with His finger in the dirt, and pointed the temple as He taught His disciples on the Mount of Olives). He used drama (He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey at the beginning of Passion Week – something that scholars call “an enacted midrash” – a dramatic commentary about his kingship that He acted out). Jesus was also an expert in asking great questions. He frequently turned the tables on His opponents by asking them to respond to a question; at other times He used questions to cause His disciples to think at deeper levels about what He was trying to communicate to them. Jesus’ approach to teaching was active, and so should ours be. Somewhere along the way many of us learned a very one-dimensional way to teach—to lecture—and to pour information into the minds of our group members. But active learning is better learning. It is a style used by our Savior.
I am thankful for the difference active learning is making in the lives of my group members. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to lead a group of adults to actively study God’s Word each week. I never want to bore people as they study the Bible. As Dr. Hendricks said, “If you want to bore people, bore them with Shakespeare … but don’t bore them with the Word of God!”
Ken Braddy is the Manager of Adult Ministry Publishing at LifeWay Christian Resources. He and his wife Tammy live in Murfreesboro, TN.