All lessons end in the same place. Regardless of the topic, no matter the text, all lessons end with the same question:
What do you want to do about what you heard today?
There are several key words in this sentence. Let’s look at a few of them.
What do YOU want to do about what you heard today?
Application is general. We have been there: what are ten ways we could apply this to our lives. The freedom from commitment is important at that stage because it frees the mind to be creative. By thinking of all the ways we could apply, we are not burdened down by having to ask if we want to do this or that. But, somewhere along the way, we have to narrow the focus. We need to pick one or two things from the list that we want to do.
Commitment is personal. It is not general. It is me and God and what am I going to do. Not “What should Christians do to clean up the environment?” Not, “What should politically active people do about abortion?” Not, “What should the church do to be more effective evangelistically. The question is: what are YOU going to do about what you heard today?
What do you WANT to do about what you heard today?
Based on the cost/benefit that we have looked at today, what do you want to do? Not …
- What do you think you should do?
- What does your wife want you to do?
- What do good Christians do?
The question is, “What do you want to do?”
In the long run, people do what they want. Christian teaching is about changing what people want to do. If we don’t change what they want to do, we don’t change them enough. Effective teaching gets people in touch with their God-given passions.
Good passions must overcome bad passion. We overcome evil with good.
- We overcome stinginess by getting people in touch with their desire to be a generous person. Don’t you want to be a generous person? Aren’t all the people you admire in this world generous people?
- We overcome inappropriate sexual desire by getting people in touch with their desire to be pure. How do you feel about adulterers? Do you want to be one? Do you want your kids to think of you that way?
- We overcome laziness by embracing the benefits of diligence. Every goal we have takes work. I want to do some things. I want to accomplish some things. Laziness won’t get me there.
Effective teaching gets people in touch with what they want—really want to do with their lives. Effective teaching changes people’s “wanter.”
What do you want to DO about what you heard today?
It isn’t about what you think or whether you agree or what your opinion is. The question is, “What are you going to do about it?” There are two ways to go at this.
Sometimes we fail to live the Christian life because it is so daunting. We have been fat and out of shape our whole lives and now you tell me to make a decision to live a healthy life? Really?
Sometimes, you do better to ask for baby steps.
- Could you cut out French Fries?
- Could you take a fifteen minute walk before work?
- Could you, just for this week, have fruit around the house as a snack?
Did you see the movie What About Bob? This was the mantra of the character played by Bill Murray: Baby steps; baby steps.
Small difference can make a big difference over time. Tiny, incremental differences can make a huge difference. One percent improvement per week in almost anything will make radical differences in a year. The problem is we sometimes don’t change at all. I know churches that have not changed in years. Their service is the same. The music is the same. The building is the same. Everything is the same. Small changes can make a big difference if consistently implemented.
Small changes are doable. Small changes don’t scare us. Small changes we can handle. But, not too small. Remember the narrow way.
If the change is too small it doesn’t challenge us and we don’t find any motivation for it. The challenge to loose one pound this year may be doable, but it doesn’t motivate us. Find the narrow way. Find a challenge that is big enough to challenge, but small enough to be within our grasp.
Ask for the big order
Sometimes, we don’t need to ask for baby steps at all. Sometimes we need to ask for the big order. Sometimes we need to make the big ask. Generally speaking, most Sunday School teachers are too timid. They don’t make the big ask.
Change is sometimes incremental, like erosion. But, often times change is all-at-once, like an earthquake. Suddenly everything is different.
I have heard teachers make compelling arguments for tithing for example. They provide the biblical exposition. They talk of the reasonableness of it. They speak of the cost and the benefit. Everything is moving along nicely until it comes time to land the plane. The closing goes like this: “Maybe some of you have heard what we talked about today and it is too much for you. You can’t imagine giving 10% of your income away. You have too much debt, too much financial pressure and you just can’t get there. Here is what I recommend. Start giving something today. Something. Anything. Some small little something. One year from now, make a commitment to start giving 1% of your income, then 2% a year later, and so on. Ten years from now, you will be tithing.”
I have asked hundreds of teachers if they tithe and if that is how they got to tithing. It has happened, but it is pretty rare. Most people who tithe got there because someone made the big ask. Someone asked for them to give not 10% to God by 100%. The 10% is just a reminder that it all belongs to God.
What do you want to do about what you heard TODAY?
You can’t change everything all at once. You can’t ask people to get in shape, start having a quiet time, start sharing their faith, start tithing and discover their spiritual gift all at once. It is what I call the dead bug syndrome: if you ask me for too much all at once I freeze up and just lie there like a dead bug with my arms and legs up in the air.
The question is not, “What do you want to do about all the commands in the Bible?” The question is, “What do you want to do about what you heard TODAY.”
Matthew 18 says, “If your brother sins against you …” Notice that “sins” is singular. One sin. Deal with one sin at a time. If you ask me to be more grateful, more generous, more kind and more diligent all in one day, I just freeze up like a dead bug.
It is not all about doing
Christian living is not all about doing right. It is also about feeling right and believing right. The commitment question, then, could be about any of these:
- What do you want to do about what you heard today? Or
- What beliefs do you want to turn from based on what we have talked about today?
- What feelings do you want to cultivate? Do you want to become a person who feels more grateful or content or loving?
It is often said that effective teaching is all about application. That is not exactly right. Application is a necessary first step, and a step that a lot of teachers don’t take. But the next step is even more important: the commitment question.
Based on what we have said in this chapter, how do you want to change your teaching this weekend? Be specific and personal.
Josh Hunt, How to Use Questions to Stimulate Life-Changing Discussions, Good Questions Have Small Groups Talking (Las Cruces, NM: Josh Hunt, 2010), 113–117.