Video Discussion – A Tutorial

Today there is no Bible verse.  I guess that I could quote something about teaching, but…


My wife and I taught the Video College of Biblical Knowledge (a Sunday school class) at our church for roughly fifteen years.  In addition, I set up Lenten Bible Studies using a video for several years – a community outreach.


Before we get started, here is the format that we used.

  1. We opened in prayer. I usually had certain things on my heart, but I would provide hints as to the theme of the video or sub-themes within the video.  Basically, I was asking God to prepare the hearts of the class, while nudging the class in that direction.
  2. If there was any further preparation, I would tell the class what to look for before starting the video. In some dramatizations of Scripture, I would tell the class various things: what was left out, hints to prepare the class to watch for inaccuracies, etc.
  3. Show the video, or video segment. In using Max Lucado studies, he rarely talks more than ten minutes.  That gives a lot of discussion time.  The late R. C. Sproul video lessons are either 30 minutes or 45 minutes.  For an hour long class, I never used the longer lectures.  I tried to use a ratio of three to one in the class.  If I have an hour to work with, I try to stop a movie at fifteen minute increments so that there can be 45 minutes of discussion.  I never stopped a depiction of the events of Good Friday.  Where do you stop the action?
  4. Discuss the video. Have prepared questions but be willing to veer onto sidebars as the class discusses what they got from the video.  I always had some tough, personal questions.  The awkward silence let them think.  My wife then changed the question – same concept, but a much less personal way of voicing an answer.
  5. My wife always finished the class with a poem or prayer from a devotional book or book of topical prayers. If she read a poem, she ended with a personal prayer.  We both watched the video.  She determined from our discussion what direction I might take in the discussion.  Then she researched her devotionals for the material that she would use to sum up.  Very rarely did the discussion get too far off the intended direction, but it happened.


NOTE:  Showing a video in an industrial setting requires a certain amount of the three-part Toastmaster technique.  (Tell them what you are going to tell them.  Tell them. Tell them what you told them.)  You prep the class on what to look for in the video.  You watch the video.  Then you discuss what you saw.  In a Sunday school setting, you can do that, but a blend of discovery learning versus guided learning is good and maybe better.  If what you want to discuss is something subtle that few in the class will notice while watching, prepping them beforehand may be imperative.


Choosing the Right Video for a Good Discussion

First, know yourself and your class.  There are liberal and conservative religious videos.  First rule, be true to yourself.  I took over the ‘Adult Video Discussion Class’ from someone who was far less conservative than I am.  Possibly a liberal, but I don’t want to call anyone names.  The videos that the former teacher had used came from a variety of sources that the teacher passed on to me.  As I struggled to find my way in getting good videos, the videos started to become more Biblical and more conservative.  As a result, about half the class wandered away.  I felt bad about that, but I had to be true to myself.  I could not stomach the PC language of the History Channel videos, with the use of CE instead of AD for a date.  I am old school.  Why is my voice not heard when I say that ‘CE’ offends me?  Others quip that they are offended, and changes are made.  Are they offended or are they manipulating?  A thought to ponder.  Of course, I could swallow my disdain if the use of ‘CE’ was my only disagreement with the video.


The old teacher suggested a video series in the church library.  I watched it.  It was on the book of Genesis, done by a Lutheran pastor from a seminary in Minnesota.  It was so far out there in Liberal Land, that I thought it might be good to show it and discuss how far off-track people have become.  Basically, the pastor read each chapter of Genesis and then laughed at how ridiculous it was, how it could never have happened that way, etc.  The pastor’s arguments were so full of holes that a novice in Philosophy could rip his arguments apart.  I thought it might be fun doing that, preparing the Sunday school class for the argument raised by the non-believer.  Halfway through the second lesson, one of the quiet members of the class got up after I stopped the video and said, “I will no longer listen to this blasphemy.”  She then stormed out of the room.  We adjourned the class with no discussion that day, and instead of relaxing that afternoon, I was watching one video after another to have something new prepared by the next week.  I must be true to myself, but in failing that, I must be true to the class.


Choose a variety within a year’s school schedule.  Many people come to the video class to ‘see’ something.  Thus, a 50-week series from R. C. Sproul discussing the fundamentals of faith, for example, may be a great series, but all you get is a preacher talking and occasionally scratching a Greek word on a chalkboard.  An 8-10 week series is much better and should be followed by a series involving wide open spaces, like a preacher walking through the Holy Land, or a dramatic presentation, like a movie based on the book of Esther.  Once this variety is well established, you can quell the angst of the vocal whiners once they get bored.  Yes, some adults can be childish, but don’t call them that.  They will respond childishly, making you look bad.


Always have a back-up plan, even though you have planned the entire year to dovetail into all the religious calendar events.  The childish one may through a tantrum, insisting that you get rid of this boring video series.  It may be easier to go to the back-up video than to convince the puller of tantrums that the rest of the class has no problem with the present video.


The second reason for a back-up plan is when you are called away on business and someone else ‘teaches’ the class for a single Sunday.  You give careful instructions, even preparing dozens of questions.  You return two weeks later, and they watched four week’s worth of video segments with no discussion in your absence.  Since they finished the movie, they want to know what the next video will be.


There are some video instructional series out there that lay everything out for you.  They show you how to lead into the video, prepping the attendees to be alert for things, and how to follow up, even giving questions to ask.  But the concept of knowing your class will probably eliminate half the questions.  Be prepared to fill in the gaps.


But what if it is just a movie?  It was never intended to be a video study series.  There are no prepared questions.


Preparation for a Movie Discussion

Time the movie first.  The jacket may say how long the movie is, but that includes the credits.  On the second, third, fourth, etc. pass of watching the video, note the scenes at 15 minute intervals and 20 minute intervals.  Just kidding about multiple passes.  The first time you view a movie may take multiple passes, but then you get the feel for it.  Then go to the scene selection option of the video to try to match the scene that produces the best mix.  This may mean watching 12 minutes one week and 20 minutes the next, but there must always be ample time for discussion.  Oddly, you may have to run a little long on the video to have a decent discussion.  I have had odd mixtures of long and short segments in order to develop themes for discussion.  It is possible that the director had these themes in mind.  If the director spent too much time in character development, there might not be enough advancement in the plot to have a meaningful discussion, unless the inner turmoil of the character being developed can be associated to our inner turmoil at times.


Using a Bible in hand as you watch a dramatization of Scripture may be useful in some cases and totally confusing in others.  It depends on how ‘Hollywood’ the movie is.  I only chose movies that related to Scripture, so there was always a Biblical versus ‘Hollywood’ discussion, but the more meaningful discussion was what is the passage of Scripture saying to us and did that come out in the movie.  What was left out could be discussed.  Is the left out narrative necessary for a Christian to get from point A to point B?  What was included could lead to a discussion of the director’s motives and agenda (Christian viewpoint or story telling without religious undertones).  Again, knowing your class can help in determining what direction the discussion can be led.


Make a Set of Class Rules

I was stuck with the unwritten rule that the class was a Bible Study, so Christian fictional films were off-limits, and biographies of Christian leaders were on shaky ground.  The problem in using those fictional films is that the film may have one main moral lesson that is revealed within five minutes of the closing credits.  Watching 30 minutes of the movie may yield no discussion topics at all.  These types of movies work best in a “Popcorn and Movie Night” setting.  In this setting, you watch the entire movie and then start discussion informally or formally with those who attend.  If inviting visitors from outside the church, setting the ground rules ahead of time is important if you establish a formal discussion.  An informal discussion, carefully planned, can draw in the outsiders if done in a manner that it seems organic, making the discussion very interesting at times.  Maybe plan for one church member to ask a different church member their thoughts on one of the critical decision moments of the film.  Who knows, it might be one of those “I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out” moments.


When not in a Sunday School Setting

I have led video discussion classes that were more like a worship service, open to anyone from the community.  We had large discussion groups at times, and we broke into smaller discussion groups to promote small group discussions.  The difference with breaking into small groups is that you must prepare a set of questions ahead of time.  You may even want to hand pick the small group leaders.  A training session on small group leading may be effective.  Having handouts that focuses everyone’s attention to the key points of the video is important.  When you lead a large group, you can pull in the reigns when the class gets off track, but you cannot control 5-10 small groups – thus the hangout helps.


I hope this information helps.  Using video can reach people that might never attend a regular Bible Study during the Sunday school hour or any other time.  But, as always, reaching people’s hearts involves the Holy Spirit being at work.


Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.



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