Middle School Bible Teacher
Bringing the Bible to Life for Heritage Middle Schoolers
In talking with Heritage Bible teacher Dan Stroup, it’s easy to feel as if you’re the only person in the room. You get the sense that he’s really, truly listening. That he’s genuinely interested in what you have to say. And the truth is that he is.
This quality surely is one of the reasons why he’s such an effective instructor with his seventh and eighth grade students. “They want to know, do you love them? Do you enjoy what you’re doing? Do you like to be with them?” explains Stroup. “I think if they sense that, they’re going to be with you.”
With him, they are. Stroup engages students from the time he commences class with a daily “pre-game warm up” review until the bell signals the end of the period. He clearly has a game plan for each day’s lesson and the kids respond well to the security of the structure, the easy-going pace and the meaty content he delivers.
The class is less a monologue and more of a dialogue about both the facts and applications of scripture. On this day, Stroup guides his eighth grade class through Old Testament passages, pausing at times to ask them questions. “Everything written in the past is here to teach us,” he reminds them.
Over the years, Stroup developed a creative, colorful approach to help students recall biblical content and principles. He dubbed them “sponsors,” a name loosely derived from the educational realm of Sesame Street. In actuality, they’re effective mnemonic devices infused with homiletical ideas. Every week brings a new, highly anticipated set of Stroup’s simple drawings and correlating ideas. He recreates all of them for easy reference, on a single chalkboard that vaguely resembles a collection of hieroglyphics.
Stroup strikes a beautiful balance of foundational biblical knowledge and practical application. From Psalm 73, he accentuates the value of making good life choices. From the pages of Joshua, he reminds the kids that their lives matter to God; that He has uniquely gifted them for service; that they can have an impact on other people. “The more you expose yourself to God’s Word, the more you start seeing your place in the world and begin to understand your purpose,” he says.
“The more you expose yourself to God’s Word, the more you start seeing your place in the world and begin to understand your purpose."
To reinforce the point, Stroup moves into the “Where are They?”(WAT) segment of the class. It’s a masterful and powerful approach on many levels. Each “WAT” features a Heritage alumnus or alumnae who is following God’s calling on their life and profession. Stroup has introduced students to the lives of professional athletes, Broadway actors and missionaries. Today, he dims the lights for a video about Heritage alum Mark Smiley (HCS 2000), who’s a photographer, filmmaker and mountain guide on a quest to scale the 50 classic climbs of North America. When it’s over, Stroup gently asks, “What is it that God wants to do in your life?”
With a few minutes of class time remaining, he announces that it’s time for the “S Files,” (S is for Stroup) which he describes as random information that you don’t need to know. It’s just for fun.
It happens to be “Pi Day,” when the world celebrates all things mathematical. One student has brought in individual pies to share with the class, complete with a can of Reddi Whip. Before they indulge in the sweet treats, Stroup gathers the students for a group photo to commemorate the occasion.
It’s just this kind of inclusive gesture that makes Stroup endearing. It’s that conscious, intentional acknowledgement that another’s presence matters. Of his students, Stroup concludes, “I want them to know that I know who they are. I want to be involved in their lives a little bit in the short time that they’re here in my class, so that when they leave, they’ll be able to say, ‘he knew who I was.’”