What’s wrong with this not-quite-a-quote from the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20? What’s wrong with it is why people yawn when they hear the sermon is going to be about forgiveness and yet hold a grudge for years towards their family member. Or think “boring” when they hear the lesson is on the 10 commandments, yet can’t name all ten and regularly break several of them. What’s wrong is: that’s not what Jesus said . . . because there is a big difference between knowing what God wants and being obedient.
I most recently read about this in Larry Osborne’s excellent book entitled Sticky Church (Zondervan: 2008). Osborne talks about 4 stages of knowledge, though I’m expanding his description a bit:
· Inspired: we’ve all had the experience of reading or hearing something that is totally new to you yet rings so true. You have the sense that you’ve learned something – a light shining in the darkness. It’s an “aha” moment that feels exciting, adventurous. Okay, I’m stretching it a bit, but you get what I mean?
· Familiar: this is when you hear something and go: “Oh yea, I remember this.” It is not particularly exciting, but if it fits with where my life seems to be right now, it can be challenging and send me home with the feeling, “I’m glad I came.”
· Boring: this is when you can fill in the speaker’s note sheets before she speaks! If it is a sermon, you might even be able to think of other passages that teach the same thing. This stage’s t-shirt reads: “Been there; heard that; got it!”
And that’s where a lot of people stop because they think that growing as a disciple is about becoming better informed about Christ. But the goal is to become better conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29-30). It’s not information that we need, but transformation. Jesus didn’t commission us to teach them to know all that he commanded. He commissioned us to teach them to obey all that he commanded. That’s why the fourth stage of knowledge is:
· Applied: here the teaching get’s embodied in our actions. It means little to know about Jesus’ humble example and clear command to serve others . . . if we fail to do so obediently. For Jesus, abundant living doesn’t come from knowing his teachings, but from living them out in our daily lives.
In our work with congregations, we often lead leaders through a focused look at the Five Practices (radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional discipling, salty service and extravagant generosity). It is not unusual for congregation leaders to hear that we are going to do this and dismissively say, “Yes, we’ve already done those.” Now I know what they mean. They have already heard about them and are familiar with them – maybe they even taught or preached on them. But have they applied them?
So, how do pastors and teachers help people move from Familiar or Boring to Applied? Here are three interrelated suggestions:
1. Make it memorable: if you don’t connect with people’s emotions and where they live, they will soon be daydreaming. You have to hook people from the get go: show them why they should give you their attention for the next ten minutes. Be creative. Use metaphors and props. In the information age, the last thing most of us really need is more irrelevant information. (See John Medina’s Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving & Thriving at Work, Home, & School, especially rule #4: “We don’t pay attention to boring things.”)
2. Focus on less information for more action: people are bombarded with fire hoses of information daily. We have long ago been educated beyond our level of obedience. To increase changing people’s behaviors, we have to focus on less. I used to preach 3 point sermons (often more!); now I try to have one point sermons. By narrowing the focus we can help people connect the dots about why this is important and how acting on this will impact their lives and the lives of others. Less information = more clarity and more action. (See Dave Ferguson’s The Big Idea: Focus the Message, Multiply the Impact, Zondervan, 2007)
3. Keep it about application: remind people that what matters isn’t what you know, but what you implement. It’s about transformation, not information. Spend most of your time talking about practical implications and challenging people to take their next step in implementing this one teaching. How should people live their lives differently as a result of hearing this sermon or lesson?
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence