HBLT and MWGYW Teaching and Preaching Methods

Not all classes are equal; not all sermons are the same.

Even if the biblical text is identical and the exegetical work done with equally careful execution, and even if the speakers are identically gifted in elocution, there is something that sets apart one sermon from others, one class above all the rest. That one thing is not the amount of preparation, although preparation is important. It is not the seminary where the pastor trained. It is not even the amount of years one has been preaching or teaching—in fact—a first time preacher may actually succeed above a pastor of twenty or thirty years, but not if this one thing is not right. That one thing is the Holy Spirit and his involvement within the sermon or class. He may use the best or the worst sermon to bring about remarkable transformation by the very Word of God. This however, does not mean that a preacher or teacher should not prepare well. In addition, preachers and teachers should layout their discussion well.

Apart from the Holy Spirit, the approach may be the next key to success in the actual preaching and teaching once the preparation is complete. The pastor or teacher must select a good outline or model from which to use to navigate the audience through the material. Among many approaches, two outstanding models are the Hook, Book, Look, Took (HBLT) model offered by Lawrence O. Richards and Gary J. Bredfeldt and the Me, We, God, You, We (MWGYM) model argued for by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones. While there are many approaches, the remainder of this post will examine the strengths and weaknesses of these teaching models and conclude with a personal reflection having used both.

Richards and Bredfeldt suggest that the Apostle Paul taught with an approach similar to HBLT, if not exactly the same. First, they say, Paul would interact in the world of his audience in such a way as to get them interested in his topic. He would hook them. Then he would engage in exploring the truth together with is listeners. Once a solid understanding of God and God’s Word was established, Paul would encourage application in the lives of his audience and then he would conclude with a decision point of reflection (Richards and Bredfelt 153-154). This, in essence is HBLT. In more practical terms, Hook represents the creative opening that gets the class or audience interested in learning more. Richards and Bredfeldt suggest using a movie clip or something from the common culture of the audience. Book represents a turn to God’s Word, the Bible. This is where the primary teaching starts. Look is the word used to represent the personal application. This is where the Biblical material is applied to the personal life in theory. Then, Took is where the lesson is lived out in reality, this is where the faith is worked out. Took is the required life response. Looking at HBLT in another way, the Hook applies to the present, Book to the past, Look is a return to the present, and Took is about the future (Ibid., 160).

The strength of HBTL is also its weakness. HBLT is easy to use and is a format that many people are accustomed to in church; however, it is not very personal. There is little need for a connection between the teacher or preacher and the learners. The material is out in front and the instructor stands behind it. The advantage of this model is when the audience is not known, like in guest preaching or teaching situation. There is little risk when a personal connection is not important. The material is everything. Another advantage is that different teachers can teach the same lesson with little need for adaptation. In fact, it seems that many teaching guides and Bible study programs written for the Church use the HBLT approach. This however, is also the major disadvantage of HBLT. With the HBLT model, the personal connection can be lost in the material. It may not always be the case, the model does not have a very high level of personal connection built into it. While this may be okay for the one-time preacher or teacher, often teachers and preachers desire to build a stronger rapport with their class or audience. The HLBT model may not be the fasted or most effective way to build this relationship.

Stanley and Jones offer an alternative to the HBLT model they call MWGYW. This model takes a single primary idea and builds everything around it in such a way that it demands personal reflection and a connection between the teacher and the class. MWGYW starts with an opener that is personal to the speaker. Me essentially puts the speaker in a position to be vulnerable because he or she is the hook. On the surface, this may not seem very engaging, but it seems when a preacher starts to tell a story about himself, people perk up and listen. Therefore, if the preacher can open with an engaging though he has had, he may be able to get the audience to ask the same question—a question that has to be answered. The We is all about getting the audience engaged and desiring to move to the actual instruction portion. In addition, getting the audience involved personally tends to keep their attention. Once everybody is connected, the teaching really begins and the goal is to answer that one big question. At the conclusion of the teaching, Stanley and Jones argue that the audience needs to be compelled to look at their own life; but then they are not alone, because the conclusion encourages the entire group, including the teacher or preacher to look at the future if this personal application has a positive outcome (Stanley and Jones 48-49).

There are two primary advantages of the MWGYW model. The first is that the model encourages that the lesson or sermon focus on only one major idea. If this were the big idea, there would be little reason to fill a sermon with other forgettable material. When everything works with one idea, each section of the lesson or sermon is fairly focused and easy to remember. The second advantage is that in the personal sections (M, W, Y, and W), a preacher or teacher can speak from memory easily because the stories, questions, and conviction pushes are conversational. These conversational stories, spoken from memory, often leave the audience feeling connected with the speaker. As the section on God begins, that is, the teaching from the Word, it is easier to memorize the road map and then lead the audience through the learning journey because there is primarily only one major idea.

The disadvantage of the MWGYW model is the higher risk in making the lesson too personal or all about the teacher rather than all about the biblical material. Another disadvantage is that if the audience cannot relate to the speaker in the Me section, they will not be with the speaker in the We, and subsequently not with the lesson or sermon at all. A story is shared in Stanley and Jone’s book Communicating for a Change where the speaker had some technical difficulties with his microphone and he ended up rushing through his Me section and all but dropped the We section. As it turns out, everything else fell flat (Ibid., 122-123). A great disadvantage of the MWGYW (which is also a part of the advantage) is so much is dependant upon the personal connection.

Often the most memorable classes and sermons are the ones where the speaker is able to engage the class or congregation on a personal level. When the audience is drawn in personally as individuals and as a group with the speaker or teacher into the material, they seem to remain more engaged and the material seems to have more significance. It is for this reason that the MWGYW appears to have the greater advantage over the HBLT. However, this is only an advantage if the preacher or speaker utilizes MWGYW well. The great difficulty with the MWGYW comes when it is not utilized well. This is not as much of a problem for the HBLT method. Even when the H of the HBLT is only fair, the model may still go forward and find success. Not so with MWGYW.

In addition, the HBLT seems easier to learn for the new teacher or preacher while the MWGYW seems easier to deliver. HBLT is simple and allows the material to drive the lesson while the MWGYW requires a personal touch. The MWGYW needs more thoughtful preparation but it is easier to memorize the material and deliver it in an extremely personal style. One method should not be selected over the other in a permanent sense, however. The effective teacher or preacher should view each of these teaching and preaching methods as a tool, each to be used when most appropriate for the situation. Both the HBLT and the MWGYW have tremendous potential for preaching and teaching and neither should be cast to the dusty back part of the shelf.

This author has recently had the opportunity to use both the HBLT and the MWGYW methods in classes and in preaching. In a class I teach regularly, we are journeying through the synoptic gospels. From week to week we open our Bibles and work through a small section of the text. The class typically uses a handout with questions. The class often simply expects to open the Bible and jump right in; however, a Hook or Me is often needed to compel the students to desire to answer pressing questions they had not yet thought through prior to entering the classroom. With some material recently, it seems that learning the material and forming a sound base with the biblical information was extremely important. In this case the HBLT was a great approach. The material lead the discussion and lesson with little need to drive the individual into the material until the end when the Look and Took of the application was necessary. The following week however, the MWGYW approach was used. I waded out into the water and then invited the class in prior to starting with the biblical material. I allowed myself as the teacher to be more vulnerable in order to connect with the class a little more than the Hook typically allows. As I did this, the class naturally waded out into the water with me. As we journeyed into the biblical content, it was clear that we were journeying in from the start; therefore, at the point of application (You and We), it was the most natural place the class was headed. In this instance, the conversation easily flowed into personal reflection so much more so than the previous class with the HBLT method. Both worked well together and both were necessary given the need of the material and my desire for the direction of the class.

In preaching however, I have found that the MWGYW approach is a better fit for my preaching style. The Book and the God section of each approach tends to be the same, but the Me, We, You, and We sections are so much more conversational and personal. I have found it easier to drive the Word of God into my own life and then into the lives of the congregation with the MWGYW approach because this approach so naturally lends itself to personal application. As I preached on a part of the conversation of the last Supper in John, I could easily paint of picture of the meal conversation and then place myself and the congregation there. I could ask how we might respond, or even how the listener might respond. And I preached the forty minute sermon with no notes. (You may listen to this particular sermon here.)  Personally, I enjoy the MWGYW method more in preaching, but just as in teaching, I will continue to keep both methods in my pastor’s tool box.

Richards, Larry, and Gary J. Bredfeldt. Creative Bible Teaching. Chicago, Mich: Moody Press,

Stanley, Andy, and Lane Jones. Communicating for a Change. Sisters, Oreg: Multnomah
Publishers, 2006.