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 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 power.
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 retirement fund.
Teacher acquiescence and plumped investment portfolios superseded the goal of heightened spiritual growth.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 as 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.