This post is the first of a four-part series on three different ways to engage with group members.
Conference leaders and teachers (myself included) can be placed into one of three categories: Presenters, Investigators, and Experimenters. These categories are about how a person engages with the group. Each type has a place in the process of teaching-learning, but using only one or overusing one can become an obstacle to learning. Over the next three posts, we will define each approach, identify some of the strengths and weaknesses, and highlight the danger of relying solely on that approach.
We begin with the Presenter.
In this engagement approach, the teacher is the expert. At the designated time, everything stops as the Presenter calls the group to order. Their charge is to study and then deliver the studied content in a compelling way. If they are really good, they will do it without a minute to spare. The people in the group are expected to respectfully listen and take note of key thoughts and ideas. One possible way of describing this approach is tell/listen.
Building an effective presentation requires at least two essential skills. The first is discerning the main points and expressing them in a logical and simple way. The Presenter pours over resources prior to the group time in an effort to do just that. The Presenter must also craft illustrations that help the group understand the main points, building on their experiences and stating them in terms the group understands.
The strength to this approach is that it is the one most modeled. Think about the number of conferences and college classes that function in this way. In some ways, the size of a class dictates the use of this approach. The approach also lends itself to covering large chunks of content in a short time. The risk is low for the group with little required beyond listening. Reading something beforehand would be a bonus, but it is not required. The group may or may not know what the Presenter will say prior to the group meeting, but that is immaterial. With that in mind, this approach may be more guest-friendly than the other two.
The risk for the leader is also minimized because there may be little opportunity for the group to play “stump the teacher” as long as all the time is taken. The Presenter will rarely lose control of the group as long as he or she delivers some content.
The fear of not being able to deliver content can drive the Presenter to study harder, but that same fear elevates the stress level and therein lies the first weakness. It all depends on the teacher and his or her ability to deliver compelling content. This kind of pressure can take away the joy of teaching and lead to burnout over time. The low expectations on the group has a downside as well. As much as you may encourage a person to prepare, if they know you will give them the basic content that they would have read prior to attending, they will do little to no preparation prior to the study time. Why should they? This approach can also leave the group with questions that go unanswered if no system is in place to get clarification.
One danger of solely relying on this approach is the potential for codependency. Codependency is a type of dysfunctional relationship where one person enables another person’s harmful habit. In a presenter-only world, the group tells the Presenter how gifted he or she is and how well they presented. This affirmation feeds the ego of the Presenter, placing him on the wobbly pedestal as the expert. In return, the Presenter gives the group information they could have discovered themselves, fostering laziness and lower commitment. Both feel good about themselves and return to the next meeting ready to do it all over again.
In the next post, we look at the Investigator.
G. Dwayne McCrary is the team leader for Adult and Young Adult group resources at LifeWay, leads two weekly Bible study groups (one for empty-nesters and one for 4-year olds), serves as an adjunct professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and carries 20-plus years of church staff experience. He is married to Lisa (both native Texans), and they have two children and one grandson. Find him on Twitter: @gdwayne.