This is an excerpt from my book, Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling, which releases in paperback today!
As a direct result of these historical events, the teaching of the religious Christians took a turn in a whole new direction. In response to the clinical baptism that had become so common starting with Constantine, preachers and theologians developed a new genre of sermon that contained threat and appeal. Much had to do with not delaying their salvation and was communicated through solemn monologue and increased theatrics. In reference to the awesome‖ and hair-raising writers of the day, it was said, “A powerful emotional and psychological impression [was put] upon the candidates in the hope of bringing about their conversion” (The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship, 219).
I believe many of us teachers and communicators are prime candidates to fall victim to this arrogance within our teaching. For those of us who‘ve taught for extended periods, it may be easy to assume we can just put it on cruise control. We believe we can fall back into the lap of teaching that was once considered effective and expect our beautiful deliveries filled with humor, irony, and drama to clearly communicate the message of Jesus. Or we may believe that since we‘ve been with these teenagers for such a long time, we know what they need—it‘s simply our role as communicators to feed them their needed spiritual meals.
Or how about those of us who just graduated from college or seminary and believe we‘re arguably the best communicators or theologians since Billy Graham? It all seemed so clear in school, and we got lots of A‘s. So now it‘s time for the easy work of harvesting souls, right? Everyone will be blown away by our superior knowledge and charisma and—BOOM! The masses may now come forward.
Gregory of Nazianzus, who was in Asia Minor during the era of Constantine, once offered himself as “the director of your soul.” We must take our roles as pastors, shepherds, teachers, and communicators seriously, but we must never take ourselves too seriously. It‘s not that we can‘t be confident; it‘s that we can‘t be arrogant. Only then can we be fully dependent on the Spirit. May our teaching never take the form of calling our teenagers to an immediate‖ conversion out of our arrogance based on a personal misinterpretation of who we are and how we view our roles.
Further, I believe this “speed it up” mentality in our teaching can be a direct result of our inability to trust in a God who‘s sovereign over every situation and every heart. Again, we begin to take ourselves too seriously. We avoid story because such a method of communication often prevents us from experiencing the satisfaction of spiritedly pounding home our profound points. But so what? Sometimes that intentional focus on a point may be necessary, but it‘s often more powerful and pointed when attained through conversation.
Don‘t get me wrong—this art of storytelling stuff can be hard on our modern, Western mindsets. Slow. Deliberate. Time consuming. Patience trying. It takes humility and willingness to evaluate our own motives and habits as teachers. I hope we‘ll always leave far more room for the Spirit‘s direction than for our own.