As a Christian Education student at Wheaton Graduate School (1971-72), I took two of his classes. Far more formative was his prolific writing. You can see a recent profile and his numerous book titles in an article published by Talbot: (http://www.talbot.edu/ce20/educators/protestant/lawrence_richards/).
Here are three things I learned by observing and reading Larry.
1. He modeled the value of “process” and team-building within the four walls of a classroom.
In a course on Church Ministry, the most memorable session turned out to be one that Larry didn’t plan. A brief prayer request time Larry launched started with a fellow who admitted he was hurting. After sharing why, several students prayed aloud for him.
The student’s openness spawned other requests by young men and women weighted down by pressures of academics, family relationships, and ministry. Spontaneously, several students would gather around the person, put their hand on his or her shoulder, and intercede for sustenance and wisdom. God’s Spirit instilled comfort through others in the body of Christ. Intercession and mutual encouragement occupied the entire class hour.
Larry didn’t even start on the lesson topic prepared for that day. He sat back and allowed us to experience the concepts he had been covering in the course. Instead of feeling deprived of his “teaching time,” Larry left the room giddy over what had transpired. Such experiences convinced me that what makes a course “Christian” isn’t just the doctrine or subject matter covered, but includes the nature of relationships among participants. The social climate of the Christian classroom is integral to learning, even when a structured lesson plan is implemented.
2. Larry acquainted me with the value of transparency in a teacher or leader.
His books that advocate transparency included You The Teacher, Youth Ministry, and A Theology of Christian Education. Two quotes especially resonated with me:
*We share our needs and our problems, but we never stop there. We go on to share the difference Christ is making. When others see Jesus working in and through our struggle, they find hope, and are freed to put their trust in Him, too.
*Self-revelation is a strength, not a weakness, in spiritual leadership. If we misrepresent ourselves as so “strong” that we do not need Jesus, we misrepresent the gospel of grace. In sharing ourselves, they may well see our weakness, but they will also see Jesus’ strength!
Larry taught me that it isn’t enough just to share my struggles or needs. The spotlight must shift to Jesus, who enables me to keep going. The spotlight must end up on Him, not me.
3. Larry taught me how to think about the teaching/learning process.
If you teach the Bible vocationally or as a volunteer, reading Larry’s Creative Bible Teaching is a must. Get the “Revised and Expanded” edition with Gary Bredfeldt (Moody, 1998). This is far and away the most influential book in my 45 years of vocational ministry. Why?
*He convinced me that one’s doctrinal view of the Bible determines the passion with which one teaches the book. The year before I read the first edition of Larry’s text, my college Greek teacher had said, “It doesn’t matter if Jesus really raised Lazarus from the dead. What matters is the kernel of truth in this story.” But Larry dispelled that notion in a hurry. He emphasized that if truth doesn’t have a historical basis, there is no confidence in what we teach.
*Larry insisted that in every lesson, I earn learners’ attention, rather than assuming I have it. How I start a class session or sermon has forever been shaped by the necessity of a life-related “hook.”
*Application of truth doesn’t automatically happen. The teacher structures a time in class to cover the implications of God’s truth, even if it means covering less total content. Larry would have been the first to say that God’s Spirit must work in hearts to prompt obedience to truth. But he also insisted that we carve out lesson time to probe and to illustrate the practical implications of truth. The three-step lesson plan approach I employ (Approach the Word, Absorb the Word, Apply the Word) stems directly from Larry’s renown four-step pattern for a Bible lesson: Hook, Book, Look, Took.
Larry’s fingerprints are on every lesson plan or sermon outline I’ve ever originated. Read Creative Bible Teaching, and you’ll start seeing the smudge of his fingerprints on all of your teaching plans, too.
In 2010, during my last visit with Larry, I gave him a long letter in which I tried to explain his dramatic influence on my ministry. I thanked him for the impact, and for the diligent monotony of so much writing. I’ll always be glad I wrote that letter, because no one can smell the flowers on his coffin.
What teacher or author has most influenced you? Isn’t it time you give him or her a verbal bouquet?