I just returned from a delightful trip to Mechanicsville, Virginia. Ronnie Jones, a dear friend and preacher and teacher of Scripture, asked me to teach an overview of the Book of Revelation over four nights. It was my third visit to Gethsemane Church of Christ, and like the other two occasions, I was blessed to have the opportunity to share Scripture.
On the day I returned, Ronnie and I went out for breakfast and we discussed strategies for teaching Revelation. He will be retiring as the preaching minister of Gethsemane next spring, but he hopes to continue preaching and teaching in area churches. He will do well, I know.
As we talked, I told Ronnie that in doing itinerant preaching and teaching over the years, I have learned some lessons.
First, focus on the macro not the micro. Help people see the forest rather than individual trees. Far too many preachers want to discuss the identity of the twenty-four elders or the meaning of 666 and people become confused. When you do focus on micro topics of passages, always place them in the context of the bigger picture.
Second, move from the simple to the complex. Don’t start out offering an interpretation of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, for example. Instead focus on clearer passages that speak about the responsibility of the church to be witnessing and then bring in Revelation 11.
Third, use the familiar to explain the unfamiliar. For example, before discussing the symbols in Revelation, show how symbols permeate church culture (the cross, the bread and the juice, the pulpit, etc.).
Fourth, always stress context. Context, the weaving together of passages within a book and how those passages and the book itself fits in with the overall STORY of the Bible. More misunderstanding takes places because of missed context than for any other reason, I believe.
Fifth, start off with what the book meant before you discuss what it means. The book must have meant something to the original recipients. That is the starting point for all responsible application.
Sixth, related to the point above, move repeatedly back and forth between the “then” and the “now,” between background (the first century setting) and the foreground (the twenty-first century setting). Don’t make a lesson merely a “history” lesson but show the timeliness and the timelessness of the book.
Seventh, model the principle of letting Scripture interpret Scripture. The answers to our questions are, more often than not, embedded in the text itself.
Eighth, engage and encourage your audience. Engage by welcoming comments before, during and after the teaching sessions. Encourage questions to be asked. I always find something “good” in a question not matter how simple or how it may seem to be off the subject.
Ninth, review, review, and then review some more. Repetition helps ideas lodge in our hearts and minds.
Tenth, teach with bold humility. You do not want to appear wishy-washy, and yet you don’t want to appear to have all the answers. Be willing to acknowledge when you don’t know the answer or haven’t decided what position to take or bounce between one, two, or even three possible interpretations.
Thanks, Ronnie, for the breakfast and the conversation.