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Flipping the 40-Minute Sermon

May 24 2013
Should church teaching evolve in the digital age?

A new trend in academia encourages educators to focus less on lecture and more on active learning within the classroom environment.

"The danger with lucid lectures…is that they create the illusion of teaching for teachers, and the illusion of learning for learners," explained Eric Mazur, a professor and pioneer for this educational model, in Harvard Magazine. "Sitting passively and taking notes is just not a way of learning. Yet lectures are 99 percent of how we teach!"

As I discussed Mazur's approach with my family of public educators, my thoughts went from public school classrooms to the church. Mazur advocates directed conversation in the classroom between students, debate, dialogue, and active listening, and he sees higher levels of success and engagement as a result. Could so-called reverse lectures and flip teaching change the way we approach the traditional Sunday church service?

Think of what a typical church gathering looks like. During the teaching portion, we sit in our chairs, take notes, follow along in the outline, and listen to our pastor deliver his well-prepared lecture on John's letter to the church in Laodicea, or whatever the passage or topic may be.

We hear the message, we write our notes, but are we learning?

According to Mazur, learning is more than simple information transfer. When we hear a lecture we receive information into our short-term memory, but to learn, we also need to assimilate the information we've received; meaning, we need to engage and apply the information.

Is the 40-minute sermon losing its effectiveness? Some might point to today's most influential preachers or the gifted communicators in their congregations and say the lecture is alive and well. The most popular pastors' sermons surpass the boundaries of the traditional church service, breaking into the digital world where they become accessible to any Christian tech-savvy enough to find and download them.

Christians subscribe to free podcasts of their favorite preachers with a simple click. Through iTunes, YouTube, and other media, we can instantly hear and see biblical teachings from any pastor of our choosing, from a wide array of theological perspectives, at any time convenient for us to learn. We don't need to sit through the average or mediocre sermons anymore, either. The number of views and shares, tweets and likes, let us select the best, most dynamic, most beloved, preaching available. (I'm quite surprised, actually, that a Christian entrepreneur hasn't invented a sort of Khan Academy for Bible teaching, with free videos explaining complex biblical concepts in 5-7 minute tutorials.)

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