With the best of intentions, we have tried to make church gatherings a comfortable environment for both believers and seekers to learn about God. From the cushioned theater seats with built-in cup holders, to the spoon fed, 3-point sermon with fill-in-the-blank pre-written notes–the only challenge most of us face on Sunday morning is actually getting our families to church. Once through the door, however, we can relax and switch on the auto pilot.
If our goal is to “teach people to obey” all that Jesus commanded, then we may want to rethink our commitment to comfort on Sundays. Recent brain research has shown that when a person is comfortable the more analytical functions of the brain necessary for learning remain disengaged. Psychologists refer to the brain as having a “system one” and a “system two.” System one is the more intuitive functioning that is active when relaxed, like when vegetating in front of a television or listening to a simple, clear sermon in a comfortable seat on Sunday morning.
System two is the analytical functioning of the brain that is required to rethink assumptions, challenge ideas, and construct new behaviors and beliefs. System two must be active to learn. Research shows that the brain shifts gears from system one to system two when it is forced to work; when it is challenged and uncomfortable.
We can all agree that Jesus was a brilliant communicator, but when we study his methods it is obvious that the comfort of his audience was not a significant consideration. In fact, Jesus taught in a manner that engaged his listeners and challenged them. He expected them to work in order to understand his teaching. He asked them questions, wrapped his teaching in opaque parables, and often taught in distracting settings. Jesus was anything but crystal clear, simple, and easy to listen to. Even now, when we engage his teaching through the Gospels, it requires effort–and a large dose of grace–to understand his words. He doesn’t give us 3-point alliterated sermons, and neither do his apostles.