Our brains are designed to see the unexpected, the unusual, the shocking. If you would teach sticky lessons, like Jesus did, teach with some shock value.
You don’t have to read Jesus very long before you find an example of this in His teaching:
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. (25) In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. (26) The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. (27) “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (28) “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (29) Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” (30) She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Mark 7:24-30 (NIV)
This story is shocking in two ways. First, we expect Jesus to cast out the demon, which he eventually did. Didn’t he cast out the demon right way in every other case? Second, He hints at calling her a dog. That doesn’t sound too nice. As one of my kids would say, “That just doesn’t sound too Jesu-cal to me. We might say Jesus-like, but his term is Jesu-cal.
Here is another one:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NIV)
Notice, Jesus doesn’t say to try hard to be good. He doesn’t say to be better than average. He doesn’t say to be a decent human being. He says to be perfect. Perfect by what standard? “As your heavenly Father is perfect.” Shocking.
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (40) And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (41) If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (42) Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:39-42 (NIV)
He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables (12) so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'” Mark 4:11-12 (NIV)
Here is my paraphrase: “I am telling you the secret of the Kingdom. But, I am not telling those on the outside. If I did, they might understand and repent. Then I would have to forgive them. I don’t want to do that.” Is anyone shocked?
Jesus constantly shocked people with his teaching and so should we.
Is your average Sunday School class shocking?
Do I need to write this section, or do you already know what I am going to say?
Most Sunday School classes are all about yup-yup and are not shocking at all. My Facebook friend, Donald L. Hughes, editor of www.ChristianWritingToday.com said, “So much preaching in churches is like an old lady petting her cat, waiting for the reassuring meow.”
We need to shock people like Jesus did.
Heath and Heath on shocking teaching
I am basing this series of articles on Heath and Heath’s excellent book, Made to Stick. I have read it once and listened to it twice. It is great.
They provide an example that I can readily relate to: air safety announcements on airplanes. Next time you fly, look around when this announcement is given. See how many people are paying attention. Imagine it was your job to rivet people’s attention to this message.
Heath and Heath offer one suggestion. On a flight from Dallas to San Diego, the flight attendant paraphrased the safety announcement this way:
If I could have your attention for a few minutes, we sure would love to point out those safety features. If you haven’t been in an automobile since 1965, the proper way to fasten a seat belt is to slide the flat end into the buckle. To unfasten, lift up on the buckle and it will release.
As the song goes, there may be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft: two forward exit doors, two over-the wing removable exits, and two aft exit doors. The location of each exit is clearly marked with signs overhead as well as red and white disco lights along the floor of the isle.
Made ya look!
People laughed. Some broke out in scattered applause. Everyone listened. Different is good. Unexpected causes us to pay attention and learn.
What if you really wanted people to listen, what would you do? Here is my idea. About every 10,000 hours of flight, I would stage a demonstration. On cue, I would have the pilot drop into a steep nose dive, perhaps combined with a sharp turn. Simultaneously, I would have all of those yellow rubber masks drop from the ceiling. After everyone recovers, I would explain that although this was just a demonstration, we really do need people to know what to do in case of an emergency. From there, I would depend on word of mouth. I would fully expect all of those people to tell their stories to everyone they knew, who would likely tell their stories to everyone they knew. You wouldn’t have do to this very often before everyone would know how they are supposed to put on those masks.
Shocking people in church
One of the best examples I have ever seen of this is a sermon I heard by Richard Hogue years ago. I don’t remember many sermons preached while I was in Junior High, but I will never forget this one.
It was a dark and stormy night. . .the sermon was on the second coming. (It really was a dark and stormy night.) Right at that crescendo moment, all of the lights in the auditorium went off. I don’t know if it was because the storm, or somebody turned them off. All I know is that suddenly we were all sitting in utter darkness. The amplification system no longer worked, but it didn’t matter. You could have heard a pin drop. Richard Hogue waited for maybe 15 seconds. Then he broke the silence: “Ever thought about how quickly the end will come? Are you ready?”
I try to include a creative element in every lesson I write. Not always as shocking as the example above, but something out of the ordinary. For more information, see www.joshhunt.com Click on the button that says “lessons.”
A simpler way in Bible Study
Want a quick and easy way to shock people in your Bible Study group? You can do it in two words: I disagree. Those two words are guaranteed to shock people.
Suppose everyone is talking about serving the Lord and working hard for God. Just say, “I disagree; I don’t think we are to work hard for Him at all. I think we are to let Christ live his life through us.” (Galatians 2.20)
Suppose everyone has this yup-yup tone about once saved always saved. Say, “I disagree. ‘If we disown him, he will disown us.’ (2 Timothy 2.12) Whatever the doctrine of the security of the believers means it does not mean we can disown him and get away with it. ‘If we disown him, he will disown us.'” Shocking. Unless, of course, you are Methodist. We have other verses to shock them.
There are a lot of other ways, or course. Richard King, Minister of Education at First Baptist Las Cruces was my Sunday School teacher for a time. I will never forget the day he staged a fight in class. He asked my wife to play along with him in creating a squabble that turned into a near yelling match. That got their attention.
Good teaching does that. It gets their attention. It is unexpected. It is shocking. It is Jesu-cal.