what kind of teaching will best fit this topic?

From the world of Backwards College Ministry, something I’ve been remembering recently…

When I last served as a college minister, I had the opportunity (as many do) to teach on a weekly basis. I tried hard to match my students’ spiritual needs with applicable teaching, and I often found ways to do that and still connect the weeks via some common series or theme.

But what’s interesting is that as the purposes called for it, I found myself altering the elements and even the style of my talks. I would show video clips on occasion – but certainly not always. I would use PowerPoint plenty – but again, not always. Some weeks were far more dialogue-based; other weeks I was coming very near to “preaching” in the classic sense. My talks varied in length and in style, according to the needs I was seeking to meet.

Looking back, I honestly think that’s not a bad way to go about things. It seems to me that different messages call for different styles. And if I really believe that the methods we use are supposed to serve our purposes – and never the other way around – then that means that my methods this week may differ from my methods last week.

Even in how I teach.

This week’s message may need to go 30 minutes – not because “I always talk for 30 minutes,” but because the subject matter calls for it. Next week, perhaps 15 minutes. And the next message may need to be spread across two meetings. (And that one message might have far more impact if it’s typed up and handed out, instead of spoken!)

Any given week, the purposes of a message could call for more (or less) dialogue with the audience. They could demand round table discussion groups one week – and then no matter how well those go, the next week’s purposes may call for something different. Maybe a “prop” will help accomplish certain outcomes this week; a movie clip may be best next week; the following week, a field trip may be in order. This message’s purposes may be helped by a student’s testimony mid-message. That message’s purposes might be accomplished by using an interview style throughout.

And so on, aspect-by-aspect, until your message’s methods are truly enslaved to your message’s purposes.

I recognize that there’s a point that “not knowing what to expect” during the teaching time might begin to inhibit some of the other purposes of your ministry. If students don’t know if they’ll get out of Large Group at 9pm or 10pm, that’s a major distraction.

But in general, our students – and especially today’s students – may in fact enjoy the variety. And if our various messages are designed with purposes in mind, those students will likely be impacted better, too.


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  1. I’ve always favoured a flexible mission-centred format. Keeps you from picking your head up in two years and trying to figure out why you’re still doing things the way you’re doing them. I still find Len Sweet’s EPIC acronym helpful: Experiential, Participatory, Image Driven, Connected. Works well as a framework without being overly prescriptive.

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