The ability to access information has never been so easy. Most of us have the ability to find facts, opinions, and theories about virtually any topic within minutes, if not seconds. And yet, most churches schedule their times of worship around a centralized teaching time—a moment when a speaker delivers a message from God’s Word.
With so much emphasis placed on the teaching time, it’s imperative that teachers understand their primary objective and that it fits the expectations of the teaching time. When you’re given the opportunity to teach, do you think about your communication goal? What would you like to see happen in the lives of the people who are listening?
Some communicators feel that their primary objective is to teach the Bible to people. If you’ve told yourself that you want to help people gain a better understanding of the Bible, there’s a good chance you’ve made this objective your goal. Practically speaking, most of your preparation time is spent studying the text so that you can explain each verse to the people you’ll be speaking to. You measure success on whether or not you've covered the material.
Other teachers place a greater emphasis on the audience: they want to teach people the Bible. This approach requires creativity because your job is to ensure that people understand the content and will be able to remember it. If you invest time into developing alliterations and illustrations, you likely subscribe to this teaching goal.
In Andy Stanley’s book called Communicating for a Change* (a book that radically shaped my approach to preaching), he argues that the first two methods are concerned with information transfer. The goal of each method is to help people understand and remember the teachings of the Bible. The challenge with this goal is that Bible knowledge is not the same as spiritual maturity. Your faithful treatment of the text and creative delivery style might help people recall what’s in the Bible, but if it doesn’t change their heart, what difference does it make?
Stanley’s approach is to teach people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible. In other words, his goal is for people to make a change in their lives instead of just thinking about something. Covering every part of the text is not most important. The most important part for him is focusing his entire message on a single point that has an immediate and measurable application.