This week I helped a friend learn to make a newsletter on the computer. As we started, she pulled out a notepad to write down the directions.
You’ve seen this before: students jotting down your every word and congregants filling in the blanks. We like to get things right.
As I watched my friend pull out her notepad, I had a flash of memory. I have high technical skills so am often asked to teach people how to use the computer. Only about half of my students pull out the notepad. Some people want to learn the steps to success. Others want to learn how to navigate the environment.
Whereas one person might write down a list of steps to complete a task, another student will never write down the steps but instead mark the decision points. They might want to know why I picked the program that I did and what the drawbacks are. Their questions won’t be centered on how to use the program (because they have learned to access menus); instead they want to know how to navigate the choices within the program.
This rather complex thought brought me to teaching in the church.
People learn in different ways. Sermons need to reach people on both the practical and principle levels. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount seems to break tradition. It taught on a level that people weren’t used to. Jesus spent the day teaching the principles of living instead of the rules. He even used the rules as jumping-off points to dig deeper into the principles.
For instance: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift" (Matt. 5:21-24, NIV).
Forgive my birth story illustration here, but it really applies as we teach people principles and then expect them to live them out in a world that doesn’t know Jesus.
When I was getting ready to give birth to my first child, the birthing class we took was very pro-natural birth. They taught us to avoid all medical intervention—particularly, we were taught not to let the doctor break the water sac because it led down the road to further medical interventions. When it came time, my doctor explained that he needed to break my water. I remember the panic. This is what I’d been warned about!
“No!” I said, certain that it was a bad idea.
“Why?” he asked, patiently waiting for our reply.
I looked at my husband for support and gave the doctor the only answer I had. “Because it is the first step.”
Our poor doctor was very confused. “The first step to what?” he asked. “To having a baby?”
Our birthing class had given us very narrow parameters on how to be successful first-time parents. In the face of our reality, we didn’t have the tools to have the actual conversation with our doctor and understand the decision better. We eventually had the baby but failed miserably at following the parameters set forth in our class.
A similar thing happens to my computer students who want the “steps to success.” As soon as they get home, all they have is a list. When their computer screen looks different, when the program updates or when the job they are doing calls for a different approach, they don’t have the skills to modify their actions to meet the situation.
What happens when people in your church face a real-world situation? Are they ready to take on the decisions involved? Do they have the spiritual and emotional skills needed to handle “system updates”? Do you give them practical supports that will help them learn to make decisions that reflect their relationship with God?
Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor with a master’s degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. She is a ministry and life development coach and can be found online at deepimprints.com. She writes a regular column for ministrytodaymag.com.