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When are you quiet?

Last Saturday night I had the opportunity to speak at a youth worship gathering in Statesboro called the Summit. I wanted to do two things here: record my experience in this teaching opportunity, and share with you a little of what I shared with the group Saturday night.

Every once in a while, I’ll have ideas for teaching that seem, well, risky. Sometimes it’s ideas that are just different from the norm or approaches to a presentation that seem a little ‘out there’. Sometimes I feel like I’ve potentially got something really good and don’t want to ‘waste’ it (yeah, there’s probably deep rooted personal issues there). My plan for Saturday felt risky, like it could be good or be a total belly flop. It didn’t dawn on me until Saturday afternoon why I felt that way.

I wanted to challenge the teens to intentionally carve out times of silence and solitude to simply be with God.

I planned to begin by showing Rob Bell’s Nooma "Noise". In the video, Rob sits on a couch watching television for a moment, and then begins to talk about the noise in our lives. He tells the account of Elijah on the run, hiding out on a mountaintop, listening for God to speak. There was a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but God was not in any of those. As Elijah waited, the text says, “there came a gentle whisper” or “the sound of shear silence”. Bell then points and clicks his tv remote and the screen goes blank. The remaining eight minutes or so of the video are spent in silence, reading messages and questions that prompt you to consider the noise in your life and what affect that noise has on your ability or inability to hear from God.

Then I stepped up to say a few things about our pace and rhythm in life, the noise we endure, and challenge them to take time for silence.

So here’s the picture: big room full of teenagers, nearly ten minutes of silence, and then I expect them to listen to me. Now, do you see why it felt risky. What I realized was that the reactions to my teaching was dependent on the audience’s willingness to engage with what I was talking about. If they engaged with the silence, reflected on the noise in their lives, and wrestled with hearing God speak to them, then -bang- homerun. If not, then it’s ten minutes that feels like an eternity and then some guy saying I need to do that more often; definitely a belly flop.

As I think about it, though, all teaching - really good teaching - is dependant on the learner being willing to engage with what is being taught. I can think back to times in high school and college when teachers just went through the motions, I, as the student, just went through the motions, not really engaged or concerned with the material, and how pointless those classes seemed and how little I actually learned, how little I’ve retained.

I think this is key for any teaching to have significant impact. Maybe what I’m talking about is a need to present in a creative, fresh, and compelling way the important truth that people need to be connected with. Maybe what I’m talking about is raising the hearer’s awareness of their need for what is being communicated. Maybe this is why Jesus, a master teacher, waited for opportune times to teach and spoke in ways that were interesting (stories) and powerful.

So, here is what I was learning through this realization: How much of my teaching is placed on the shoulders of those learning and how much is simply me spouting forth some clever insights I’ve picked up along the way? How much do I raise the awareness of the need for what I teach, so that the message is perceived as relevant? Connecting people with God is always relevant, but only hits home to the extent to which those hearing the message perceive it to be relevant to them.

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