Teaching With Technology

John R. Gentry

And Jesus said unto them, “Go ye therefore, into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. And make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you. . . .” “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and the repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Matt. 28:19–20; Mark 16:15–16; Luke 24:46–47, ASV).

And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2, ASV).

From the beginning of 2008 through the writing of this article (August 2009), the church of Christ in Galena, IN, has provided over 300 classes on four continents, including six countries and four states in the US. This number does not include the regular worship services, regular Bible studies, ladies’ Bible studies, several special Bible studies throughout the year, weekly newspaper articles or gospel meetings. All of this has been done without anyone leaving home. That’s right, no one travelled to any of these locations during this time.[1] How, you ask? In two words: video conferencing. There will be more about the technology used toward the end of this article; first, an explanation of exactly what has been done.

Moldova

Moldova is a small country in Eastern Europe, nestled between Romania and Ukraine. In January 2006 the first thought emerged of providing regular Bible classes with the churches in Moldova. In January 2008, after several trials (with a fare share of errors) and with the help of brother Serghei Corcimaru, regular Bible classes began with the church in Chisinau (the capital of Moldova) and continue to be taught every Tuesday and Friday (in December 2008 John Smith and Steve Niemeier began to also teach in these classes). These classes have now expanded to include over forty people connecting (via audio conference) from over twelve different locations. This may not seem like much, but to have over forty people interested in studying the Bible in a country of the former Soviet Union is a big deal.

India

Through an “accidental” series of events in the early part of 2008, the church was able to arrange a series of preacher training classes for nearly fifty preachers in the Guntur district of India. Original arrangements were being made through brother Kommula Nageswararao. In May 2008 brother Nageswararao passed away. Arrangements continued to be made through brother Ambekar Guduri. A video projector and webcam were shipped over. Internet service was purchased. A facility to accommodate the classes and other needs was rented. Thompson Chain-Reference Bibles® in the Telugu language were purchased for the students.[2] During the month of October 2008, seventy-two classes were taught to nearly fifty preachers. The classes covered Cogdill’s The Bible in Preaching; Cogdill’s The New Testament Church; Old Testament survey; New Testament survey; the preacher’s life and work: a study of First and Second Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy, and Titus; authority; how to study the Bible (especially incorporating the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible®); church history and several other topics related to the work of a preacher. In addition to the visual and audible communication available through video conferencing, another program was used that allowed them to see the PowerPoint charts being used to teach these lessons (more on that later).

Lord willing, the church in Galena will be providing additional classes toward the end of 2009.

Sierra Leone

Through another “accidental”[3] series of events in the middle part of 2008, the church was able to arrange a series of classes on the basics of New Testament Christianity to dozens of people in Freetown, Sierra Leone.[4] All of these students were from various denominations including Baptist, Methodist, and some “Non-Denominational” denominations.[5] These classes covered the basics of authority, conversion, the New Testament church, how to study the Bible, and other elementary principles. Many of the people there are hungry for the truth from God’s word, and they are disgusted by the prevalence of the modern charismatic movement that has entered their country by way of Nigeria. This first round of about ninety classes took place from November 2008 through February 2009. Then, beginning in July 2009 and continuing through September 2009, a second round of over sixty classes was taught. This second round included new students who went through the basics of New Testament Christianity while the previous students went through a study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus.[6]

The church in Galena also produces a weekly thirty-minute radio program that airs all over the country of Sierra Leone.

As mentioned, all of those who have participated thus far have been from denominational backgrounds and yet, for the most part, are hungry for the truth. Many have abandoned their denominational names (of the church, as well as the names often assigned to preachers). They are now teaching and practicing the truth when it comes to conversion and baptism. In a very real way, there is a Restoration Movement taking root. However, just as it took several years for those in the early stages of the Restoration Movement in our own country to completely come out of and abandon their denominational beliefs and practices, it will be several years before those in Sierra Leone who continue in the truth have completely come out of their denominational beliefs and practices.[7]

The church in Galena has planted the seed in these people, and in November 2009 John Smith, Steve Niemeier, Phil Morgan, Sid Latham, and Jim Lee are planning to make a three-week trip to do some watering (1 Cor. 3:5–9). Pray the Lord to give increase. Lord willing, over the next several years we will be able to continue to cultivate through video conferencing and men and women on the ground in preaching and teaching trips.

The Technology

The technology behind these classes is not as complicated or expensive as it sounds. The basic necessities to accomplish video conferencing Bible studies are:

Hardware:

  • High speed internet on both ends, that is at the location where you are and the location of those with whom you wish to study—the faster the better; in most cases 96–128 Kbps minimum.[8]
  • A webcam on both ends—nothing fancy is needed, though some of the lowest-end webcams may not provide video quality to your liking; many laptops today come with built-in webcams.
  • A microphone on both ends—again, nothing fancy is needed; the $10 mics available at most stores actually work as good as any; some laptops have built-in mics (some of which work well while others do not).
  • Video projector—this is only necessary if you are wanting (1) a larger audience to see you or you see a larger audience,[9] or (2) you are wanting to display your charts or other visual aid(s) on a larger screen so that those with whom you are studying can see them better (see below for applicable software); if it is a smaller group, then the computer monitor/screen may work just fine for these purposes.

Software:

  • Video conferencing software—while a lot of money can be spent for such software, the FREE software works just as well; Skype, Windows Live Messenger, ooVoo and SightSpeed were all tested in the beginning stages of these studies, and Skype[10] came out the overall best achiever in audio and video quality; one drawback with Skype (and most of the FREE software) is that when using video you can only have two parties connected;[11] however, when using audio as many as 99 parties can participate in the conference study (though the internet connection or computer processing ability might place a lower limit on this).
  • Cross-platform desktop sharing tool—this is only necessary if you want to share what is on your screen, such as your PowerPoint charts, with others; the only such software that has been used in these studies is Mikogo;[12] such software allows you to run a PowerPoint presentation in the same way you would for a sermon or Bible class.

Conclusion

The face to face connection in spreading the gospel and teaching should never be eliminated. In the first century the apostles communicated with people with letters and oral reports, but they still recognized the superiority of face to face studies (Rom. 1:12, 13; 15:29-32; 2 Cor. 1:15; Gal. 4:20; 2 John 12). Using the internet and video conferencing should never replace the face to face preaching and teaching trips. However, when used in addition to such face to face preaching and teaching trips, the internet and video conferencing can open the door for more studies with more people more frequently. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, in the last two years the church in Galena has provided over 300 classes on four continents, including six countries, without a single person leaving his home town. And there have been several requests for other such studies in other countries that have not been met simply due to time and money limitations. The possibilities are truly unlimited. “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (Gal. 6.10, NRSV).

Truth Magazine Vol. LIII: 11 November 2009


[1] A trip was made to Moldova in February 2008 by John Gentry, Randy Gentry, Charles Gentry and Jason Gentry and another in April 2009 by John Gentry, Brace Rutledge, Steve Monts, and Justin Monts. The nearly 120 Bible studies conducted during these trips are also not included in the over 300 classes mentioned in this paragraph.

[2] It was discovered through a series of conversations with David Gage, the vice president of the Kirkbride Bible Company, the sole national and international copyright holder to the Thompson® Chain-Reference® Study System, that these Thompson Chain-Reference Bibles® in the Telugu language were actually published and printed illegally by Dr. A. P. Daniel (http://www.danielbible.com/). However, Mr. Gage gave permission to use as many of these Bibles as needed.

[3] If it hasn’t been obvious by now, placing accidental in quotes emphasizes that it may, or may not, have been purely coincidental. It is certainly possible that God’s providence was involved in making the opportunities for teaching and learning available. “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esth. 4:14, ESV).

[4] Sierra Leone is a small country in West Africa. Its north and eastern neighbor is Guinea and its south-eastern neighbor is Liberia. It is bordered on the west and southwest by the Atlantic Ocean. Freetown is the capital city. The country has a population of 6.3 million and Freetown has a population of just over 1 million. Sierra Leone is French for Lion Mountain.

[5] In the beginning no evidence could be found that the Lord’s church had a presence in the country. However, in April, 2009, John Smith was able to make contact with some brethren in the states with institutional ties that provided information for brethren and churches in Sierra Leone with institutional ties.

[6] Most of the people participating in these studies are preachers. Studying through these books provides, not only an opportunity to spell out in detail what God expects of preachers, but also a host of opportunities to reemphasize God’s pattern for the work, worship, and organization of the church, the errors of denominationalism, etc.

[7] One example to illustrate this point: the differences between pastors and preachers were covered two or three times in the first round of classes and then two or three times in the second round of classes with the same students. However, during a question and answer session (QnA sessions are offered at the end of each day of classes) someone asked for an explanation to the statement: “A preacher is not a pastor and a pastor is not a preacher.” After this discussion, again nearly a year after first being taught about these differences, many of them acted as if they were learning something new that day. It simply takes several times of repeating the same thing (Phil. 3:1; 2 Pet. 1:12–15; 3:1) and time for them to absorb teaching that seems so clear to some and yet is in direct contrast with the way their brains have been trained and engrained for generations.

[8] The best sources for such connections are the hardwired connections such as DSL or cable (Wi-Fi connections to such connections also are fine). The cellular modems and satellites do not provide as reliable of a connection. The cellular modems may be improving, especially in larger cities. However, the satellite connections, while perhaps fast for browsing and downloading, have a very long delay (some home connections average 800–1000ms latency, which, when you’re talking about speaking to someone over such a connection, equals a nearly two second delay). That kind of delay can get pretty annoying, though if that is all that is available it will certainly do.

[9] Or if you want to involve several people such as an entire congregation or adult Bible class in such a study and expect each person to be seen by those on the other end. The church in Galena has conducted a handful of such studies and periods of worship with brethren in Chisinau, Moldova.

[10] http://www.skype.com.

[11] There are some work-arounds for this if you get creative.

[12] http://www.mikogo.com.