I’ve watched enough pirate movies to know that any treasure worth having is buried under the ground. In the same way, God’s Word is full of hidden treasures – but they’re hidden beneath the surface. You have to dig deep to find the the sacred pearls, the wisdom more precious than rubies. It is possible to hire a professional to do all the digging and display their discoveries at the end of the week – in fact, that’s exactly what happens when the pastor preaches a sermon. But what’s the point of one person having all the fun? Why can’t everyone in the room be involved, get their hands dirty, and uncover valuable insights and rich truths? It’s not enough to let someone else do the digging for you. Instead, we should hand the tools over to God’s people, and let them dig and discover gems for themselves.
At Fresh Start Community, we don’t have a weekly sermon. We don’t believe this is the best model for connecting, engaging and empowering God’s people. A sermon sends the message that only one person in the room can be entrusted with God’s Word, than only one person’s opinion is worth listening to, that the Holy Spirit only speaks directly to a paid professional. Instead, we have a time each week that we call “God’s Story”. It’s a time where we give everybody a chance to get their hands directly on God’s Word, and reflect and learn and apply it to their lives. We find that people remember the stories and the insights they gained, many weeks and months after sermons would have been long forgotten. We find that every person has equal access to God’s Story using this method, no matter what education level or church background they come from – and that the most unexpected people have the most profound theological insights for the rest of us.
God’s people don’t need a shed full of complicated sounding tools with fancy words like “hermeneutics”, “exegesis” and “isogesis” to dig into God’s Word. They don’t need a seminary degree and a matching debt to learn for themselves and teach others. All they need is direct access to God’s story, a bit of background to give it context, and space to listen to the Holy Spirit and to each other. We use the “Simply The Story” approach, which takes around the same time as an average sermon, with far greater impact. You can be creative with this approach, but generally follow these five steps;
TELL – Start with the setting, giving a short explanation of the background and context, then tell the story. Stick to the script, but DON’T read aloud! Eye-contact doubles people’s ability to concentrate and remember what they’ve heard. Avoid using any written text – it prevents us from using our thinking and listening skills, and prevents many people from fully accessing the information. Memorize the text and tell it with expression and animation, in everyday language. Remember, it’s a story – even the non-narrative sections of the Bible have a setting, an audience and a context. Work on your storytelling skills!
RE-TELL – This is where you get people involved. Get them to retell the story to the person next to them. This puts them on the spot, gets them talking, and makes them aware of the details they can’t remember, and curious to know more.
PULL THROUGH – The facilitator does a final run-through, using a fill-in-the-blanks approach and some deliberate errors to check whether everyone remembers all the details of the story. This can be a bit of fun. The act of working through the story three times is extremely powerful, creating a strong memory of the story and attention to the smaller details.
EXPLORE – You’ve given them the context, and you’ve handed them the story – now it’s time to let them connect the dots. Ask open ended questions to give them greater insight into the story. DON’T give them the answers!!! As Neil Cole puts it in “Church Transfusion“, stop being the “answers man” and start being the “questions man”. Let them teach each other – they’ll learn so much more in the process.
APPLY – This is the call to action, but instead of coming from the front, it comes from the heart. Ask people to share what they have learned, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.
How do you think this teaching approach would go down in your church? Can you see your pastor getting up next Sunday and taking the risk of allowing God’s people to join in and teach one another? Would you enjoy this approach, or would you prefer to stick with sermons?
The following posts in the series are now up;
- Introduction: Changing the way we meet, the way we learn and the way we lead.
- Part 1: Welcome to a new era.
- Part 2: Participation changes everything.
- Part 3: Rethinking the seating arrangement.
- Part 4: Connecting through story.
- Part 5: Food and fellowship.
- Part 6: From spoon-feeding to hands-on learning.
- Part 7: Learning through shared experiences.
- Part 8: Discovery learning in church.
- Part 9: Digging deeper into God’s story.
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