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I'm currently in a master's program in neuroleadership through Middlesex University in the UK, and I'm having a blast. Christian leaders and pastors can learn much from the latest neuroscience discoveries about the brain. Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain profoundly impacts leadership, emotional regulation, motivating others, navigating change, team building, and effective communication.

Every ministry leader wants others to become more like Jesus. For that to happen, their thinking, behavior, and habits must change. Those changes don't occur in a void. Rather, God takes what we learn about the Bible, character, and God-honoring behavior to transform us. One major input to this new way of living comes through our preaching and teaching.

But for lasting change to occur, our brains must embed new information into our long-term memory instead of our short-term memory. Think of the difference between cramming for a test in geography the night before the test (we soon forget the facts) and learning a new language (if we continue to use it, the language gets embedded deep within our memories). Neuroscientists call this embedding process consolidation. The name itself pictures the process. Although initial information comes into our minds through our five senses, it passes through a part of the brain called the hippocampus. However, if we want the new information (i.e., our sermons) to stick, the memories must be spread to other parts of the brain to consolidate them into long term memory.

So, if you want to increase the chance that life transformation happens through your preaching and teaching, consider these practical steps to help embed your teaching into long term memory, thus making your sermons more "sticky."

1. Increase focused attention by engaging more senses than just sight and sound. Creatively use taste, smell, and touch. When people pay more attention to your sermons, they engage the hippocampus more. And unless it is engaged, people won't remember what you say.

2. Deliver your sermon in an organized way. Use a visual metaphor or picture at the beginning to tie the talk together. If you deliver your sermon in a random way, memory decreases.  This is called pre-encoding which organizes the brain to remember better.

3. Break up the message into two parts and place a different element between each (ie. video or music). In the second part, creatively review the content you presented in the first part. The following week, again review the previous week's main points. Neuroscientists have discovered that spacing between learning something and practicing it increases memory retention.

4. Use a PowerPoint flashcard at the end of the talk by asking the people to fill in the blanks of your sermon’s key points. When someone self-generates information, it sticks much better than when they are simply told information.

5. Ask the people to personally apply one aspect of the message to their own lives. This concept, called self-relevant processing, deepens memory more than almost anything else. It relates to helping them emotionally connect to what you want them to learn. Emotional stamping is a powerful memory enhancer.

6. Ask the people to imagine themselves not only doing the application but also to imagine the context (where) in which they will do it. Again, neuroscience has discovered that people recall memories better when they imagine the context in which they learned or practiced something new.

Run last week's Bible study or sermon through this grid and see what improvements you can make for next week.

Dr. Charles Stone is Lead Pastor at West Park Church in London, Ontario, Canada, and the founder of StoneWell Ministries, a pastor coaching and church consulting ministry. He is the author of four books including, "People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership" (IVP 2014), and his most recent book, “Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry” (Abingdon, May 2015).

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Josh Mcdowell

commented on May 21, 2012

Great article.... I try to do many of these 6 points every week. Here are some examples.... for point (1) I've jarred pickles on two different occasions helping people understand the difference between the words used for baptize in the scriptures. There is an old pickle recipe that helps with this explanation. On another Sunday I fried some sausages and we all had a bite of sausage, that was on a Sunday when we were remembering the Affair of Sausages in Church History. I picked up some Gingerbread house kits after Christmas (50 cents a piece) this year, but I haven't decided how to use them yet... I will someday soon.

Josh Mcdowell

commented on May 21, 2012

(2) ORGANIZED - I've started dividing my notes for Sunday into three typed pages. I try to write one page (it is usually 1 page front and back) on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday two or three weeks ahead of that Sunday we'll be discussing that topic. I also have started recently allowing people to pick up those notes a week or so ahead of time if they want to read ahead so that they can better participate in the Sunday Conversation. I encourage questions and dialogue during my sermons. This also helps with retention I believe.

Josh Mcdowell

commented on May 21, 2012

(3) BREAK IT UP... there are tons of clips on YOU TUBE that often could fit into the message, and it is very easy to show a YOU TUBE clip on a Sunday morning. A moment of dialogue between the points is also a great way to break up the talk and allow people to have a break to reengage their brains.

Josh Mcdowell

commented on May 21, 2012

(4) I use PowerPoint nearly every week... and I always try to leave out information and ask people to respond... God often speaks louder and clearer through the audience than the pulpiteer...

Josh Mcdowell

commented on May 21, 2012

(5) If your church doesn't like audience interaction, some of my points may be useless to you... but I'm very intentional about audience participation. I believe the church is believers gathered in a public place for the purpose of deliberation, so if this doesn't help you, ignore it.... :) I think this fifth point is GREAT and I actually like to ask people to say out loud how today's talk might help them and how they may apply it.

Josh Mcdowell

commented on May 21, 2012

(6) Point six is new to me... so I don't have an example to add. BUT I LOVED THIS ARTICLE. Thanks

Suresh Manoharan

commented on May 22, 2012

A wonderful article...for those who have been already following the tips given thanks to the Holy Spirit leading (John 2:27)...it is an endorsement of their preaching style. Suresh Manoharan

John E Miller

commented on May 24, 2012

This is rubbish and so far removed from the preaching of "The Word of the Cross" that I despair. There is no mention of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, no mention of the need of repentance and faith, no mention of the power of the Holy Spirit of God. This is the application of the principles of the world to a dying visible church. All these suggestions will do is to hasten its demise. The true church draws its power and life from Jesus Christ and resolutely refuses the world's blandishments. Charles Stone and his accolytes such as Josh MacDowell are guilty of a gross misrepresentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Josh Mcdowell

commented on May 25, 2012

John E Miller, every point could have a chapter and verse reference if the author wanted to do so... but remember those little #'s aren't scripture. They were added by Langton and Stephanus in the 13th and 16th centuries. You are basically asking that Charles Stone write this article as a legal document with a bunch of little chapter and verse references to try and prove that his points are in line with who Jesus is... that's seems silly to me. Anyone who knows Jesus or has read about Him knows that Jesus did most of what this article is about... if you'll think about it you know that this article is in line with who Jesus is... remember in your reading farmers, seeds, mustard trees, fig trees, wine, wine skins, writing in the dirt, lamps, weddings, come on man... think without having to have every think spelled out for you, I'm sure you are a smart guy. Calling someone's work rubbish isn't the way Jesus would talk is it?... the only people He ever had a harsh word for were the RELIGIOUS people of His day! One more thing, Jesus probably didn't use power point... you got us there. I do and I use a computer too. John you've shown hatred toward me enough, but there is no reason to act that way toward this guy... you don't like me, that's clear but don't take it out on another guy. I'm sure you're a great guy, and this thinking outside your box is stretching you... and I know stretching can hurt, and be confusing so I'm not upset with you. I pray that you start to realize that God wants to speak to you and more specifically than just through scriptures. Don't worry, He won't contradict His own word... but also don't forget that different times and in different circumstances He guides us in different ways... for example read closely one time Jesus said don't take anything including no swords another time He said sell something and buy a sword if you don't have one, then He moments later said, never-mind 2 instead of 11 or 12 will be enough, then He told Peter to put the sword down after Peter tried to use it. Scripture alone is great, but sometimes you'll have to listen to Jesus specifically because He may want you to carry a sword, but never intend to use it. We need to hear His voice, and know His heart, and eventually we'll have His mind. I love you John and I pray that we can discuss these things someday without hurt feelings.

John E Miller

commented on May 25, 2012

Josh I agree with you about the Lord's harsh words for religious people. This article, as far as I can see is religion without Christ. I most certainly have no feelings of hatred towards you. How could it be so? I do not know you. I do have a strong judgement about liberal religion masquerading as Christianity and those who support it. Hatred of persons is contrary to the teaching of my Lord and Saviour. Hatred of false teaching that takes the eyes of men and women off my Lord and Saviour is not.

Fernando Villegas

commented on May 28, 2012

John E Miller, you wrote: "There is no mention of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, no mention of the need of repentance and faith, no mention of the power of the Holy Spirit of God." But have you considered the possibility that the reason is because, in a forum where the intended audience are Christian pastors and preachers, those things are assumed and do not need to be explicitly stated. I heard N. T. Wright say on one occasion that the problem with being a theologian is that if you don't say everything you believe every time you speak, people will accuse you of not believing whatever was left unsaid. You seem to do that often on this website, including with this article. I don't see anything in this article that would be in conflict with the things you mentioned. If you do, I would suggest that the respectful thing to do would be point that out before claiming that "Charles Stone and his accolytes such as Josh MacDowell are guilty of a gross misrepresentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." That's quite an indictment, when your only evidence for it is that neither said what you wanted them to say. This article was about how insights from neuroscience can help in our preaching. Josh McDowell's comments were about how he personally tried to apply those insights in his preaching ministry. So, take or leave their thoughts for what they're worth. But quit treating every article or poster that doesn't mention what YOU think is important as liberal Christianity or false teaching.

John E Miller

commented on May 29, 2012

Fernando Villegas, I will not reply to your personal remarks. I will, if I may comment on one statement that you made. "This article was about how insights from neuroscience can help in our preaching". The word of God is the revelation of the God who created man and gave him the capacity to come into a relationship with God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. I find my strength, my faith and my joy in preaching the good news about God, His righteousness, holiness and love from His word. I know nothing about neuroscience anymore than I understand space travel. The knowledge of these wonderful things has provided blessing and help for mankind on a human level in many ways. What men and women need as far as their souls are concerned is the good news about Jesus and this does not come from neuroscience. We plant, we water but God gives the increase.

Fernando Villegas

commented on May 29, 2012

John E Miller, I don't know what "personal remarks" you are referring to, but it seems that I offended you in some way, for which I apologize. You and I disagree on various issues, but it is never my intention to offend you or insult you. I'm very sorry that I did so. Please give me the same benefit of the doubt that you requested from Josh McDowell. Now, you wrote: "The word of God is the revelation of the God who created man and gave him the capacity to come into a relationship with God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. I find my strength, my faith and my joy in preaching the good news about God, His righteousness, holiness and love from His word." See, here's my point: nothing that either I, Josh McDowell, or Mr. Stone have written is mutually incompatible with what you wrote. I agree with what you wrote 100 percent! Every word of it, with no qualifications! But you are talking about content: WHAT we preach. And this article, as well as Josh McDowell's comments, are NOT about content. No one is arguing that we must preach the insights from neuroscience, whether in addition to, or in place of, the "good news about Jesus." What I meant by the comment that you quoted, and what Mr. Stone and Josh McDowell were adressing, is about method: HOW we preach, the way we preach. Both the "What" and the "How" are important; but just because this article focuses on the "How" does not mean that the "What" is irrelevant or unimportant. You said that you know nothing about neuroscience, which is fine. The power of God's word to accomplish its purposes is not dependent on such knowledge, I agree. Consider this, however: I don't know how much you know about electricity, but I'm sure you know enough to make sure the lights are on when you are preaching. I don't know how much you know about woodwork, but I'm sure you know enough to have some sort of seating available for your listeners. The comparison is not perfect, but the idea is that you don't have to know much about neuroscience to recognize the value of things like repetition and review, delivering a sermon in an organized way, and applying the sermon to the listeners' lives. Now, if one argues that they can depend on insights from neuroscience without having to worry about what they actually say when they preach, then I would agree with you that such an argument is wrong, and I would stand right beside you in condemning that argument. But that isn't being argued here, which is why I think your comments towards Mr. Stone and Josh McDowell were unfair.

James Biesiadecki

commented on Aug 13, 2012

I read an article recently on the mental transition that occurs when walking through a doorway. (referred to here: http://healthdoctrine.com/why-does-walking-through-the-doorway-make-you-forget-the-purpose-of-going-to-the-room/) The article talked about some of the mental transitions that can either cause us to forget or aid us in remembering upon return to a room. I thought it certainly had application to preaching. Apparently, it seems to send our senses into warp drive when we enter a new room. This triggers us to absorb all the elements of the room using all our senses until we acclimate. While are senses are now burdened with our new environment, it is difficut to recall the details of the previous room. Using video like Stone mentions seems like it would be a trigger for a new memory episode in the same way. Recapping what was said prior to a video seems would be essential. Great article. Another thought i would like to explore is the timing of sensory details: When we use the senses in a segment of the sermon, would it be advantageous to do so at the beginning of each point? Would this mirror the natural mechanisms for greater effectiveness?. (Although, I say all this in total dependance on the power of the Holy Spirit, and doing so having repented in faith toward Christ.)

Daniel Nichols

commented on Aug 7, 2016

Dear Brothers in Christ, I don't sense or feel a lot of humility on the part of those criticizing the brother who wrote this article. He is trying to help you be more effective in your preaching. He has come to a forum of evangelicals, that means we all have at least the common essentials of faith in Jesus Christ, as the Son of the Father and giver of the Holy Spirit. The necessity of the new birth and reliance on the Holy Spirit along with the perfection of the apostles teaching found in the 27 books and the perfection of the 66 for correction,etc. We are not in a forum at a religion gathering. We should not have to flash our evangelical badge and bow to those essentials every time we sign in. Lets also agree that we believe in freedom in Christ and that all of us should think of others more highly than ourselves. It is sad to come to these places for safety but find my brothers being shot at for not preaching the 4 spiritual laws with every message. Lighten up, please.

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