How to Use Lesson Plans Effectively
It's easy to use a curriculum as a crutch, looking it over the day before you teach and practically reading it to your students during the teaching time. But your calling is much higher than this. You weren't called to teach a curriculum. You were called to teach the very Word of God. To aid you in this task, a curriculum can be a valuable resource and guide. Here are some hints to make each lesson your own:
Step 1 - Sit on it. At least a week prior to teaching a lesson, read only the purpose statement and the Scriptures used, then sit on the lesson plan. With a notepad in hand, ask God for His enlightenment. "Is this what you want me to teach this week?" If the answer is "yes," then ask, "What are some Scriptures or principles that You have worked into my life that relate to this subject?"
Step 2 - Get the overview. Look at the main points throughout the entire series, to find where you are headed. This will keep you from injecting material into the earlier lessons that would better fit elsewhere. Ask yourself, "Which of these points are most needed by my group? How can I home in on these points? What are the barriers that I must overcome to get these points across?"
Step 3 - Read, meditate on, and study the verses that you will use for this week. (Important: The verses preceded by the "cr." are cross references for you to consult in your study. I have not studied those verses, and don't use them in my presentation.) Use whatever study tools you have to grasp what the original author was saying to his original audience. Ask yourself, "Do I understand the verse in its context?" "Is the verse really making the point that Steve is making with it?" "Is there any further study I need to do on the verses?" "Am I applying these truths to my life?" "How could I apply them more faithfully this week?" Areas where you are strong provide opportunities for you to humbly share personal illustrations of how you do it. Areas of weakness provide opportunities for you to share how blowing this principle has hurt you, and how you are praying for the strength to do better. This vulnerability allows students to identify with you as a fellow learner.
Step 4 - Personalize the material to your students. Ask yourself, "Will these illustrations work with my students?" What personal illustrations can I use which will make the lesson less canned?" For additional illustrations, find our illustration database, and pull down the file on Wisdom. Then ask yourself "Will the activities fly?" If not, either make them better or choose another activity."
Dangers to Avoid
1. Starting your preparation the night before. The earlier you start preparing, the better you can a) apply the truths to your own life, b) let your mind work on illustrations, c) do your own Scripture study, and d) have enough time to make the lesson your own.
2. Reading the curriculum to your students. The more eye contact with your students, the better you will communicate. Here are some ways to free you from your notes:
a) Don't think that you must teach all your notes. Many great preachers write out a full manuscript, and then read or practice it over and over until they are comfortable with the material. But during the creative moment of delivery, they seldom look at their notes, trusting the Spirit to guide as to what to add and what to leave out.
b) Take to your delivery as little printed material as you can. Here are some options that great communicators use:
1) No notes. Pastor E.J. Young doesn't memorize his manuscript, but works especially hard on his outline, transitional phrases, introduction and conclusion. When he hits the pulpit, he doesn't carry any notes. R.C. Sproul used to memorize his messages, but now immerses himself in the material as preparation, and then speaks without notes. He believes that this is important to preserve eye contact. A pastor who spoke from a full manuscript once asked Sproul to critique his message. Sproul noted, to the pastor's amazement, that he had looked down at his manuscript 162 times during his 22-minute sermon! Have a student calculate how many times you break eye contact with them during your message. Ask if it's distracting.
2) Some pastors write a full manuscript, but go to the pulpit with only an outline and notes. This is essentially the student's outline that I give you. Try simply speaking from the student outline, and attach note cards or cutouts of any illustrations that are too difficult for you to digest.
3) Other top communicators step to the pulpit with the full manuscript, but seldom look at it. I often speak from the full manuscript, but highlight key words, divisions or phrases in yellow, so that I can find my place at a glance. As I teach, I trust the Holy Spirit to prompt me as to what to leave out, what to add, what to especially emphasize.
3. Feeling responsible to finish the entire lesson. Never rush or drag out a lesson in order to get in all the material. The good thing about a series is that you can always pick up next week where you leave off tonight. Many otherwise powerful messages lose their punch by going five or ten minutes overtime.
Pray, Pray, Pray!