What I mean is that in recent years in youth and children's ministries a lot of people have started to pay attention to the wealth of material on educational methods, learning styles and the like. And what we have discovered is that young people learn best when learning is interactive, hands-ons, participatory. Retention and application to life is greatest when a kid can learn by doing, not just by sitting and listening. And so youth and children's ministers have often applied these lessons to design participatory ministry events that really engage a kid's whole person.
But here's the thing: the lessons of modern educational theory are not just applicable to young people. The truth is that everyone, adults included, learn best through interactive, participatory experiences that engage our whole bodies and not just our brains. For some reason, adults seem to think they learn best in church by sitting and listening to a half-hour lecture/sermon. But really, can you remember any of the main points your pastor talked about just this past week? How about two or three weeks ago? Have you applied the sermon to your life in any significant way since then? My guess is that in most cases the answer is "no".
I think that we pastors need to take a step back and ask whether the things we do week to week are really all that effective. Why do we preach sermons? What is the desired outcome? Are we hoping for retention? That people will actually remember what we said? That it will effect some long term, significant change in their lives? And if so, then maybe we also need to step back and ask ourselves if our current methods are actually achieving those goals. Is the sermon working? Are people really engaging with our multitude of words? Is it the most effective way to help people learn about their faith in a way that effects real transformation?
I'd contend that it's really not working all that well. I'm not sure that asking people to sit and passively listen to a 30-45 minute sermon every week is really accomplishing the kinds of things we want to accomplish in their lives or in our churches. It seems like maybe we need to pay more attention to the kinds of things youth ministers and children's ministers are doing and ask ourselves whether those things might not be worthwhile for the whole church, young and old.
In fact, these kinds of questions have been a part of the conversation of the emerging church since the beginning. The whole EC movement actually kind of got it's start by suggesting these kinds of methodological/stylistic changes (cf. Dan Kimball's Emerging Church and Emerging Worship). While it's moved on since then to a much deeper theological critique, we shouldn't forget the importance of those methodological questions either. For more good reading on this topic by emergent authors check out Doug Pagitt's Preaching Reimagined and Mark Miller's Experiential Storytelling.
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