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– Well good evening, friends. I’m Steve Layton, and I’m State Missionary with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, and the Lead Strategist for Groups in the Office of Sunday School and Discipleship. And we’re here with Reid Patton, one of our facilitators from Pinnacle Alabama this year, to talk a little bit about how to prepare and present gospel-centered teaching lessons. And Reid, it is tremendous to have you on with us today.
– Good, great to be here, Steve.
– Well thank you. So, Reid and I are kin, if you’re jumping on, Reid is married to our daughter, Kristen, and we love him a lot in our family, and Reid, thank you again, seriously, for coming down to Alabama and working with our leaders. Heard great things, by the way, about the conferences, so we really appreciate you joining us.
– Yeah, there were great leaders there. It was cool to connect with pastors that I don’t interact with from around the state, because I’m up in Tennessee, and it was fun just getting to know people, and hopefully help them.
– Absolutely. So it was your first experience as a leader at Pinnacle Alabama at Shocco this year so, what do you think, what was your take aways?
– Oh I was telling some people that I sat down to eat dinner with, I haven’t been to Shocco Springs since I was probably 13 so, 2000, I mean not 2000, 1997, something like that. It’s probably been a hot minute since I got down there, so, the accommodations were much nicer this time. I could like, I didn’t have to wear like flip-flops around and such, but it was fun just getting to talk to, meet people from places I’ve never been in Alabama. I was born and raised in Alabama but, just got to meet people from all over the state. I enjoyed connecting with the other.
– All right, so we had just a little freeze there. It’s all good. So Reid, you mentioned you were from Alabama, and I know you went to First Hoover, and Hunter Street, Brook Hills, I think those were the churches where you participated in Alabama and worshiped.
– Yeah, I grew up at First Baptist Hoover for a while, and then right about the time I hit middle school, we went to Hunter Street, grew up at Hunter Street for most of my formative years, and then I went to college at UAB, and after UAB, I got married to Steve’s daughter Kristen, and we were a part of The Church at Brook Hills for about five or six years before we got moved up to Tennessee, but I actually got started doing all the stuff I do now there, working, hanging out with John Butterfield, learning from him. He gave me stuff to do, and I did it, and now it’s my job, so. That was a pretty cool story.
– It is, it’s a great story. So you worked for LifeWay, tell us about your work there with LifeWay Resources.
– Yeah, I am a Content Specialist for the Adult Short Term Curriculum Team, so what that short term, as opposed to ongoing, so I work on studies that range anywhere from six to 12 weeks, you may get a 13-weeker in there every now and then, most of those studies have some sort of video element, so we work with generally, fairly well-known pastors, either just throughout the country, or just within the convention. So, get to do different products with that, get to go places, meet pastors, film them, help them communicate their message, and contextualize it for groups, so I edit, and I write, and I plan those studies and that’s, yeah, I’ve been on that team for about the last four years, before that, I did some custom curriculum, where I would do curriculum for individual churches and through a tool that LifeWay has called SmallGroup.com. But I’ve been doing the short term thing for about the last four years, really enjoy it. It seems fruitful, helpful, so, glad to do it.
– We appreciate the resources you provide for us, Reid. And I appreciate the help that you gave so many churches, and the church I was serving there in Tennessee, where we were writing curriculum. And so, we know that some of the churches in Alabama use sermon-based curriculum, and the church where you currently serve, I think you guys in the group you lead, uses a sermon-based curriculum, is that right?
– We do, we do. So the team I used to work for at LifeWay does all the curriculum that we use. I’m a member of Brentwood Baptist Church, but all of our campuses have live preaching, and real pastors that are in front of us and not on a video screen, and so all of our groups, we have some that meet on Sunday mornings but most of them meet on Sunday nights throughout the community. And so, Kristen and I lead a group that meets in our home, that we co-lead with some really good friends of ours, and have for, I mean since we’ve been here, we jumped in doing it. And all of our stuff is sermon-aligned so, that’s what we take, that’s what our pastor, Jay Strother, talks about in the morning, kind of reiterate his points, and then jump off and walk through that together for about two hours. We live in a really great community where childcare is like real, the church is within 15 minutes of anywhere that you are, so we can drop our kids off, have them kept, and fed, and taken care of, and all that, and do groups. It’s kind of a unique situation, but it’s good. But in addition to leading the group, I’ve been able to connect with our discipleship pastor, and I’m what we call a coach, so I have leadership, not just over my group, but over several groups and just help those leaders, and connect with them, pray with them, just get everything, make sure they’ve got everything they need. And I also get the privilege of being able to train our leaders, anytime we have, about once or twice a year, we’ll open up for anybody that wants to go through leader training, and I’m privileged to be able to do that, and been doing that since we moved up here, and really, it’s a really cool thing. I get to meet everybody that’s a prospective leader, so that’s really cool.
– Yeah, I think that that’s been a great tool for you to be able to be a writer, as well as to be able to be a trainer there in the local church, so that uniquely prepared you for what the assignment we asked you to do, and for our conversation tonight. So, we at the State Board, are really trying to engage our pastors, our leaders in Alabama in conversations and connections. And so I wanted to take a few minutes to introduce you, just as a connecting point, we’ll have you back in Alabama again to lead some conferences, and now folks kind of have, by way of introduction, know who you are. This year, we asked you to lead two conferences if you will, two sessions, and you did those, repeated those, and again, we heard great things about those. One was on preparing gospel-centered lessons, and the other one was on presenting. So let’s kind of use that format, Reid. Let’s talk a little bit about preparing gospel-centered, or Christ-centered lessons. And so I’m gonna let you just kind of unpack that conference for us a little bit, and then we want to dilate a little bit, and then we’ll talk about, after we talk about how to prepare these lessons, we’ll talk a little bit about the presentation or how to present these lessons in a group. So let’s start by talking about preparation of gospel-centered lessons.
– Yeah, yeah, that’s great. So yeah kind of the first thing, if we’re talking about gospel-centered lessons, it may be helpful to talk about like, what is a gospel-centered lesson. But, in order to do that, it may be helpful to talk about what it’s not. So all of us have different ways we approach Sunday school, small groups, but the method that I think resonates with the people that I lead, that resonates with me as a teacher is, the gospel-centered approach, and sort of what I mean by that, and this is, what I’m saying comes, I’m adapting from a book by Trevin Wax, it’s a little book that he has that you can get for like seven bucks on Amazon called “Gospel-Centered Teaching,” but, what we’re talking about when we say gospel-centered teaching is that it’s not information, so there’s, a lot of us grew up, I certainly grew up in Sunday school context where the whole point of everything that we’re doing was that I would just know all the things, that I could ace the Bible drill, that I could locate people, places, and things in the Bible, and all of that. That’s content, right, there has to be content for the teaching, so there has to be information, but I think maybe a better way to put it is, not merely information, right? So it’s not just the transfer of information. So another thing it’s not, is it’s not application. Another way to think about that is behavior modification. So I think, there were some people that grew up in an information-heavy setting, and their response to that was just to go the opposite direction. And so like, well we’re not gonna fill your head with stuff, we’re just gonna teach you how to live. Which, that’s great. We need that. You shouldn’t pick up the Bible, or teach the Bible, or interact with it, and not hope to have your life changed, or expect to have your life changed. So application is necessary, but, it can’t just be about that. It has to be about more than information, it has to be more than application, so maybe a better word is, it’s about transformation. So transformation kind of exists at the nexus of those two things, like wherever information and application meet, and life change happens, like that is what, that’s the center of the gospel. So we have to know something about God to believe the gospel, we have to believe that God is who He says He is, and we’re loved the way He says that we’re loved, and that we’ve sinned, the way that His word says that we have, and that we can be redeemed through a relationship with Jesus. And so, that’s the content of the message that we’ve believed, well, the gospel calls for a response. That’s application, you have to respond to it. Your life shouldn’t look different. If your life is not progressively working towards the image of Jesus, we’re kind of missing something. But that happens as the gospel message kind of works its way into our lives. Our immediate past president of the SBC, JD Greear has a saying that, “The gospel isn’t the ABCs of the Christian life, “it’s the A to Z of the Christian life.” So it’s not just the entry point, it’s not the diving board into the pool, it is the pool, like it’s the whole thing that we’re swimming in. So that really only happens when we’re centered on transformation, not just merely the exchange of information or the modification of our behavior. So then, if you’re taking those two things, not information, it’s not behavior modification or application, it’s transformation. So gospels in our teaching, the way I kind of defined it in my sessions at Shacco happens when we situate every passage or topic, so it can be done with kind of just, I’m straight teaching the Bible curriculum, like maybe explore the Bible, or if you’re just teaching, working through a passage yourself, or a topic, if you’re taking a topic like work, or money, or finances, anything like that, so you situate any passage or topic we teach in the bigger story of scripture. And by the bigger story of scripture, I mean the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and its transforming effects on our life. So it’s the whole thing. So if we’re doing gospels in our teaching, it’s going to be taking the approach that, anything we teach, interact with, whether it’s a passage, topic, that we’re connecting those things to the bigger point of the Christian story which is the best story in the world, and allowing that story to shape the way we live our own story, it’s another way to kind of put that.
– Yeah I was thumbing through some of your presentation, and you kind of gave us some points of preparation before we actually came to, really the table of preparing. And you gave us some general reminders about remaining in the scripture, and being in prayer, and being with the people, and that kind of reminded me again, Reid, just of the fact that it’s imperative of the gospel-centered teacher to prepare the heart, to prepare themselves before they actually even begin to prepare to teach.
– Yeah, no I think the saying I say to all of our leaders, and I’m stealing this from, these are lyrics from a song, but it says, “a glass can only spill what it contains.” So, I’ve got this Epcot, I’m a big Disney person, I have an Epcot water bottle here, keeping me from getting my throat too dry, if I knock that over, water is gonna come out of it, because it has water in it. And so, if we’re trying to teach the gospel to people, we should be a people shaped by the gospel, and that can’t happen if you’re not in communion with God through the scriptures, and through prayer, but it also can’t happen if you don’t know people. So you’re not gonna be an effective teacher of any kind, if you don’t spend time with the people that you lead. If they’re not, you know, and I think the old preacher’s saying is like, a shepard ought to smell like sheep, kind of thing, you know? And so if you are trying to lead a group and help them progress towards Christ-likeness, you probably need to know them, and you need to be with them. And so, as you’re reading the scriptures, and as you’re praying, I think those are kind of, I guess like most people assume that that’s a thing that you should be doing, if you’re teaching the Bible. But I think the last one is almost as important, that you know the people that you’re leading, that you’re interacting with, and if those three things are the legs that support the table, like what you’re gonna be more effective as a gospel witness, as a gospel teacher, just because you’ve been with God, and you’ve been with people before you come to the place where you’re ready to teach.
– I love that, and you know, we’ve talked with teachers over all these years, and its sort of that overflow of our time with God, as God’s working in and through us too and as we build in relationships, and getting to know folks, then we can actually teach to meet their needs and disciple them, and help them to move more towards Christ-likeness. I thought it was really a great handle that you provided for our leaders, Reid, when you used three questions in gospel-centered preparation. So tell us a little bit about that model. Tell us about the questions, and how we can use these to prepare to teach gospel-centered lessons.
– Yeah, so once again, this is just stuff that’s in Trevin Wax’s book that I think is really, Trevin is a great guy, a former co-worker of mine at LifeWay, now working for the North American Mission Board, and he has devoted a lot of time to studying this, and I use his questions, ’cause they’re helpful, and they’re memorable.
– And it’s really just three questions, that if you can ask them of, I like them ’cause they can work, if you’re preparing a lesson yourself, so if you’ve just decided that you want to lead a study on finances, or work, or something, or if you have a pre-made curriculum that’s based on something else, you can use it in either setting. The thing I love about his book is, it doesn’t so much focus on the method of what you’re doing, it focuses on the heart of it, and so, if you’re kind of answering these three questions, you can take any passage that you’re interacting with, and you can take any topic that you interact with, and point them to Jesus. And so, those three questions are, what does this passage or topic, sorry, excuse me, where does this passage or topic fit into the bigger picture of scripture? What is distinctly Christian about this passage or topic? And then, how does this topic equip us to live on God’s mission? So, what is this passage or topic? Where does it fit in the big picture? What’s distinctly Christian about it? And how does it equip us to live on God’s mission? So those three things, at Shocco I kind of went through them one at a time.
– Let’s do that for just a few minutes. Let’s just kind of give that 50,000 foot, or 30,000 foot overview of those questions. I thought it was really helpful. So let’s take the first question. Where does the passage fit into the bigger picture, and just talk about that for just a minute. Help us understand, how we address that question.
– Yeah, so going back to the approach of being gospel-centered, the Bible tells one story, right? So it’s the story of, there’s different ways of encapsulating it, but it’s a big story with God in the center. And so, if there’s any place in scripture that you interact with fits in that topic, or fits within that scheme, or if it’s a topic, it’s been shaped by that story. And so really, this is the “read the Bible” portion of it. This is the Bible study-heavy part of it, ’cause you’re gonna want to read the passage, you’re gonna want to pray over it, to read the passages around it several times, ask questions of the passage, you know. You can ask things like, who’s speaking? Who are they speaking to? What kind of text is it? And by that, I mean what genre is it? Is it poetry? Is it prophecy? Is it a narrative? Is Jesus telling a story? Because that’s gonna affect the meaning of what’s being communicated, right? So then the big question that all of us should ask, anytime we try and study the Bible is, what would this have meant to the people who read it?
– You know, the Bible is given in a context. And so, it’s our job as Bible teachers and students of God’s word, rather we’re teaching or not, if we want to determine what it means, we have to determine what it meant to the people who first read it and interacted with it. And so, from there you can distill the kind of main idea of the passage, and the way to kind of figure out where it fits in the bigger picture, is you can look, where else is it taught? You know, most things in the Bible don’t pop up once. They pop up multiple times. If it’s a topic, that’s certainly true. There’s very few things that are only addressed once, or in one way, and so, another quick question to kind of situate it in that bigger picture is, so, something that I took away from my time at Brook Hills is, they were real big on four movements of the Bible. So, creation, fall, redemption, consummation is like a 10 dollar word, you could say restoration, basically the idea that Jesus is gonna come back. The world was good when God made it, we messed it up, Jesus has redeemed it, and then one day, Jesus is gonna come back and we’re all waiting on him. So pretty much any passage that you interact with is going to fit or teach you something about one of those things. You may have to do a little work to figure it out, but, it relates to one of those things. It either relates to the goodness of the way of the world God made it, may relate to the brokenness of what the mess we’ve made out of it. It may point to what Jesus has done and is doing to make all things new, or it may point to, you know, sometimes life’s hard, and we need future hope that one day our troubles and hardships are gonna be no more, and we’re gonna be with Jesus. And so every passage that we kind of hit works through one of those two things, and as we’re figuring out like, where does it fit in the big picture, it’s helping us see, it’s a story in a part of a bigger story.
– Right. Well if we’re going to help people believe and follow Jesus, it’s just so imperative that we know God’s story. We talked a lot about that, and we were able to communicate the gospel story, so by putting it and thinking about it in these four foundations, or four dimensions, if you will, it helps us to remember and know the gospel story. One of the things that I love about the way you teach us how to prepare, is you remind us to start with scripture. And I know a lot of teachers I talk to, tend to pick up the commentary or the lesson first, and it’s so important to pick up the Bible first. I know when I teach teachers, I tell them on Sunday after you’ve taught the lesson, on Sunday afternoon or Monday for sure, you read the passage that you’ll be unpacking with your class, even early in the week, and you know I teach a very simple, read it, read it again, read it slowly, let it begin to marinate, and I think there’s great power in letting the Holy Spirit speak to us through the scripture, as we read it. And then I think you move us, if we read it and then we begin to look around it, and read the scripture around it at that point, then we can start picking up the commentaries, and the lessons, and the tools to help us start get ready.
– Right, I mean something too is, I think we forget that scripture is clear. Like that belief in the clarity of scripture, and all I mean by that is that the central story of scripture is clear. So I have an undergraduate degree in theater, I wound up in ministry, started in theater, but that’s probably an alternative path to get there but, one of my professors was a Shakespeare scholar, and one of the things that she talked about all the time is, if you have difficulty with Shakespeare, read it. Because, you may not understand everything that happens, but you will understand the basic plot. So you may not understand everything that everybody is saying to one another in “Romeo and Juliet,” but you will learn that it’s a story, essentially, about two people who fall in love, and their families don’t like each other. And the same way, like Leviticus is not as clear as Matthew, it’s just not because of the type of writing it is, the time that’s passed, but if you read through the Bible, that central story comes up. You know, Moses said in Deuteronomy 30 that you know, this law is not so high up that you have to climb a mountain to get it, it’s not so far across the ocean that you gotta get in a boat and go over there to get it, but it’s right in front of us, it’s near to us, and it contains the words of life and death. And his point in saying that is, you can understand what I’ve told you to do, you know. There’s a famous philosopher from time ago that said, you know most of us don’t, the reason we avoid reading the Bible is not because we don’t understand it, but because we’re afraid that it will tell us what to do, which presumes that we can understand what the Bible says. So, I just think like sometimes, we don’t give ourselves or the Holy Spirit working in us enough credit, that if you just read and re-read the Bible, the Holy Spirit cares much more than you do that the Bible is communicated faithfully. And he’s glad to use you to do it.
– Absolutely. Now I love that, and I love that fact that you know, LifeWay’s done a lot of research over the past three or four years about indicators of Christ-likeness, discipleship, spiritual growth, spiritual maturity, and the number one indicator that continues to pop up is people who read the Bible, just reading it. And I realize that’s a little bit of aside but, it just supports what you’re saying. In our reading of the word, and because we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we have this power to understand and God illuminates it, so it’s a great, great reminder. So we read, we pray, we allow the Spirit to work in us, we look around the passage, then we begin to look at the commentaries, the lessons that are things that are prepared for us, which sort of leads us into the second question, right? So we start talking about, what’s distinctly Christian about the passage or topic? Unpack that question a little bit for us.
– Yeah, so what I mean or what’s communicative about that question is, you know, we don’t teach the Bible like a rabbi, you know. So if it’s an Old Testament passage, you don’t just teach it like the characters are moral examples. They are, you know. They certainly do provide us an example, but that’s not the primary reason that they’re there. The primary reason that anything is in the Bible, is to point us to Jesus. And so, for example, me and two other guys are actually teaching through the Books of Exodus on Sunday morning, in another group that’s more of a traditional kind of Sunday school class that we’re leading, just to give a place for some parents of high school students to come. So I had the privilege of teaching on Exodus 2, where Moses’s mother puts him in a basket, and puts him in the Nile River. Well, there’s a bunch of stuff in that passage that points to Jesus. It’s a distinctly Christian passage, because it’s in the Bible. So Moses, like Jesus, through waters of death, you know, there’s kind of a death, burial, and resurrection of Moses as he’s floating in the Nile, before he’s discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. He was born at an inopportune time to be a Jew. Jesus was too, so the point of Moses is not, the point of that passage is not the faithfulness of Moses’s mother to do that, or the goodness of Pharaoh’s daughter to pick him up, the point of it is that Moses should point us to Jesus, and the passage should teach us about God. And so, that’s kind of one way to look at it. And then your work, like, work is a popular topic. When I worked for the team that did Custom Curriculum, we got asked to write about work, sex, and finances all the time. And so, all of those things should be shaped by our belief in Jesus. And so, it’s not enough, presumed that our belief in Jesus should change that. So one quick and easy way to do that is, if you take, so we talked about the four parts of the story of scripture, there are really four parts in the gospel too, which are in four words, if you want to be pithy about it, and Baptists like to be pithy, and to the point, and short, so if you’ve got God, man, Christ, response. So, God is holy, we are not, Jesus came because we’re not holy, and need to be in a relationship with God, and He’s provided the means and the mediation for us to do that, and we respond to Him in faith. So every passage of scripture tells us something about that. You know, that to jump back into Exodus, the point of that passage, it tells us about God. God is not really mentioned in those 10 verses all that much but everything that happens, happens under His providential care, because He cares about securing the line of His people, and delivering them from slavery. So He’s really the main character in the whole passage. And so, if you’re taking that, some passages it’s easier than others. Something we talked about, ’cause that’s a thing that might happen is like, well what if it’s an Old Testament passage? Like, what’s distinctly Christian? And I kind of touched on that obviously, by just using the example that’s just fresh in my mind from this past week, but another thing is like, the Book of Leviticus. So, Leviticus has a bunch of weird stuff like, don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk, meaning a kid, being a baby goat. Steve and I were at my nephew’s birthday party with a bunch of baby goats, a couple weeks ago, at a petting zoo at Oak Mountain State Park. But so, when you read that, that’s weird, right? Like, it seems weird to us, but the point of that is, the reason God is, if you do some digging, and you read the passage, what you’ll figure out is the reason that God told His people not to boil a kid in their mother’s milk is because that’s what Pagans do. That’s how they live. And you are to be distinct from them. So when you read the passage, the point of it is not to go, like theoretically, if you wanted to eat goat meat, and prepare it in in like goat milk, I guess you could do that. I don’t know why you would, that’d be weird. But, the point of it is not, don’t do that. The point of it is to be distinct, which I think is a very Christian thing. Like, to live in such a way that the light, the salt and light of Jesus come out of you, so that’s the point of that passage. That’s a weird passage, maybe, that you don’t hear, you probably aren’t gonna hear it in life groups, or groups of any kind. If you’re teaching one, it may not be a natural place to gravitate to, I’m using it as an example to show that it can be done, right.
– Well what I love about what you’re really saying too, and helping us Reid, is that there are a lot of teachers that’ll focus only on the gospels. And when we say gospel-centered, they will think Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and we should focus all of our study there. But I think it’s important for what you’re teaching us, and what we’re learning from this discussion tonight, is the fact that the Old Testament passages point us to Christ, and where we see Christ in His plan and His story in the Old Testament, in the pastoral letters, in the letters, in the writing of Paul. These things are important for us to give attention to, and I appreciate you highlighting the importance of us being balanced between the Testaments, I think that is really, really important. The third question actually was, how does the passage equip us to live on mission? And I love that question, because so many times when we talk about it, we focus on the information and think that boy, it’s a great lesson, we learned a lot, and that’s really, it is important. But God has a bigger plan for us to learn those things, and focus on the mission. Help us understand, when you ask the question, how does the passage topic equip us to live on mission with God, unpack that question for us a little bit.
– Yeah, I mean once again the Bible is not written in a vacuum, like it’s written with everyday people in mind. And so, we should want to obey God’s word. It should shape the way that we do it, but we’re not obeying it just out of the sense that we need to obey, right? We’re not Pharisees. So, like it’s real easy to come away from a passage. So, our church went through the Lord’s Prayer a couple weeks ago. It’s real easy to land that plane and say, you need to pray. That’s what you need to do.
– And that’s a valid application for that, right? Like, that’s why Jesus, Jesus says, when you pray, pray like this. So He assumes that you pray. But, connecting it to mission means that prayer takes place in like a bigger context, right? So we’re not praying just for the sake of praying, to say that we’ve checked off a box. We’re praying to draw an intimacy with God, and see His will and His purpose increased and multiplied throughout the earth, right? Another thing too, like you may hear a sermon or a lesson on 2 Timothy 3 about scripture and what that is. An easy application point is, read the Bible. Anybody can do that, right? Anybody can pick up a Bible and read it. But, we need to go a step further than that. Why? Why would we read the Bible? Something that I shared, I listened to this, I listened to a podcast with Christopher Wright, who is an Old Testament scholar, and kind of a missiologist, and he was, the host of this podcast asked the question, tell me about your background. How did you become a Christian? And he said, well I grew up in a home where the Lord Jesus Christ was loved and worshiped, and I was like, oh that’s great. ‘Cause like, for me, I’m that kid that when I was in school, you told me to read a book, I didn’t read it, ’cause somebody told me to, not because I wasn’t interested in it, but somebody told me to, so I’m not gonna do it. That’s just the little edge I have I guess. So when it comes to the Bible, I can say, read the Bible, but if I’m just reading the Bible to check off a box, or to get information, that’s not a bad thing to do, but it misses the point. But if I am reading the Bible, that question, which was not at all the point of the podcast transformed the way that I see the Bible, so every day when I approach the Bible now it’s, how can what I read here help me love and worship the Lord Jesus Christ more? And so, it’s going beyond just the simple, do this, don’t do this, into connecting it to, I want to love and worship the Lord Jesus Christ more, ’cause I want other people to love and worship the Lord Jesus Christ more. We want His glory to be promoted, and proclaimed, and propagated, frankly, all over the earth. And so, everything that we do should lead us into, so the first question was about the head, and the middle question is kind of like a heart question, so how should my beliefs change? So what action step do I need to take? Like, how am I going out into the world to make the world look more like Jesus?
– Right. I love that question. So we’ve talked about preparation. So, we’ve prepared our hearts, we’ve asked these questions, help us move to actual, from just study to the preparation that’s going to take place to get us from, we’ve spent this time with the text, we’ve spent this time with God, we’ve spent this time preparing our hearts, and preparing the lesson, now get us to actually to the lesson, and then we’ll move on into Sunday morning.
– Yeah, so, you’ve done all this work. You’ve prayed, you’ve studied the scripture, you’re asking these questions of the Bible, you’re trying to figure it out, so the kind of steps that I would take if I were doing it myself is, number one, I would pray again, because if you’re doing a different thing, right? Like you’ve asked the Lord to show you the texts, now you’re asking Him to show you what might be good for the people that are sitting in front of you. He knows them, He knows what they need. If you talk to any pastor, they’ll tell you that there are some times that they go in and they preach a sermon, and they’re gonna give it to this one person that they’ve planned, and then some total other person comes up to them and is like, man that really got me. And you’re sitting there kind of thinking, well, I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to this guy over here, but it’s because the Holy Spirit does what He will with the word, and so, you know we want to pray, we want to pray and see what God would have us to say, ’cause the thing is, is you’re gonna have a lot of information. But like we said, it’s not about the information strictly. So the way that you get there after you’ve prayed, you’re gonna have, if you’re answering those three questions just synthesize, what are some key observations in this? You know. If you’re like I am, a heady person, I have books all behind me, I love reading books. But there are things that I’m gonna learn in my study, in my time alone with the Lord that are interesting, but they’re not necessary to communicate to a group. So our job as a teacher is to differentiate between what’s interesting and what’s necessary. You know. When I used to work on the team that did the more custom content, a lot of that involved me listening to sermons, and it was really obvious to me, as a writer and an editor, outside of the sermon, when the pastor is like really sticking to his text, or when he’s telling me about every article he read in the news, or on the Gospel Coalition blog, or whatever it may be, but that’s because we have to be, we don’t want to communicate everything we’ve learned, ’cause that’s not the point. We’re not trying to impress everybody with all the things that, summarize the main point, and the main points for each section, you know. And then, either, if you’re using a pre-made curriculum, like just look at the questions and see, what’s a logical way to ask them? Like, in what order might you ask them? Do you need to change any of them, based on the people in your group, or maybe something that you saw as you were studying and preparing? You know, I write curriculum all the time, and I think I’m pretty decent at writing questions, but what I don’t know, is I don’t know the people in your group, and there may be a way that you can slightly change, or even change entirely, the phrasing of a question so that it fits better for the person in your group. That’s something I tell our leaders all the time. We’re gonna give you good, faithful, helpful resources, but once again, I don’t know, I don’t know Bob in your group, and what he’s struggling with. And there may be a particular way that if you’re praying, and if you’re in the scriptures, and if you’re with Bob, that it may appeal or apply to him in a different way. There may be something else in it. And so, just take those questions, look at the questions, either that have been prepared for you, or maybe if you’re gonna write some yourself, take them and just organize three or four for each of the sections. I think that would give you the larger scale, we’re talking about 12 questions, and that’s more than enough to occupy 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how long you’re going. You know, I think this past week, my group met for an hour, and I asked five questions.
– Right. And that’s okay, I mean the beauty of that, is that as teachers and leaders, we have to realize that it’s about him and the people that we’re leading, and teaching, and engaging. And it does require some teaching acumen, if you will, some confidence to be able to wait, and to pause, and to allow people to engage, and to be able to encourage them to participate. And we both have taught lessons long enough to know, and taught people long enough to watch that, as that discussion starts, people gain confidence over time, and so I think asking some really, really good questions, and taking that pause. Any advice or wisdom that you might share with those who are watching our conversation tonight, about drafting questions or about utilizing questions, Reid, that you might want us to know?
– Yeah, just a few. I think, once again, like eight to 10 questions is probably enough to fill up an hour, if you ask all of them, but don’t feel like you have to ask all of them. But if you are, I think it’s just, so the people, the brothers and sisters that I work with that work on BSFL, Bible Studies For Life, that curriculum, they start out, every lesson, you may or may not know, has five questions on it. But they start out with like 100 questions. And they write, obviously you don’t, if you’re a Sunday school teacher or group leader, you probably don’t need to write that many. But, what you can do is just write a bunch of questions that come, as you’re looking at the passage or topic, write the question. And then, just anything that comes to mind, and then so much of just writing, period, is refining, so write out a question, and it’s okay if you have to change it. So just write it out, see what it is, and then figure out like, which of these questions are the best, which of these questions can be strengthened. What am I asking? You know, we don’t want to just ask questions that ask somebody to give us facts, or they’re only applicable to one person, and as you’re doing that, you can kind of winnow your questions down to the best stuff that you got. And just read it out loud, that’s a helpful thing to do, so there are sometimes like, you think something looks really good on paper, when you say it out loud, it just doesn’t sound like you intended, and so, I think if you can just focus on, the biggest thing is, does this question go beyond information? Because that can be answered in a word or two. You want the kinds of questions that lead to an open-ended conversation.
– Right. And that is the best use of our time, as far as helping people engage the word. I’ve gotta ask, because just, I know you so well, as you’ve already shared with us, you love to read, and you have great resources, and so, tell me, I’ll read pat and personal questions, what’s some of your favorite resources in preparing, that’s equipped you, a book you’ve read, I know a commentary that you like, give us some of Reid’s top list there.
– Yeah, so a really great book that’s helpful, if I’m a leader, and I’m trying to figure, this is a book that I go over with our leaders. This is called “Grasping God’s Word,” and it’s a very basic like, undergraduate level Bible interpretation textbook. And it has a really memorable method for how to just take any passage of the Bible, and do what we’re talking about. And it’s written like to freshman college students, so I’m assuming most of the teachers that may want to view this are past that point, you know. So they’re not freshmen in college. And so, it’s just a really easy kind of replicable model that’s helpful, so I really like that book. Another thing, if you’re trying to get the big picture story, a really easy thing that maybe you don’t think about, is kid’s Bibles. So “The Jesus Storybook Bible” is written in that way, it’s kind of, it takes that form. There are several Bibles that LifeWay produces that are aligned with the gospel project curriculum, that do the same thing. Those are the Bibles that I read with my daughter every night, we have these Bibles that kind of point out and make those little connections. Perhaps like the teacher and the book that’s impacted my life the most, this is a, I told the people at Shocco, this may be a little bit more than you want to get into, but I still think if you want to stretch yourself a little bit, there’s a guy named Graeme Goldsworthy, and he is a pastor and professor, he’s Australian, an Old Testament guy, but he wrote this book called, “According to the Plan,” and this is kind of the, this is the lay version of an academic book that he wrote. But it’s the unfolding revelation of God in the Bible. So, it’s an introduction to Biblical theology, is the 10 dollar technical word. But then beyond that, like the CSB Study Bible, the ESB Study Bible, they’re really great. Something that I like a lot is the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. That’s a specific, to the Zondervan NIV Study Bible, I like that one, ’cause it’s edited by D.A. Carson. And so there are all these different articles in that Study Bible that take a topic like the temple, and show how it’s woven throughout the whole Bible, so you get this sense of the bigger picture. These commentaries that LifeWay produces, these Christ-centered “Exposition,” these are great. And all of these are sermons that have been transformed into commentaries, and so they’re devotional in character, they’re not heady, they’re not, we’re not spending a lot of time talking about Greek, and Hebrew, and things that are beyond the level or the scope of your average lay person. So I think those are really good. Those are kind of the top of mind ones that I refer to and have impacted me the most.
– Right, so you and I use a digital software product, Logos, and I know we both use that product pretty regular, and so digital resources are good, especially for advanced Bible leaders. One of the things that you helped me learn, Reid, and I appreciate, was the fact that early on in my ministry, I tended to go buy a commentary set, and you reminded me of a resource that said, hey here are some of the best commentaries on this book. And so I began then to buy selected commentaries, which seemed much better use of my money and my resources that I had, so I would encourage teachers, you know, instead of maybe going and buying a full set of commentaries, you might be better off to take that 2- 3- $400 and apply it to a digital resource, or some of the better resources, if you will, and I appreciated you helping me with that. Any other words on preparation?
– I mean, that pretty well covers it, I guess.
– Good, let’s talk just a few minutes, boy our time flies, but let’s talk a little bit about the presentation, so we’ve prepared, and now the Sunday morning, or the event happens, it may happen on campus, off campus, it may happen you know, Sunday at some time or throughout the week, but we have a gathered event happening. You used three questions here also, which were hooks as well, so let’s talk about those and I was trying to remember, so now what, is that right?
– Let’s talk about those a little bit.
– Yeah, what, so what, now what? Before I get in the meat of that, like the basic outline I try and do, is real simple. It’s introduce an idea, get people talking about God, get them talking about themselves, and then, see how we pull it together. If you can do those three things, which is really what the questions are asking, you can get through a lesson. So the first question, the what question, is really what does the Bible say? So this is the part of your lesson that you’re going to unpack that big picture question that we’ve asked in our preparation. It’s the part where you’re gonna present the Bible, give the necessary information. So for example, this past week, we had a small passage in Isaiah 44 that we were talking about in my group on Sunday night. Well, Isaiah 44, if you just jump into the middle of it, it’s good, but it might be helpful to know like, what’s going on, like these people are in exile, and that God has a plan for them, and it’s coming out of the context of that. And so you’re gonna give that information, you’re just gonna ask questions that rely on more inductive things that help people understand the meaning of a passage. Some pitfalls to avoid there, you’re gonna want to avoid asking the, what does this mean to you kind of questions, because the Bible means something.
– You know, and so these are the places where we’re gonna talk about the act so much from just looking at the verses with other people, you know. I had prepared, and I had done all my homework or what have you, to get ready to teach. But, there’s people in my group had insights I didn’t have. And so, asking what does the Bible say, what does it mean, together, just helps us, I’m learning from them, they’re learning from me, and I try not to talk most of the time. I try and get other people involved, and getting them talking, because we all learn from each other, you know. My circumstances are different than other people’s. But the big part of that what, is to answer that question. What’s the Bible say, so we’re all, we’ve established that as the foundation of everything that we’re gonna do.
– And I guess that’s, another just great reminder too that, if we share the passages that we’re going to be studying, if we encourage people to, at least read those passages, and think through that, then they somewhat come prepared to engage in the discussion there, which I think is really, really helpful and important to encourage people, and then to realize that we’re in this learning experience together, you know, it’s not front of room, we used to use the illustration of a triangle and a circle, and some teachers teaches a triangle standing in the front of the room, just sharing information, but effective learning really takes better in a circle, where we’re collaborating and sharing. So I would encourage and remind teachers to try to unpack that “what” question in a circle format, and again, as we shared, don’t be afraid to listen, because it encourages then your learners to engage scripture for themselves, and not depend on us constantly giving them and feeding them that scripture.
– So we talk a little bit about what, and then we go to, now what?
– So what. So what, yeah, so what is, it’s a shortened version of, so what needs to change? So, we’re on the same page, the Bible says this, well what needs to change about my life? So this is kind of a heart, or a motive aspect of discipleship. And so, it’s gonna be more application-based, right. This is where we’re inviting each other, or challenging each other to evaluate our lives in light of what we read in the Bible. So the kind of key, the thing that seemed to resonate with people at Shocco, is that this section should both be encouraging and challenging, ’cause we want people to grow, and we want them to be affirmed, and so, what I mean by that is like, I think a lot of times when we get into this application, part of it, or where we’re asking people to change, sometimes it’s good and right that people need to change. So, giving. If the focus of the passage, or if the topic of the lesson is giving, a good application point might be that somebody needs to give, and they need to be challenged to give, if they’re not giving. If they’re not giving 10% of what the Lord gives them back to Him, they’re disobeying God, and so, they need to be challenged. But, there may be people that give over and above 10%, and those people need to be encouraged and affirmed. They don’t need to feel like they’ve been beat over the head like, we’re not trying to use the Bible as a blunt instrument, right, you know. The Bible’s a two-edged sword, it wounds and it heals. And so it has the power of life and death. And so, there are gonna be people, whatever you’re doing, there are gonna be people, so the lesson that I worked through this past week was, we’re in a sermon series called God is, and the lesson was that God is redeemer. And so like people need to be encouraged that God can, and will, and desires to redeem them. But they also might need to be challenged that they may not be trusting Him. They may be trusting some other thing, which the Bible calls an idol, and so both of those people are sitting next to each other in your group, in my group, and so you want to do both. You can’t just leave, for it to be balanced, you kind of want to hit both sides of that coin.
– I love that balanced approach, and one of the things I think, Reid, and I don’t want to chase the rabbit too far, nor let us get too far afield, but I think it goes back to what we were talking about, and that’s knowing our people, that God’s entrusted into our groups, and building rapport with them outside that group gathering experience so that we can, with confidence, be able to encourage them, and know where to encourage them, and know how to encourage them. And I think there are times that I’ve even observed you as a teacher, there are times where God’s called you to take someone aside, and have a conversation, or God’s called you to take someone aside and encourage them along the way. And I think it’s important for us, as Bible teachers and leaders, to realize that, that event, that teaching His word in deed, it takes place gathered and scattered, which is real important, not only to just the third question and that’s the “now what” question.
– Yeah so it’s, now what should we do in response, you know, like that’s kind of, like at the end of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, so like well now what are we gonna do? Like, repent and be baptized. But that’s kind of where we’re wanting to figure out like, what are those action points? You know, so if the last section, it’s differentiated from the last section, in that you want to be, there’s movement, you know. There’s physical movement, or there’s some sort of life change, whereas the other one is heart change, so you may realize your need to give, but realizing your need to give, and then not giving is missing the point. You have to realize your need to give, and then actually give.
– If it’s about work, and you know, you realize, oh I’m not giving God my best every day at work, or it’s one thing to know that, it’s another thing to do something about it. But so these questions, this section, you’re gonna want to help people become practical about. So we’ve done a lot of, we understand what it says, we thought a lot about like what it should do in our heart, but we’ve got to go out into the world and live, you know. People are in your class for one hour a week at best. You know, they’re doing a lot of living outside of it. And the point is, is we’re trying to prepare people, and ourselves as well, to live the rest of our waking hours in light of what we’re bringing to the table, and to bring to bear in our lives through the scriptures, in a group or in church, you know. That’s the struggle of every pastor, or every group leader. And so it’s important to ground that motivation in the gospel, rather than just a behavior, you know. We’re doing this because ultimately, we want God to receive the glory and the honor of our lives, and we want people to look at our lives and say like, oh these people have been with Jesus. And you know, that’s the thing that happens in Acts 2. In Acts 2:42-47, at the end of that, the church multiplies, and it multiplies because there’s a community surrounding them, and they say like, oh, like there’s something different about these people.
– You know, I want to be like those people. Well the thing that’s different about those people is that they’ve been with Jesus.
– That’s exactly right. So Reid, I did not prepare you for this question, and you know every now and then I have one of those. I’m gonna ask you just kind of an unscripted question. For those who are watching, I think it will be helpful. Sunday, I know you teach a Sunday evening group, you’ve already mentioned you teach a Sunday morning group also right now. Tell me just what does your group experience look like in realizing that, you teach a life group, so you use a life group format, use sermon-based curriculum, which means it’s a conversationally, it is driven through conversations, we’ve already talked about. Give us a brief, I mean, what I really am looking for is, what does a flow of that gathering look like?
– Yeah, so and this is just our rhythm and I would say to whoever is listening, take what’s helpful, throw out what’s not. Our circumstances are kind of unique in that, we’ve got a church that can keep some kids, and so we have a little bit more time than maybe some groups. We meet for two hours. About 45 minutes to an hour of that time is real intentional Bible study. But, so what happens is people show up at our house, we share a meal, we kind of get on an email and delegate who’s making what, and who’s doing what, or bringing what. And so we share a meal, but the way that we do that, is we separate men and women, so generally the women get the best seats, so my wife and all of her girlfriends get to eat at our kitchen table, and me and all my dude friends go upstairs and eat in the bonus room, and while we’re eating, that’s where we share prayer requests, like hey, we call ’em, basically we say give us something good, give us something bad, you know. Like, what’s going really well for you, what, maybe it’s not going bad, but you could use a little extra support here? And so just go around in a circle and kind of go over that. The reason that we do it that way, as my wife will tell you, that women don’t want to share about their doctors appointments in front of men, and so we find that it kind of, we’ve got a couple single ladies in our group, in addition to some families, young families that are in our stage of life. And so, we do that for, you know, we get our food set up, and we’re doing all that, and then we come together, and when we get, we basically form a big circle in my living room, there’s generally about 12 of us here. And we will just go through any kind of announcements that we might have, like hey we’re not meeting next week, or this, you know, all the stuff that you want to do to just get people on the same page logistically. And then, we read the Bible, and I have basically, as I listen to the sermon on Sunday morning, I write a series of questions on my iPad. And then I spend some time, sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes more than that in the afternoon, refining those questions and making them better, and kind of figuring out like, well what do I want to talk to these people about? And we just ask as many questions as we get through. And sometimes we get through one, sometimes we have time at the end, you know. ‘Cause we’ve kind of blazed through all of them. And that’s okay. It’s just, I try and be flexible to the needs, and so then we pray together, and we’re done, and we go get our kids. But we also try and, like I went out to dinner with people from our group a couple days ago. We try and be in a more than Sunday type communion with the people that are in our group. We co-lead with another couple, so that’s helpful. They can kind of take some of that burden off of us, and they’re available to host too, so. But yeah, we have a really interesting group. We started a new group this semester, so all these people are new to us, and the Lord just brought kind of a diverse group of people together, and it’s been really fun.
– All right, so here’s another followup question, just to help those who lead. And, I already know the answer to these questions, just because obviously, family, but you and Kristen had a group together for a while, and last year you felt led that it was time to pass that group off, so you took a little break, and started this new group. How’d that go? How did, you know, because so many folks get attached, and those groups begin to be closed, and the people in the group have this connection to the leader, tell us a little bit about that real quick.
– Yeah. Our group had just gotten very large, where I felt like it wasn’t intimate. If everybody showed up, there would have been 30 people, and that’s just too many people to actually know anybody, or actually, and, we had kind of put it out there, like hey, we would love it if somebody else kind of wanted to take part of this group, or all of this group, because here’s the deal, like, I’m gonna spend eternity with most of these people in heaven, and so, I think sometimes like we, as leaders, treat the people in our group as precious, and they are precious, to the Lord and to us, but, what I mean is like, they can be in somebody else’s group, and it shouldn’t affect your friendship, and it shouldn’t affect, like you can still see them, you can still do all of that, you know. And so, just being able to hold loosely to the people in your group, and just say hey, the people that are co-leading with us right now are people who, a few years ago, were in our group, and they went and planted another group from our group, and took about half the group when it had gotten too large. And so, it was just a conversation that we had going in, like hey, this is the plan. Eventually this group is going to, hopefully, Lord willing, it’ll grow. And at a certain point, it’ll be time to take some of these people and start another group, so there’s more opportunities to connect. You know, you mentioned some LifeWay statistics earlier. LifeWay research would tell us that a person that’s in a group, versus a person that goes to just worship of a church is five times more likely to be around after a couple of years. So five times more likely, and all that they’re doing differently, is, they’re in a group, because they’re known, and they’re being known by their people.
– That’s right.
– So, as much as possible, we want to create opportunities for that to happen. Kristen and I, the thing that we talk about a lot, is, any time we’ve tried to handpick a group of people that we wanted to be in our group, it does not work out for us. The Lord just does not honor that intention for us. Because, we’ve just tried to manufacture something. Here, except for the couple that we’re co-leading with, everybody else is just people that just came to us, and said hey, I saw you’re doing a group, could I come? And it’s the best. Like, they’re not people that I might have naturally been drawn to, but we all have the Lord in common, and so it’s fine that we may not like the same football teams, or the same music, or any of those things, ’cause we’re there for each other, and you know, they’ve become great friends.
– Well Reid, I’m proud of you. And I say that as your father-in-law, I say that as a fellow disciple maker. Thank you for the work you do for the kingdom, and thank you for speaking with us and leading us tonight. It’s been exciting. It flew by, I mean you know, we were planning for a short session. You know, we’ll see, let Mitchell get all this edited, and we’ll have it out for folks. And if folks see this, and they’d like more information on preparing Christ-centered gospel lessons, if you’ll reach out to our office, you can reach me, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Daniel Edmonds, email@example.com, and we can reach back to Reid, if you’re trying to reach back to him, and we can get answers to you. We’re here to support you, and we appreciate you in our office. Our office motto, and what we really try to practice is to encourage and equip leaders on that journey toward Christ-likeness, so, thank you again, Reid, for doing it, and I look forward to seeing you again soon, and we look forward to having you in Alabama again to lead our Alabama Baptist leaders again.
– Great, it’s been good to be here, Steve. Appreciate it.