We learn more by imitating people than by listening to them. “Do as I say, not as I do”, say the hypocritical parents to their child. But they will find, again and again, that their children learn from their example, not from their lectures. This ability to learn by observing people is actually hardwired into us. Over 20 years ago, scientists discovered “mirror neurons” in monkey’s brains, that were activated both when a monkey performed an action itself or when it watched another monkey do the same thing. It’s where the saying “monkey see, monkey do” comes from. These brain cells allow us to learn by watching others. Modelling behaviour is far more effective than talking about it.
Think about the implications of this in most churches. On the front stage, as an example for everyone to follow, you will find the pastor and main speakers – professional, talented, persuasive communicators. They are often attractive and charismatic, and present a well-prepared message which answers the big questions of life with great confidence and a clever turn of phrase. They don’t hesitate or mumble or admit they just don’t know, and because of the lecture-style, monologue format, they don’t brook any argument.
This then, is the message to the congregation; if you are going to be effective in communicating God’s message to others, you have to perform like this too. You have to have all the answers, you need to sound like you know what you’re talking about, you have to lecture at people and not listen to their beliefs and arguments … oh, and it helps if you’re good looking and confident, too.
If you demonstrate “evangelism” as a one-way monologue, you encourage the listeners to go out and monologue at their friends and family without allowing discussion and differing viewpoints. What are we thinking? How much untold damage are we doing to people’s relationships with their unchurched family and friends, when we implicitly encourage them to “evangelise” by preaching at others in a one-way communication style that disrespects the other person? This approach is bound to cause relational damage throughout this person’s life, and certainly won’t be an effective form of sharing God’s message of love and acceptance.
When we teach people in a circle, showing respect for each other and listening to each other; being open and honest and caring, being vulnerable and making mistakes and accepting each other, we encourage them to treat others outside of the church in the same way. We equip and empower God’s people to effectively communicate with the world around them in a manner which reflects Christ and his care and compassion and respect for others. The medium is the message. Lecturing as teaching leads to lecturing as outreach. However, respectful discussion and interaction as teaching will lead to respectful interaction as outreach – which is more powerful, more honest, and far more effective.