Re-Envisioning the Sunday Sermon

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The way we teach material has important, but often overlooked, implications on learning. In this brief post, I want to explore the way that active learning differs from passive learning, and draw out some implications for the way we ‘do church.’

There is a pedagogical shift happening across college campuses these days – from teacher centered instruction to student centered instruction. In a teacher centered classroom the student is expected to do very little – basically just sit quietly and listen. Further, they are relatively anonymous in the class and their experience, or opinions do not factor into the way the information is presented leading to the assumption that the teachers knowledge is what matters. Contrast this to an active learning classroom, where each student is encouraged to share and develop their own perspective, to draw from their own experiences, and construct meaning throughout the learning activity. Further, in this active learning model, each individual student’s knowledge and experience is valued. There are all sorts of active learning strategies that teachers are employing in classrooms, a convenient list of common strategies is here.  Though the individual activities differ greatly, they all have the same goal – to help students understand and remember what they are learning.

The result of this shift is that teachers are lecturing less.  Instead they are creating a context for “active learning” in which each student is involved in the creation of knowledge. The rationale for this shift is simple: since the goal of education is to change the way a student thinks, engaged students experience a more meaningful relationship to the classroom content.

So, let’s bring this theory to Sunday morning. If we were to generalize, many churches adopt a teacher centered pedagogy.  Is it effective to believe that Christian theology can be transmitted as if they were a passive receptacle simply waiting to be filled? Perhaps, if the goal were to produce academic theologians. However, discipleship requires more than just the acquisition of knowledge, it requires life change, and to this end, it is not enough to simply ask parishioners to passively receive theological information, we need to also provide a context for them to actively figure out what significance their experience of God has in their lives.