Sticky Lessons

Part #1: Introduction and Overview

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It is not enough to teach WHAT Jesus taught, Part 1

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It is not enough to teach what Jesus taught; we need to teach how Jesus taught.

I start reading hundreds of books but rarely finish any of them. Occasionally I finish one. Once in a blue moon I read one twice. Reading a book three times is almost unheard of. I have just done it with two different books. I want to talk about one of them in this set of articles.

Modern science has taught us much about communication. A great deal of research has been done on what makes a message stick. One of the best books on the subject is Heath and Heath's Made to Stick. If you have ever seen a copy you might remember. The book is bright orange with a piece of duct tape stuck to it. The cover itself teaches one of the six principles contained inside.

As I read (then listened) to this incredible book, I was struck by two things:

  • This is exactly how Jesus taught

  • Every Bible Study lesson should include these 6 elements

It is not enough to teach what Jesus taught; we need to teach how Jesus taught.

Jesus perfectly illustrates all six of the what the best of modern science tells us goes into making a message sticky. Its like He knew! ;-) Today, we can understand and appreciate on a deeper level why people down through the ages consider Jesus to be the greatest teacher ever. And we have all the more insight into how we can teach sticky lessons as Jesus taught sticky lessons.

Jesus' message was sticky. It sticks. People remember what Jesus said. They quote him. People quote Jesus who do not even know they are quoting Jesus. He has impacted every corner of culture.

What are these six principles?  We will look at them more in detail--and illustrate these in the life of Jesus, but here is an overview. (Note that it spells out the word SUCCES)

Simple.

Jesus taught in short, pithy, memorable slogans. The golden rule is one one example. Rick Warren says people don't remember paragraphs; people remember slogans. Jesus reduced many of the most profound truths down to memorable slogans. Simple is not simplistic. You don't have to be very smart to make things complicated. It takes a genius to make them simple. Jesus was a genius at simple, but profound communication.

I try to do this in my lessons-often including a repeated phrase to reduce the lessons to something that will be ringing in their ears when they walk out. (And, if it is really sticky, much later.) You would do well to include a simple, memorable, slogan-like summary of what you want to teach in every lesson.

Unexpected.

The brain is wired to notice what changes, what is different, what is new, what is unusual, what is out of the ordinary. This is the really amazing thing about Jesus' teaching. I have read the gospels hundreds of times and Jesus' message still shocks me. I still can't believe he said what he did to the Syrophoenician woman.

In contrast, a lot of Sunday School lessons are sadly predictable. They have this "yup-yup" tone about them. That is why people are yawning. It is not enough to teach what Jesus taught. We need to teach how Jesus taught.

My wife gets credit for this suggestion. I try to include something unexpected, something creative, something shocking in every lesson. You should too. Jesus was unexpected. We should be too.

Concrete.

I cant prove it, but I think Jesus held stuff a lot when he taught. I think he pointed to things. Like when he spoke about wheat I imagine him with some wheat in his hand. I can't prove that and it might not be true. But, I know this is true: he talked about lots of stuff that you can touch and feel. He used the physical to teach the invisible. We should too.

This is the part of my lessons that I struggle with the most, but it is perhaps most important to make a message sticky. Try to bring something into the classroom every week that you can touch and feel. Your people will remember what the hold and smell. The message will stick.

Credible.

This was one of the most shocking things about Jesus' teaching. "When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching,  because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law." Matthew 7:28-29 (NIV)

Jesus teaching had its own authority. We don't have the authority of Jesus so we quote him, and the rest of the Bible, as our authority. We also do well to quote respected leaders. Sometimes, saying, "John MacArthur says" is better than, "I have always thought."

Here is a quote I used yesterday. I think you will agree it is much more powerful coming from John Piper: "The obstacle that keeps us from obeying the first (vertical) commandment is the same obstacle that keeps us from obeying the second (horizontal) commandment. It is not that we are all trying to please ourselves, but that we are all far too easily pleased." --Desiring God, John Piper. I try to include quotes like this in every lesson and you would do well to do the same.

Emotional.

My preaching professor in seminary used to often say, "People are very seldom moved by cold, hard logic" We change people when we move them emotionally. Jesus moved people emotionally. He made the angry and he made the cry. He made the puzzled and he shocked them. So should we. Emotional messages stick. I try to include great stories in every lesson to make the message emotional and thus sticky. You should too.

Story.

Jesus used illustrations to tell the crowds all these things. He did not tell them anything without illustrating it with a story. Matthew 13:34 (GW)

Great teachers use great stories. Great stories stick. Most of us can tell stories told to us in childhood. I work at including great stories in every lesson and you should too.

Over the next six articles we will be looking at these six principles and how we can include then in every lesson to be a more sticky teacher. Jesus used these principles and is the master teacher of all times. We will be illustrating these principles from the life of Jesus.

It is not enough to teach what Jesus taught; we need to teach how Jesus taught.

Next article: Simple lessons stick