There’s a common psychological pattern that can get you into trouble as a Bible teacher. It’s called “projection.”
The basic idea of projection is that you act as if someone else is thinking and feeling the same way you are. The thoughts and feelings can be negative or positive.
Let’s look at how this affects people in sales, and then I’ll explain how it creates problems for teachers.
A friend of mine used to supervise people selling collectable knives — some of these cost over a $1000! Many of his sales people were almost-broke college students who really needed the commission. So you’d have this poor, desperate sales person talking to fairly rich people and trying to persuade them to exchange money for a collectible. The problem came when the sales person “projected” their poverty on to the customer. They’d lose the sale because they couldn’t see themselves thinking this was a good deal, and projected that negative image onto the prospect!
It’s purely human. We tend to project what we think about onto other people and make the assumption that they’re thinking like we are.
How does this affect Bible teachers?
We can easily project our own condition or level of expertise on to our audience. If you’re an experienced hand at prophecy, don’t teach as though everyone understands what you mean when you say, “the 70 weeks is the backbone of biblical prophecy.”
You can also easily project any feelings of discouragement or boredom to your audience as well. If you think something is boring, they will too! If you’re feeling down, they’ll know it — and there won’t be much life- changing teaching going on.
The reality is that most of your students are not equal to your knowledge or study of the Bible. Meet them where they are. Don’t teach to them as if they are — and don’t teach down to them, either.(You were once as they, and someone helped you.)
A practical thing to do is to watch your vocabulary of Christian terms. Depending on your class, you probably need to carefully define sanctification, predestination, justification, atonement, redemption, and propitiation. These are good words, meaningful words, but make sure your students understand your words and what they mean.
In general, put some of your energy into being excited and hopeful about what you are teaching. Then any natural projection that occurs will help your students be engaged, and help them learn. And that’s how you teach to change lives!