Teaching to Change Lives (Book Review)

teaching-change-livesA while back I rediscovered a little book on my wife’s shelf.  She had never read it and neither had I, but someone gave it to her and highly recommended it.  Then I remembered years ago seeing my roommate Barry’s nose in another Howard Hendricks book.  He said it was by a master teacher of God’s Word.  I respected his opinion, so I filed the thought away.

Fast-forward to 2014.  I’ve been a pastor and teacher for a few years.  I sense the need to improve my skill in teaching others.  My wife’s book comes to mind.  I set it aside hoping for a few nuggets of wisdom that I can immediately apply to my teaching toolbox.  What I found in Howard Hendricks’s Teaching to Change Lives is something like a graduate education seminar, a pep talk on how to engage students, and a window into a beloved teacher’s classroom on how to teach.  It’s a jewel of a book, well worth reading and digesting.

The author distills his wisdom on teaching into seven proven ways to make your teaching come alive.  He organizes his teaching “laws” in the mnemonic TEACHER.  Each link below connects to his classroom slides exploring the particular law of teaching.

What do each of these laws say?

  1. The Law of the Teacher: If you stop growing today, you stop teaching tomorrow.
  2. The Law of Education: The way people learn determines how you teach.
  3. The Law of Activity: Maximum learning is always the result of maximum involvement.
  4. The Law of Communication: To truly impart information requires the building of bridges.
  5. The Law of Heart: Teaching that impacts is not head to head, but heart to heart.
  6. The Law of Encouragment: Teaching tends to be most effective when the learner is properly motivated.
  7. The Law of Readiness: The teaching-learning process will be most effective when both student and teacher are adequately prepared.

Hendricks is obviously a motivator.  His desire is to form good teachers to reach their students, equipping them to make meaningful impact for the gospel in their generation.  His “laws” (principles or rules) of teaching are gleaned from a pioneering teacher of an earlier era—John Milton Gregory.  Each chapter begins with a quotation from Gregory preparing the reader for the particular law of teaching.  Many have profited from Hendricks’s book and continue the conversation he began for teachers improving their craft.

Teaching to Change Lives is chock full of practical wisdom and examples how Hendricks put these laws into practice in his own widely diverse teaching ministry.  But that is not all.  Hendricks includes stories from his life inside and outside the classroom.  Stories that demonstrate the power of illustration to drive home a lesson, or to gain attention, or to convince students of the importance of what is to follow.  The author shares from his struggles to effectively teach others.  He tries hard to stir your enthusiasm for teaching God’s Word to others.  That is a major goal of the book, to motive teachers to take up the time-consuming, difficult, but rewarding task of teaching to change lives.  At the end of the book, he writes:

But keep in mind that these really are only principles.  When it comes to carrying out his purposes, God doesn’t use principles, he uses people.  Your success in your calling as an effective teacher depends not on your knowledge of these laws, but on you as a person, and most strategically on your openness to God’s power in your life.  The key is not what you do for God but what you allow him to do through you.  God wants to use you as his catalyst—and as you let him transform and renew your thinking, you’ll be ready for his use.

Christians who believe in the sovereignty of God over all things might cringe a little at Hendricks’s language: allowing and letting God do something through you.  Such objections I think are unnecessary in this case.  The author is merely pointing us toward a posture of yielding submission before God that he might use us for his glory.  Pastors and Teachers, will you take his challenge seriously to continue to improve your teaching for the good of God’s kingdom and his people?

The author taught for many years at Dallas Theological Seminary and left quite a legacy when he died and went to heaven in 2013.  To get a better sense of what Howard Hendricks was like as a teacher, see the video below from Walk Through the Bible Ministries featuring his teaching lecture on Applied Principles of Learning (note, Hendricks appears on the video for the first time at 7:50).

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