Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher



January 2013



Is the Lecture Dead? Not If You Keep Learning How to Lecture

Written by , Posted in Links, Ministry

Bueller? Bueller?

Every semester, I teach at least a couple of survey courses in church history or Baptist history. These are large classes (for a seminary), typically including between 70-100 students. Because of the nature and size of the course, I spend most of my time lecturing on the material, then inviting questions and sometimes open discussion related to the lecture. Frankly, I’m not sure there is another way to teach history in a context like mine. I appreciate discussion groups and student debates and other similar “active learning” strategies, but I don’t see these as replacing lectures in a survey historical course. At best, they complement the lectures and perhaps break up the monotony for some students who struggle with following lectures. (It’s different in smaller, elective courses of 10-15 students. I almost always focus on reading-based discussions in those courses rather than lectures.)

I don’t pretend to be a super lecturer, though based on input from others, I’m fairly confident I’m not a bad one. But I do know that, to whatever degree I’m a competent lecturer, it is because I’m constantly learning about lecturing. I’m incessantly tweaking lecture slides and other visual aids. I make frequent and intentional use of humorous stories, which students almost universally attest helps them to remember the material. As a professional academician, I attend periodic scholarly conferences where I listen to other people lecture. I always try to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work in terms of connecting with the audience. I’m constantly thinking about practical application I can make from the material in my lectures, which is crucial in a seminary context where we are preparing men and women for various vocational ministries. I also have a colleague at Southeastern, Ken Coley, who is an expert on pedagogical methods. At least once or twice a year I bounce ideas off of him, and I take seriously any unsolicited idea he offers to me (or the wider faculty).

Anyway, I appreciated reading Richard Gunderman’s recent essay “Is the Lecture Dead?” in The Atlantic. I think Gunderman makes a good case that lectures won’t go the way of the buffalo as long as there men and women committed to trying to be good lecturers. For my part, I know that I was shaped profoundly by stellar lecturers such as Corey Lesseig, Doug Weaver, Russ Moore, Tom Schreiner, Chad Brand, and Stephen Rummage. I’ve also learned a lot from stellar preachers (sanctified lecturers?) like Moore, Rummage, Bill Cook, Danny Akin, and Andy Davis.

(Image credit; HT: Benjamin Quinn)