Step by Step — Session Prep for DWELL leaders

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Now you’re a leader — kids will be coming through your door looking for inspiration, affirmation, knowledge. That’s a tall order. Maybe you’ve never taught Sunday school before — you’ve probably never taken a short course in education theory either. And maybe you don’t know the first thing about lesson plans. Your heart is in the right place, but you feel woefully inadequate. Where do you start?

On the other hand, perhaps you have done lots of teaching, but you’re new to Dwell. How do you use your past experience to inform this new personal challenge? Maybe the image of a juggler will help. . . .

Amazingly, the balls, the flaming torches, or the rings a juggler flings always seem to land in his hands. It looks like magic — but it’s not! After hours of preparation and practice, the juggler acquires an uncanny knowledge of where all the airborne pieces are. His hands are in the right place at the right time to catch each one. He’d be making a giant fool of himself if he just flung the rings into the air, hoping they’d land back in his hands. In fact, he wouldn’t be a juggler at all — he’d be a clown.

While leaders do bring fun into the classroom, they’re not clowns. Their fun has a serious purpose, and it’s carefully planned to land squarely in the hearts of children. It’s no accident — and it’s not magic either. Purposeful teaching comes from thinking through a session step by step and carefully planning for a successful presentation to achieve specific goals.

As you put your session together, step by step, consider these important details. It can become as easy as 1-2-3: 

1. Start at the Beginning

Do you begin your lesson prep by checking out step 1, asking yourself, “What do I need to do first?” If so, you’ve missed a crucial detail or two. Check out the stuff at the top of the page, right under the session title — the Scripture passage, focus, and faith nurture goals.

Immerse yourself in the Scripture passage, using the “Getting into the Story” reflection as an opportunity to nurture your own faith as you explore the Scripture that’s the vital nine-tenths of the iceberg below the surface of your teaching. Read the verses, and then read them again slowly. What surprises you? What do you notice that you never noticed before about the passage? Is God telling you anything personally? We teach out of the fullness of our hearts — what’s in your heart as you read this story? Grab a cup of coffee, a pen, and notebook, and prepare to spend some time with God. (And don’t forget to check out the teaching ideas that will help you invite your kids to dwell in God’s Story too.)

Check out the focus statement too . . . maybe even memorize it. It summarizes the important truth you pray the children will take with them from your teaching. Also, spend some time with the faith nurture goals listed there — they’re intended to guide your teaching, keeping it focused! These goals reflect things you’ll want your group to experience, discover, and do as you seek to nurture their faith in a way that responds to the nudge of the Holy Spirit.

2. Get Ready to Share God’s Story

Now you’re ready for Step 1, “Gathering for God’s Story,” which involves coming together to greet one another and greet God in worship. It often begins with an opening question or activity that helps prepare kids for hearing God’s story. It usually includes praise, prayer, and an occasional activity. Start by listening to the songs on the DwellSongs CD and learning them well. Karen DeBoer, curriculum writer and editor says, “The best way you can teach a song is by being prepared. Learn by listening. That means playing the songs you’ll be leading over and over again during the week — on your computer, in the car, on your iPod or CD player. Then teach the kids the same way—by playing the song, listening to it together, then sing-ing along.”

If your leader’s guide suggests an activity, make sure you have the materials and instructions for the kids ready before they arrive. 

Step 2, “Entering the Story,” is designed to help you present the Bible story to your kids — it’s the heart of the session! God is inviting the children into the story through your presentation. You’ll want to have all the people and props prepared and ready to go. (If the story presentation is a drama, be sure to get the script to your presenters earlier in the week so they have time to prepare.) For more on storytelling check out chapters 24 and 25.

3. Get Ready to Live into (and out of) the Story

For the last two steps of each session, your role will be that of nurturer and facilitator rather than storyteller or presenter. But that takes planning too. In Step 3, “Living into the Story,” kids revisit the story you presented in Step 2, retelling it in a creative way of their own, wondering about it, and allowing it to sink into their memories and hearts. Spend some time ahead of each session thinking about how you can best lead this process, inviting the kids to imagine themselves into the stories to discover God’s ways and God’s love.

Step 4, “Living Out of the Story,” will help you plan ways to bring the story back to the children’s own lives, putting them in touch with familiar situations in which God is speaking to them as God spoke to the biblical characters in the Scripture story. You will get to know your students well, which puts you in a great position from week to week to plan for meaningful ways to live out of God’s story together.

As you prepare to teach a session, you may realize that you have better ideas for presenting the story and nurturing your kids’ faith than the session plan provides. Follow your heart and trust your instincts! For example, you may be presenting the story of Jesus healing Jairus’s daughter to children who’ve lost a friend or classmate to death. If so, they’ll undoubtedly have needs and questions that won’t be covered in your leader guide. Depart from the plan, pray with them, and address their questions of the moment — you know and love the kids in your group more than any curriculum writer ever can.

The last word on “prep” comes from the apostle Paul. Listen to his words to Timothy: “Stay right there on top of things so that the teaching stays on track . . . the whole point of what we’re urging is simply love . . . ” (1 Timothy 1:3a, 5a, The Message).

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