Tag Archives: teaching

help people see how their help can help.


That’s how much our church owes the bank.

It’s a mortgage. We doubled the size of our building a few years back, with classrooms and offices and youth space and a gym. The people here did a great job of seeing what they needed and planning it and raising funds.

But this isn’t a story about the building. It’s a story about the number.

We are in the middle of a capital campaign. On the first Sunday of the campaign we wanted to tell the story clearly and simply. We wanted to tell the amount.

In early drafts, we talked about the fact that we had said $1.3 million in one place and $1.2 million in another. As we started to decide which it was, we agreed that the best thing to do–the simplest line to draw in the sand–was the loan balance as of the Friday before.


And so we showed that number on the screen, read it a couple of times. It’s a long number to read.

It’s also a very powerful number to show to a group of people who are all ages and socioeconomic levels. I didn’t understand how powerful until I watched the video.

Sitting still, listening to my own voice, I realized that if we had said that we were raising $1.3 million, most people watching would have struggled a bit with how much they could give, how much their little bit would matter.

As soon as we needed $144.44, everyone could see that they could help with at least forty-four cents. Everyone. Even the person with only two quarters in their pocket.

When you have a big project, see if there’s a way to simply describe it so anyone could say, “my little bit matters.”


If you are curious, here’s the video.


8 ways to give an audience a kit.

This is the first in an occasional series expanding on the 8 ways to get invited back post. I talked about several things to give audiences that will let you have another chance to speak.

Lots of people really like Ikea. Good design. Functional products. When people buy from Ikea, they often get boxes. Several boxes. These boxes don’t look like what they see in the store. They look like boxes full of boards and bags.You get a kit. A very simple kit.

Many of us grew up building cars. Small cars. From Revell. We could never afford a real Mustang, but we could build one. Paint it. Keep it on our shelf.  We got a kit. A more complicated, less expensive kit than the Ikea.

Whether we want the look of fine furniture or the delight of owning a model of a dream, lots of people want kits.

a thinking kitLots of people want life kits, too. They go to a presentation wanting to learn how to build their own success, their own model of your project, your story, your company. They attend a workshop promising that they will “walk away with a website/book idea/practical hand-on applications.” They take a class to learn math formulas or programming shortcuts. They want to build a resume.

They don’t want to do all the hard work of measuring and cutting and drilling and stamping from scratch. They know that they will still look like you, but that’s fine. They want something that works.

(Lest you think this is something I am ridiculing, one of my best examples is what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” Jesus, in the middle of a longer teaching, says “here’s a prayer model.” It can be used as is. It can be expanded on. It has proved to be pretty durable.)

If you are doing that for people, you are giving them a kit. To make that kind of presentation successful, whether it lasts 15 minutes or a day or a semester, here are 8 guidelines:

1. Provide all the necessary pieces.

Every board. Every screw. Every necessary idea or relationship or reference or example or theorem needs to be included in your presentation to give to your listeners. Whatever you want them to be able to build, whether it’s a plastic car or a business plan or a dream, has to made available to them.

2. Include adequate directions.

This is a linear kind of presentation. First you find this piece, then you add this piece. You aren’t trying to be creative, you are trying to be clear. So please be clear.

3. Make sure they are in the language of the kitbuilder, not the designer.

Ever read translated directions? They make us laugh. Then they make us cry. Use words that your audience knows. This isn’t the time to impress, it’s the time to not lose anyone.

4. Provide spare parts of the kind most likely to get lost.

A good kit always has some spare bolts or nuts or washers. A speaker giving a kit gives repetition.  At those points where people are most likely to be confused, repeat. If they are likely to drop the line of thinking, pick it up for them with a clarification, a reconnection to your theme.

5. Have someone who understands test the kit.

Many of us hate to do a presentation more than once. I understand. But you’re trying to give away understanding. You are trying to give success. So have someone who knows what you are talking about listen and critique.

6. Have someone who doesn’t understand test the kit.

What? Present again? Exactly. If you are going to help 30 people build this kit, this model, you need to have someone who is like them in ignorance test it. Otherwise you will frustrate 30 people.

7. Include a picture of the completed kit.

There are some jigsaw puzzles that come in plain white boxes. The challenge is the point. In most cases, however, you want to give your audience a picture of what the business plan or the prayer or the lifeplan will look like, sound like. That way, they can see whether they are getting it right.

8. Show how it can be customized.

Once you have clearly shown how to assemble the kit, show them how to make it their own. What kind of paint works best? What wears out? What do you with the geometry when you are measuring a lot rather than a piece of paper? How does this scale?


Do you give people kits when you speak or teach? How do you make sure the audience understands? What kind of kits are you giving?

One way to start a small group.

Last spring, Nancy and I decided to start a small group.

If you are in church circles, that is a code phrase for “people getting together to talk about spiritual things and is the most important thing in the church ever and everyone should be in one and if you aren’t or your church doesn’t have a massive program of small groups you are a complete spiritual failure.”

If you aren’t in church circles, that means a group of people getting together regularly to talk about something that matters to them. Think book club.

We asked about 12 people from our church if they would like to meet for six Saturdays from 6-8 pm in a lounge space at the church to eat soup and talk about six basic spiritual practices: praying, fasting, silence, service, celebration and confession.

And people said yes. And showed up.

Here’s what I learned.

  1. We just asked. We didn’t worry about some big program, or everyone in the church doing it. We wanted to get to know some other people.
  2. Having a limit on the number of weeks let people know that it was a limited commitment. That helped a lot.
  3. We had food together. The hour we spent eating together (and cooking for each other) was delightful.
  4. I had questions that would foster conversation, but we didn’t stick to the questions. Each week we looked at a few paragraphs from the Bible. Sometimes people would have additional questions about what it meant. Sometimes people would talk about what they had previously been taught. Sometimes people would ask each other questions.
  5. I did more talking at the beginning of the study than in later weeks. I worked hard to ask more than tell, to deflect answering until other people answered. But I still struggle with talking too much and with not creating a safe space for everyone to talk.
  6. Not everyone wants–or needs–to talk.

Have you ever started this kind of group? What has worked? What was the coolest thing? And what more would you like to know about our group or about leading/teaching? (I working on a list of specific teaching things as a post for next week.)

so what, exactly, do you want them to learn

Earlier this week, I challenged us to think about teaching someone something this week. This post takes you down that road by helping you think about what, exactly, you are wanting to teach.


Teachers and speakers know all about outcomes.

But even we forget.

When we remember, however, we start our preparation for every training session, every lesson, every speech, by completing a simple sentence: “When I have finished speaking (teaching, whatever), my audience will be able to ___.”

Outcomes are about behaviors

a ruler on a study guide. measuring outcomesAn outcome is what you want an audience (whether a class or a small group or your friend Dave who can’t tell PEZ dispensers apart) to be able to do as a result of your interaction with them. It doesn’t apply to every interaction. Sometimes speaking is for entertainment or so everyone can say that they were together. In that case, the sentence reads, “when I have finished speaking I will have spoken.”

But if you want to help learning happen, whether in a formal session or in an informal “how do I do this” conversation, write an outcome.

  • It puts the emphasis on what your audience will be able to do.
  • It allows the audience behavior to be measured as a way to find out whether you did what you wanted to do.
  • It creates accountability.

Measuring abstract lessons

Good outcomes are stated in terms of measurable behavior. But what if what you are teaching isn’t measurable? If you are teaching someone how to change a lightbulb, you can easily test whether they know it by handing them a lightbulb and a fixture. If you are encouraging someone to be more faithful (to friends, to spouses, to God), how can you measure that?

Perhaps you could teach one way to know if you are sliding toward breaking faith and you could teach them that way. Perhaps you know that faithfulness is enhanced by focused time and you could explain ways to clear your schedule.

But wait, you say, the topic is “be more faithful.” If I talk about clearing my schedule, that’s too specific. I mean, they will walk out with some ideas about finding cheap dates or scheduling or finding a quiet place to pray or something, but that’s not my topic.

(I’ll let you read that again and decide whether you really want to raise that argument. Teaching that brings about change in lives or the world always involves behavior. Work til you find the behavior. Then teach it. It will foster faithfulness)

What if all I know is PEZ?

Some of you are teachers. You know this. But some people who read this post are not teachers. You don’t lead classes or small groups. You don’t give presentations to thousands of people on the internet.

I know. But you, sitting in your darkened room reading this post, interacting only with a couple people a day, you teach. Or you could.

What if you decided that the next time someone asks how to tell the difference between old and new Pez dispensers, you were going to teach them three ways to tell: patent numbers, mold codes, and place of manufacture.

When we have finished talking, my friend will be able to identify Pez dispensers by age markers.

You have five samples on hand. You show them three. You then give them the fourth as a text. They guess wrong. You review. You show them the fifth. They get it right. You give it to them.

They learned something. They know it. You know it.

As you teach something to someone this week, establish a simple measurable outcome.

(thanks to Rob Hatch for a bit of inspiration)

Just yesterday stories

line drawing of a coffee cupJust yesterday, someone told me that I tell stories well. She said, “you have a gift.”

She’s right. There’s a gift. Two of them, really.

An academic dean was looking for a speech teacher. He found me, in Texas, finishing the first half of my doctorate. He invited me to interview and then, when some people weren’t completely comfortable with me (imagine!), flew down to Texas to meet Nancy and to see me teaching at UT.

That was twenty-four years ago this month.

I started teaching at Fort Wayne Bible College in September, 1985. I taught three sections of public speaking and two courses in broadcasting. For the next five years, I taught two or three sections of public speaking every semester as well as courses in study skills, critical thinking and Christian worldview.

Richard gave me the gift of incredible amounts of time in front of people helping those people figure out how to be thoughtfully effective in front of people.

One of the things that I started very early in my teaching was telling stories to illustrate points. Richard labeled one type of those stories. He called them “just yesterday” stories.

You know them. A person will be making a point about the value of a product and say, “just yesterday, I saw…” A teacher will try to explain how this abstract concept relates to these sleepy students and will say, “just yesterday, Jim was asking me how to make his roommate quit …”

Somehow, in a classroom, “just yesterday” is far more compelling, far more relevant than “here’s a story I learned in grad school” or “when I wrote this lecture five years ago, here’s the story I made up” or “let me tell you this joke I found in Reader’s Digest, but you can pretend you have never heard it before.”

Richard didn’t teach me to tell stories, but he gave me the gift as a young faculty member of the label for a powerful kind of story and the encouragement to use those stories in my teaching. And after more than two decades, I have spent a lot of time finding stories and analogies and metaphors in my daily life.

Today, when I tell stories to illustrate points, and there is a glimmer of understanding because of a story, it’s because Richard gave me permission and a platform for practicing.

I moved on from that school seventeen years ago. Richard died several years ago of cancer This week, the latest version of that school dies, after a couple name changes and a merger that never quite worked.

But sometimes, I remember those days like they were just yesterday.

a second look – generosity 3

In 1985, I needed to find a real job. I was finishing my third year in grad school at UT-Austin. I was starting on my dissertation. It was time to grow up.

I got invited to an interview at a college in Fort Wayne. I flew up from Austin. I spent the night at the academic dean’s house and then spent the day talking with students and faculty, teaching a pretend class, and looking around town. It was a pretend class because it was finals week and there weren’t any real classes to teach. Some students and some faculty showed up in a room and I lectured.

Then I flew back to Texas.

I got a call from the dean. Richard said that some people wanted me but some weren’t sure. I understood that. The classes I was going to teach were in communication. The part-time faculty member they had was a stereotypical deep-voiced formal speaker. He was impressive. My style, on the other hand, was pretty relaxed. Rather than impressing students with my speaking ability, I was concerned with helping them overcome their fears and improve their abilities. And I’m odd sometimes.

Richard said he was flying to Austin to learn more.

It was a great visit. He met Nancy (which let him see the one normal person in our marriage). After one of my classes, a couple of students came running across the campus to thank me for a wonderful semester. He heard me teach at church.

I got the job.

Richard was willing to take a second look, to give me another chance, to spend time on getting to know the person rather than judging by an artificial performance. It cost him some money. It changed our lives.


This post is part of Robert Hruzek’s group-writing project.

8 ways Jesus helped people learn

I was talking about teaching tonight. So I thought I’d pass on this list.

1.  Told them how to do what they already knew how to do. (A bunch of his followers were fishermen. So when he told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat, they are thinking, “Um, you preach. We fish.” Of course, he was right.)

2. Called them satan.(Okay, just one of them,  but still, not very affirming.)

3. Made them leave home for three years and live off from scholarships from wealthy women. (Really. Look it up.)

4. Told them stories that they couldn’t figure out.  (And they were getting the translation)

5. Got them into trouble with the people they had been trained to respect. (Yep. The pharisees.  They were the religious leaders. He was a trouble maker.)

6. Sent someone on an internship with a traitor. (All the disciples went out in pairs. So somebody ended up with Judas.)

7. Didn’t give them outlines. (It would have been so much easier. Outlines in three ring binders and powerpoint and the DVD series. Instead, he just spent three years talking with them…every waking moment.)

8. Wasted months between big events. (There are months that we just don’t know about during those three years. And he could have had some great campaigns or something. Instead, he just kept talking and walking and teaching and laughing with these 12 guys.)

Lots of how he did training makes little sense to us. But somehow, it clicked.

thoughts on getting ready for Sunday

Tomorrow morning I am teaching two different groups of people. The first group is about 10 people, mostly in their forties. The second group is about 30 people, all at least 70. Tomorrow night I am teaching a group of unknown number, of mixed demographic. Their one common link is that they all are leaders of adults at our church.

So why am I writing a post right now instead of studying and reading and writing? Because I needed to tell myself a few things.

1. There will be other times. Don’t pack everything into one session.

2. It’s better to have one thing understood well than a thousand things mentioned briefly. Really. (No, really. Because if it matters, then it is worth making sure they–and you–understand it inside and out.)

3. Think about the people and the ideas and how they connect. Not about what will make me sound good, or make them feel bad.

4. Since I’m talking, in part, about how to teach…teach that way. It’s called modeling. And not doing it is called either lazy or lacking integrity.

5. If you need to prove that you know something, put it in a handout. And then maybe forget to hand it out.

6.  Remember that you always feel this way and you take it seriously and it always ends up okay because this is what you are built for.

7. Remember to not be complacent about number six.

8. It’s not performance. It’s relationship.

Okay. That’s all. Thanks for listening. Back to work.

disciple in 15 words – what is clear

Yesterday I asked for help. I wanted you to talk about the word “disciple” in 15 words. Twelve of you made comments here and I got a DM on twitter and an email. That’s amazing!.

Here’s I what now know.

Disciple isn’t just this:


Being a disciple may include sitting and listening OR standing and talking.

But it’s about learning and applying and wrestling and struggling and questioning and acknowledging ignorance and acknowledging that someone is more like you want to be than you are and spending time together and spending time trying and spending time messing up and spending time together sorting it out and spending time trying again and understanding that part and spending time learning the next thing. It’s about learning by listening and by watching and by doing and experiencing and by thinking and by waiting. It’s about teaching with a whole life and learning for a whole life.

I think. At least, that’s what I’m hearing in what you said.

Add to the definitions here or comment on what I just said.

Or go and play this weekend.


One last question, though.

You are discipling (all of the stuff above) someone. Who is it? What are they learning?

The changing course

Robb managed plants. Not like a horticultural kind of guy. In fact, Anna is the plant person that way. No, Robb managed plants and parts of plants that made parts. Car parts. The plastic kind of car parts.

He ended up with tough projects at times. He was the guy who would go in to manage the closing that someone else decided would happen. Because of his style, which values people and minimizes ego, the closing process could take awhile because, well, because productivity ended up improving. He was good at financial analysis and listening and suggesting.

A couple of years ago, however, he knew that changing the way production lines work wasn’t what he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing. He wanted to teach. More specifically, he wanted to teach junior high math. Or that’s what he thought he wanted.

We met one day to look at the results of some testing we were doing at the church. We were trying to help people find the thing that they were made for, the way to serve best. Robb and I talked, and he talked about this idea of going back to school on weekends to get a teaching certificate. We decided to get together that Friday at 6:30 am to talk to each other and to God about the decisions.

That one time became almost weekly. When I changed jobs, we moved our time from early Friday to noon on Monday. And two and half years later we met for the last time, last Wednesday. On Monday, tomorrow, Robb and Anna and their three children fly out of Chicago heading for Cascais, Portugal. Robb will be teaching math and science and maybe Bible in an international school in that town near Lisbon. Anna will spend part of the day taking care of their son, and part of the day teaching art. She’s also finishing her degree, online. Their two daughters will energize the school.

When we last talked, they weren’t sure exactly where they would be living….the school has people looking. They don’t have all of their salary raised (part of the salary is from the school, part of it is from supporters). They haven’t had more than six weeks from the official invitation to the time they leave.

They are, by the way some people measure, nuts. Great career. Gone. House. Left. New house. Unknown. Exact courses to teach. Unknown. Salary. Uncertain.


Robb and Anna trust God. They trust each other. They have survived challenges that make this seem small. They will learn and grow and thrive. They will change lives. They will change the world. Of this I am confident.

However. I’m going to miss our times together, Robb. You changed me, too. See you next summer.


To follow Robb and Anna (rawbanana) visit their blog.

and you may recognize Anna from twitter (alenardson) or from Lent2008.