Preaching Articles

If Jesus Gave a TED Talk Principle 3—Create Connection (Affinity)

Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

-- Teddy Roosevelt  


This article continues a series a series of articles on 8 neuroscience-based principles that Jesus modeled for us that can profoundly improve our preaching and teaching. They are based on my latest book, If Jesus Gave a TED Talk: 8 neuroscience principles the Master Teacher used to persuade His audience. Today’s principle is Principle 3--Create Connection (Affinity).

I earned my undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering from GA Tech. I paid my way through school through a program that allowed me to work alternating quarters with an engineering firm.  Occasionally I’d take a night course during a work quarter.

I took one course three times, ‘dynamics,’ notorious for its difficulty. The first two times I dropped the course because I felt totally lost. I could not understand what the professor was trying to teach. And the first two profs were as cold as a freezer to us students. The third time I took the course, however, I made an ‘A.’

What made the difference?

The professor did. 

This professor conveyed genuine warmth to each student. He willingly answered our questions. He would meet with us after class. Although he knew his material quite well, he also knew that most students struggled with this course. So, he brought it down to our level, rather than teaching it at his high level.

I don’t know if he had studied communication and the brain, but because he understood those principles, he created an affinity with us, including with me, which helped us learn better.  

In this article, we’ll look at how you can develop affinity with your congregation through your preaching by connecting with them.

KNOW YOUR MATERIAL

One important way you can create affinity with your audience is by knowing what you’re talking about. People listen to communicators and preachers who clearly know their material. It brings them authority.

Although Jesus did not graduate from one of the rabbinical schools, he showed a profound, intuitive knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. John writes this about Jesus when he spoke at a Jewish feast. “Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews were amazed and asked, ‘How did this man get such learning without having studied (vss 14-15)?’” The people were amazed at His grasp of Scripture even though He lacked formal training.

Luke records an episode earlier in Jesus’ life when He accompanied Mary and Joseph on one of the annual visits to Jerusalem to observe Passover. At this time Jesus was twelve years old. After the festival was over, unbeknownst to His parents, Jesus stayed back. After three days they realized He was not with the caravan so they went back to Jerusalem and found Him in the temple courts. Luke writes that when they found Him, He was, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers (Lk.46-47).” Almost 20 years before He began His public ministry, He already had a stunning understanding of the Scriptures.

As Professor Roy Zuck writes, Jesus, “displayed full mastery of what He taught. He was never dependent on notes, never at a loss for what to say, never unprepared, never taken aback or confused by a question from friend or foe never unsure of what to communicate.”

Jesus spoke with authority and the people noticed. Matthew wrote that, “he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law (Mt. 7.29).” Of course Jesus had intrinsic authority as the Son of God. Although we preachers don’t have that kind of authority, command of our subject matter will give us derived authority in our learners’ minds.

Your knowledge of your sermon material will help your learners create an emotional connection to it. That is, the authority you bring can help them see the value of it from both a cognitive and an emotional perspective (related to a concept called salience, how helpful, prominent, or important we perceive something). And if your listeners lack such emotional connection, it can hinder learning. Neuroscientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang notes, “Factual knowledge alone is useless without a guiding emotional intuition…. if they feel no connection to the knowledge they learn …, (the) content will seem emotionally meaningless to them.” Such connection will help create ownership of their learning because they see and emotionally experience the value of it. The more positive emotion you evoke toward the material in your talk, the more your listeners will be engaged and will learn.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE (the class you teach or the congregation you preach to)

The curator of the popular TED talks makes a strong case to know your audience.

“Language works its magic only to the extent that it is shared by speaker and listener. And there’s the key clue to how to achieve the miracle of re-creating your idea in someone else’s brain. You can only use the tools that your audience has access to. If you start only with your language, your concepts, your assumptions, your values, you will fail. So instead, start with theirs. It’s only from that common ground that they can begin to build your idea inside their minds.” In other words, imagine you are in the audience and let that drive what you plan to say.

The better you know your audience the better you’ll be able to adapt and match your message to their needs, desires, backgrounds, and the fact that people learn at different rates. We certainly can’t read minds and we don’t know what people are thinking or their heart’s condition, as did Jesus (Jn 2.23-25). For He perfectly understood hearts, what people were thinking, and their motivations. He understood his enemies (Mt 12.25), His friends, and His inquirers. Although we don’t have that ability, we must still try to understand our audience the best we can.

Jesus matched His teaching to His audience and created an affinity to Himself, though not always. The religious elite felt threatened and had Him crucified. But in general, crowds and individuals were drawn to Him. He knew their hearts and adapted His teaching to His audience, yet he never compromised Truth. He even withheld some teaching because His listeners could not fully bear what He had to say (Jn 16.12).

 To an inquisitive student, Nicodemus, He used give and take and evocative language to make that ruler consider deep truths about salvation (Jn 3.1-21). To a Samaritan woman involved in sexual sin, he used the image of clean, pure water to create a spiritual thirst in her for Living Water, Himself (Jn 4.1-42). In response to the Pharisees who thought Jesus was guilty of blasphemy after they saw Him heal a paralyzed man and forgive his sins, He directly addressed their thoughts with this. “Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home (Mt 9.4-7).’” Jesus knew His audience and matched his teaching to it.

So as you prepare your sermons, match your teaching to your audience’s background and understanding, the best you can. I hope you’ll check out each article in this series. Next week we’ll look at Principle 4—Free Up Working Memory (Capacity).

And, if you’d like a free chart that captures all the principles and key components, you can get a free one by clicking here.

This article was adapted by permission and comes from Charles Stone’s 7th book titled If Jesus Gave a TED Talk: Eight


NEUROSCIENCE principles the Master Teacher used to persuade His audience (Freiling Publishing, 2021).


For a free chapter, go here.


You can follow Charles at www.charlesstone.com

Charles has been a pastor for forty years in the US and Canada. He has authored seven books, and his writing has appeared over 300 times on leading Christian leadership websites. His passion is neuroministry, intersecting Biblical truth with neuroscience. He has earned four degrees and is currently completing his PhD. He has been married forty-one years to his wife Sherryl, and they have three adult children and three grandchildren. His current book is If Jesus Gave a TED Talk: 8 neuroscience principles the Master Teacher used to persuade His audience (2021, Freiling Publishing). www.charlesstone.com
Browse All

Related Preaching Articles

Talk about it...

Nobody has commented yet. Be the first!

Join the discussion