For many teachers and preachers, there’s a line they won’t cross
when delivering their messages. This line creates a barrier that
looms higher than any desire to move the audience.
Most preachers and teachers will say that their ultimate goal is
to help their people grow spiritually. They are sincere. But I’ve
discovered a number of circumstances when some tend to knowingly
compromise that ultimate mission.
Preachers desire to make their sermon times the most effective
they can be. However, that good intent only goes so far. For
example, on a number of occasions I’ve seen pastors personally
respond to a message in a short film or other medium. “Wow, that
really preaches,” they said. Then I asked if they would ever
consider dedicating their entire sermon time to the showing of a
such a film. “No, no, no,” they said.
“Even if the film would be far more effective at making your
point?” I asked.
They told me they would never relinquish their microphone. When
I asked why, they gave a number of reasons. Some said, “That’s my
job!” They said their parishioners expect them to prepare and
dispense a spoken sermon every week-period. The strength of the
message is not the point. Others said they love to preach-it’s what
they do. They have no tolerance for something else delivering the
week’s message-even if that something else would carry twice the
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You see, some things command a higher priority than effectively
reaching and moving the people with the message.
We once conducted a national survey of Christian educators, and
asked this question: “If you found a curriculum that you believed
was superior, which would result in greater learning and growth,
would you be inclined to switch from what you’re using now?” Only
29 percent said yes.
We asked the majority why they wouldn’t consider switching. They
cited a number of reasons. Some feared their habit-bound teachers
would complain. Others said their senior pastor dictated curriculum
choices, based on using certain denominational resources that
applied a percentage of curriculum revenue to the pastor’s
Teacher acquiescence and plumped investment portfolios
superseded the goal of heightened spiritual growth.
For many years I’ve led workshops on effective teaching. I’ve
advocated using teaching techniques that Jesus exemplified, such as
participative experiences and give-and-take interaction. Inevitably
someone says, “Well, that’s not my style. I’m going to stick with
what I’m comfortable with.”
At that point in the workshop I’ll usually say, “It’s not about
you. In teaching and preaching, it’s not about you. It’s about the
souls whom God placed you among. It’s not about you, or your style,
or how you’ve always taught-or been taught, or what makes you most
comfortable, or what you feel you’re best at, or what you prefer.
It’s not about you.”
We call this approach “learner-based.” This simply means that in
your teaching and preaching you do what’s most effective for the
learner. The opposite is “teacher-based.”
In a learner-based environment, you keep the ultimate goal in
the top priority. If a film would help your people grow more than a
sermon, you show the film. If one curriculum inspires more
spiritual growth than another, you choose the more effective one.
If your people will learn and retain more (they will) when they
have the opportunity to interact with one another, you provide for
it. If engaging your class or your congregation in a participatory
experience would be more impactful, you do it, even if it makes you
or your people a bit uncomfortable.
Be true to the mission. Time is too short, and the mission is
too critical, to pander to lower priorities.