Leon Watkins is a creative photographer (see his web site). But his talent is not limited to what a camera can produce.

Recently Penny and I went to a Bible study session for the Watford Family Group. It was Leon’s turn to lead the discussion. He broke us into four groups. Each group had a section of a gospel describing the night before the crucifixion. Leon had us read the passage and note down characteristics of Jesus on Post-it Notes.

A few minutes later we stuck them to the floor and discussed if they were accurate (as you can see, even the cat got involved!). The discussion that followed was lively, revealing and helpful. It was scarcely necessary for Leon to ask us to draw lessons for our own lives. The character of Jesus was clearer than ever, and the admiration we had for him grew as a result. A desire to imitate him was a natural consequence.

What was it that made for such a memorable and helpful evening? What had Leon hit on? I’d suggest three things.

  1. Magnify the Text. By making us look at the text and ask questions of it (“What characteristic of Jesus are we seeing here?”) our focus was on the Bible passage, and not our assumptions. It was as if we were taking a magnifying glass to the text and seeing fresh things previously undiscovered. The next time any of us read the passages we are likely to remember some of what we learned that Wednesday evening.
  2. Write it Down. There is something about writing things down that makes them more real. An idea in the head acquires substance when committed to paper. As I write down my thoughts I am committing myself to believe them. 
  3. Share the Insights. Sticking the notes to the floor was an exercise in vulnerability. Some of the insights were questioned, some affirmed and others ridiculed (in a humorous and light-hearted manner, I hasten to add!). It took courage to reveal our ideas, but the benefits were immense. The reaction of the group was interesting. As some of the notes were laid out we nodded, sometimes we frowned and other times we collectively made an “aha” sound as a new insight delighted us. 
Didn’t Jesus use interesting methods to teach? His parable punch-lines shocked people (Lk 16.14), his use of ‘props’ illustrated clearly what he meant (Matt 18.2-5), and, above all, he taught in such a way that people remembered what he said. 
I wonder how much of my teaching, and the teaching and preaching in our churches could be improved by reflecting on these three lessons from Leon’s creative approach.  How can we encourage people to look more carefully at the text during a sermon? Is there a way to help listeners’ ideas become more ‘solid’? How can we tap into the wisdom of the group to augment the knowledge of the speaker?
Let me know your ideas – I’d love to hear from you.
Many thanks, Leon, for the timely reminder that there is more than one way to ‘teach’.
Malcolm Cox