Preaching Articles

They may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel. 

–anonymous


This article continues 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 Principle7—Cultivate Confidence (Mindset).

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I never excelled at sports, but I did at academics. As I reflect over my early school experiences, I don’t remember any specific subjects, classes, or assignments. I do, however, recall teachers who cared for me and instilled confidence in me.

Mrs. Moore, my sixth-grade teacher, often affirmed my ability to create interesting science projects. Mrs. McKay, my seventh-grade teacher, smelled like Vicks VapoRub™ and was so old she had even taught my dad when he was a kid. She saw my potential and challenged me to perform at a high level. Mr. Gann, my eight-grade algebra teacher, saw my potential and helped me excel in a class with high school seniors. Mrs. Cox, my ninth-grade science teacher, believed in me and still keeps in touch through social media. Mr. Hampton, my eleventh-grade science teacher energized my love for the sciences. And my pastor while I attended GA Tech profoundly impacted my decision to go into full-time ministry.

All these communicators instilled confidence in me because they believed that I could learn, excel, and achieve. You can probably recall influential teachers, pastors, and coaches as well. A communicator’s content, delivery, and learning insights certainly make our talks more effective. So, what we can do to create a confident mindset in our learners so that they believe they have what it takes to learn from you and are motivated spiritually grow. 

ACT WITH A CONTAGIOUS SPIRIT

Emotional contagion

A type of neuron, called a ‘mirror’ neuron was discovered by accident in the 1960’s by a group of scientists at the University of Parma in Italy. They had implanted a probe into the motor cortex of a monkey’s brain to study motor movements. When the monkey reached for food, their monitoring device noted specific neurons that fired. But they also discovered that those same neurons fired when the monkey simply observed the researchers reach for food. In other words, the monkey’s brain reacted in the same way as if he actually had reached for the food. These neurons eventually got the name mirror neurons and fMRI studies have discovered that we humans also have those neurons, even though there is still some controversy about them.

When we watch others feel an emotion or take purposeful action, mirror neurons activate just as if we are experiencing those emotions or actions. When someone smiles at us, we smile back. When we see someone grimace, we also grimace. When we see someone tear up, we feel like tearing up. When we see someone get a shot on a TV show, we often turn our heads to avoid feeling similar pain ourselves. Even a few hours-old baby will stick their tongue out if their mother sticks hers out. Mirror neurons map experiences we see in others upon our own nervous system. Psychologist Louis Cozolino writes how mirror neurons affects us. “While our motor networks practice what we see being done by others, our emotional networks resonate with what we see is being felt by others. This emotional resonance then becomes the core of empathy.” These neurons bridge the gap between sender and receiver across what is called the ‘social synapse.’

Daniel Goleman, a neuroscientist who popularized emotional intelligence, gives further insight into mirror neurons. “Mirror neurons have particular importance in organizations [and churches, my note], because leaders’ emotions and actions prompt followers to mirror those feelings and deeds. The effects of activating neural circuitry in followers’ brains can be very powerful.” This mirroring effect is also true for communicators and teachers. In other words, your actions, demeanor, and emotions, both good and bad, are contagious and impact learning. It’s called emotional contagion. A preacher’s (or even a group’s) stress, anger, or fatigue can be felt by the listener through these mirror neuron systems even without their awareness. Positive emotions are also transmitted through these neuronal systems. In fact, when we show support to others through our actions and expressions, we stimulate the production of feel good transmitters.

Teachers who convey more positive emotions like confidence, enthusiasm, and optimism simply teach better and students work harder to learn. They communicate more clearly, give more complete explanations, make more connections between the content and the real world, and teach with greater enthusiasm. And their positive emotions evoked similar positive emotions in students, regardless of teaching attributes. As a result, students learned better. Conversely, teachers who feel angry and anxious don’t teach as well.

Proverbs 16:15 illustrates this idea. “There’s life in the light of the king’s face. His favor is like a cloud that brings spring rain.” When an ancient king smiled at a subject, it implied that his favor experienced by that person would refresh their spirit. So, the tone you set can ripple through your entire audience. 

Jesus certainly conveyed a contagious spirit. When He told His disciples to follow Him, they caught His enthusiasm and immediately followed as Matthew records in Matthew 4.18-22. As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 

We see His passion and zeal for God’s purposes just after His first miracle when He turned water into wine. We see His fervor when he kicked the money changers out of the temple after seeing them cheat the people. As His disciples watched this play out, what they saw in Jesus reminded of a verse from Psalms which John recorded them saying, His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me Jn 2.17.” Jesus exuded passion about His message, others saw it, and many in turn embraced and mirrored that same zeal



So, as you craft and deliver your sermons look for ways to genuinely increase you passion and enthusiasm. When you do, your listeners will mirror that and become more confident to take that next step of spiritual growth. Next week we’ll unpack the final Principle 8: Reinforce Life Application (Transfer)

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
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