The power of an example

26 Mar 2021 4:06 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

There is nothing like an example.

Obviously, you could just tell them:

  • Here are five steps to being consistent in your daily quiet time
  • Here are three keys to effective financial management
  • Here are four principles that will help us to raise godly children

You could just tell them, but it is inherently more interesting to ask them. Let them tell their story. Let them share.

  • How did you come to enjoy consistency in your daily quite time?
  • What has God taught you about effective financial management?
  • What do you think it takes to raise Godly children?

If you have some points and you want to make sure they are covered, keep the list in front of you. If your group does not mention one of the things on the list, you can participate in the conversation. Add your point. You will be surprised how seldom this is necessary. You will also be surprised how often people will come up with some truly brilliant answers that are not on your list.

But, testimony questions do more than make class more interesting. They make class more life-changing.

How God changes us

Anyone interested in teaching would do well to give some careful thought to how God changes people. Check the spiritual temperature of the average church goer and you will see that we are not doing as well at this as most of us would like. We are not creating fire-breathing, God-loving, Bible-reading, money-sharing, people-serving disciples. At least not consistently.

The question is why? How does God change people and how are we missing it?

Let’s look at some of the popular approaches and some strengths and weaknesses of each.

Discipleship by hanging around

This is the most common approach to discipleship. It assumes that if people hang around church long enough, they will become disciples.

This is not altogether untrue. If people hang around church, they will hear some teaching, hopefully some good teaching. This teaching will transform their thinking. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

They will not only be taught they will be loved. Love changes people. They will be challenged to act. They will be given opportunities to serve. Lots of good things will happen if people will hang around at church.

I was talking to a friend recently who was bemoaning the fact that we don’t have in our churches a systematic and thought-through process of turning sinners into saints. We have not thought through a simple path to move people from where they are to becoming fully devoted followers of Christ. I pushed back: “That may be true, but the odd thing is this: you and I consider ourselves to be disciples and somehow we got here. Somehow we became disciples and we didn’t have a clearly delineated plan to become disciples, yet, we became disciples. Somehow our messy approach does produce results.

Results, but probably not as consistently as most people would like.

Behavior modification

Somewhere along the line we realize that teaching is about application. It is about making doers of the word and not hearers only. We must constantly ask our listeners, “What do you want to do about what you heard today?” Without a rigorous and consistent emphasis on application we run a great risk of, on a good day, making smarter sinners, and, on a bad day, doing no good at all. On a really bad day, we turn people toward becoming Pharisees. Application is a critical component of all effective teaching. Most teaching would greatly improve by doubling or quadrupling the emphasis on application.

But, this approach to teaching has a problem. If we are not careful, we are simply saying to people, “You are sinning and you need to quit!”

  • You need to be consistent in your quiet time.
  • You need to quit eating so much and exercise more.
  • You need to find a place to serve according to your giftedness.
  • You really need to quit smoking.

That last one provides a good illustration. You need to quit smoking. Of course they need to quit smoking. Don’t you think they know they need to quit smoking? One problem: they can’t quit smoking. And they can’t figure out how to be consistent in their quiet time either. And they can’t figure out how to forgive in the really important matters. The list goes on. They would like to, they just don’t seem to be able to. They have tried many times, but discipline alludes them.

This raises another question: what is the difference between this kind of emphasis on application and old-fashioned worldly behavior modification? To hear some people teach, we ought to be able to live the Christian life without God: just try hard, work at it, be disciplined.

Others teach a more passive approach: let go and let God. Just get out of the way and let God work through you. Whatever else we say about Christian living, a casual reading of the New Testament would reveal it is not passive. Paul spoke of striving, running, pushing, stretching. These are not passive concepts.

Beliefs drive behavior

There is a simple and easy-to-understand reason we do what we do. We do what we do because we believe it is in our best interest to do so. We are irrevocably hard-wired to pursue what we believe to be in our best interest. Beliefs drive behavior. There is a world of difference between disciplining yourself to have a quiet time and coming to understand what the hymn writer had in mind when he wrote the words, “Sweet hour of prayer.” Prayer either become a sweet time for us or we don’t do it. Which is it for you?

Behavior modification can never work without belief modification. We must come to believe something different and we will come to behave differently. Beliefs always drive behavior.

Next question: what drives beliefs?

Beliefs are supported by the people in our reference group We tend to believe what the people in our group believe. We tend to believe what our reference groups believes.

A great deal of research has also been done on the concept of social proof-the idea that most people follow the crowd.

  • One researcher discovered that if he artificially increased the number of times a song was downloaded, that song was downloaded even more. People like to buy what everyone else is buying—that is why we pay attention to the best sellers lists.
  • Candid Camera featured an episode called, “face the rear” where an unsuspecting man gets onto an empty elevator. Soon, the elevator begins to fill up. What the man doesn’t know is that everyone in the elevator were part of the Candid Camera cast. They were all instructed to face the rear of the elevator when they boarded. After the fifth person faced the rear, the original man also faced the rear.
  • One experiment featured a number of versions all centered around people coming into a doctor’s office. Everyone in the waiting room waits quietly for a while, then gets up and does something bizarre. First, one at a time, they get up, grab a pencil, and break it. One by one, each person does this, until, you guessed it, the original man gets up and breaks a pencil as well.
  • In a similar experiment, people in the doctor’s office got up and tore off a page from a calendar. Sure enough, the original man gets up and tears off a page as well.
  • In the most extreme example, people were instructed to sit quietly for a while, then stand up and undress down to their underwear. One by one, everyone in the room undressed to their underwear. (They were all men.) Unbelievably, the subject of the experiment does so as well.

Think about your own life …

  • When did you start using a DVD player, when you saw it in a store? When you read technical reviews? When all your friends did? When you could no longer rent or buy VHS tapes?
  • When did you start using email? When you read the specs or when a friend told you about it?
  • If you were to move to a new town and were looking for a church, what would be more likely to persuade you, a billboard or the recommendation of a friend?

The odd thing is, it doesn’t feel like this to us. If I asked you, “Do you make decisions based primarily on the merits of the issue at hand, weighing out the pros and cons for yourself, or do you just follow the crowd?” Most people will say they do not follow the crowd, they make independent, objective and thoughtful decisions. The research strongly suggests, however that most people are not reading the information about what to buy and wear and where to buy what they wear. Most people talk to their friends.

Imagine this

Imagine three classrooms. The same question is asked in each: How did you learn to eat healthfully and exercise regularly?

Room #1:

In room #1 you find a room full of overweight and unhealthy people. They laugh out loud at the question.

Room #2:

This room is the exact opposite. It is filled with muscular, athletic, health-nuts. They jump on the question, all trying to out-do each other with the best story. They all exercise for more than an hour a day and the consistently eat healthful foods. They make references to books and magazine articles and web sites that you have never heard of.

Room #3:

This room is filled with normal people: people like you. They are about your age, your build, your stage in life. There is a slight pause after the question is raised, then one person, to your right, speaks up. “It was about five years ago for me. My dad died of a heart attack at age fifty-eight. I want to live long enough to see my grandkids grow up. I started exercising and eating better about five years ago. I don’t do it perfectly, but I do far better than I did. I have lost about thirty pounds and have kept it off for five years now. My deal is tennis. I had to find an exercise I enjoyed. I joined a local tennis club and play about three or four times a week. I feel better, and my wife tells me I look better.”

Let’s imagine five other people speak up with similar testimonies. One after another someone speaks up and talks about how they won the battle of the bulge and how they are so much happier now. These are not marathon-running jocks. They are just normal people like you that have found a way to joyfully work exercise into their lives. They have come to love eating right and their bodies show it.

How do you feel after leaving room #1?

How do you feel after leaving room #2?

How do you feel after leaving room #3?

Room #4

Now, imagine a fourth room. In this room, there are no testimonies. No one talks about how they are doing. The teacher give some helpful information on steps to healthy living. They are all steps you heard before: eat right, get enough exercise, etc. All stuff you have heard before. All stuff you could have taught. All stuff you know you should do. All stuff you don’t do.

How do you feel after leaving room #4?


If you are normal, one of the most persuasive influences in our life is the influence of our reference group. The question for most of us is not so much about what is right or what we believe as much as it is about what the people in our group practice. By accenting the positive behavior of some in your group, you draw the rest of the group along.

  • Some people in your group are having a quiet time, let them share.
  • Some people are ministering according to their giftedness, let them share.
  • Some are tithing and beyond. Let them share.
  • Some are exercising and eating right. Let them share.

Josh Hunt, How to Use Questions to Stimulate Life-Changing Discussions, Good Questions Have Small Groups Talking (Las Cruces, NM: Josh Hunt, 2010), 97–104.

Josh Hunt ● ● ● 575.650.4564 ● 1964 Sedona Hills Parkway, Las Cruces, NM 88011
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