IVP - Online Pulpit - How the Brain Processes Sermons

October 4, 2012

How the Brain Processes Sermons

by Richard H. Cox

Competent doctors study their patients. Teachers try to understand their students. Coaches try to figure out “what makes their players tick”—all trying to understand what makes them function at their highest level and achieve the best results from their guidance. Should ministers do any less in attempting to understand how their parishioners respond to their ministry, particularly their sermons?

Modern neuroscience helps us to know how the brain translates sounds into meaning, meaning into decisions and decisions into action. Every minister wants the sermon to have meaning and bear fruit, but few follow an intentional process in trying to attain this goal. Instead, they rely upon the Holy Spirit to do the work. There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit does the work, but does this excuse poor sermons that do not allowing “the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart” to become potent tools?

There are many hindrances to getting and keeping the attention of your audience, including the radio, billboards, cranky children, marital conflicts, car trouble and much more—all while trying to just get from home to the church service. Further, everything that is preached must fit into what your hearer’s already believe or don’t believe. The whole strength of preaching relies on re-ligare (to “tie-back” or re-ligion), literally the ability to connect with foundations that have already been established.

There are several very understandable ways to “get into” and influence your parishioner’s thinking. These are known as “brain gates”—they are the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. The more of these gates we can engage, the more likely the brain will accept input. Many ministers produce weak sermons because they ignore all but the hearing gate.

Dealing with neuroscience of the brain is really very simple when we use the findings from this burgeoning and complicated research and don’t worry about trying to scientifically understand it. Having been trained and practiced in the fields of medicine, psychology and theology, I have attempted to integrate those three disciplines for easy understanding and implementation. The book I have written, Rewiring Your Preaching, attempts to interpret difficult to understand brain research so that most anyone can understand it, and more importantly, so that ministers can utilize the best of now-known neuroscientific information to help them with preaching more effective sermons.

CoxOP.jpgRichard H. Cox (M.D., Ph.D., D.Min) is president emeritus of Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri, and teaches in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical School. Rewiring Your Preaching will be available from IVP Praxis late 2012.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at October 4, 2012 10:06 AM Bookmark and Share

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