Why doesn’t our teaching seem to stick?


Last Monday I attended a seminar by Todd Hall, Ph.D., and Mark Matlock’s Wisdom Works addressing issues of spiritual transformation in youth ministry. Why is it that what we teach just doesn’t seem to stick?


  • We are created in the image of God = relationally.
  • Relationships have just as big of an impact on the brain as medications.
  • In youth group, relationships have a greater impact than lectures/teaching.
  • Parent relationships are vitally important for any other relationships in the future. The physical biology of the brain is affected by these relationships.
  • Faith sticks to people through relationships. When we’re attached to someone, their opinions and values matter.
  • Our souls naturally desire, or are hard-wired, for relational connections and it is through these connections with God and others that we are spiritually transformed to increase our capacity to love.
  • Our brains use 2 ways to make sense of the world: head knowledge (slow) and gut knowledge (very fast).
  • Knowing about God with our head is not the same as knowing God with our gut. We can intuitively know something that our mind does not understand. Emotion is a powerful system for knowing.
  • Truth is validated through experiences. Experiences teach much more than studying something (Bible, Shakespeare, knowing what a cathedral looks like in a picture is different than knowing what it smells like in experience). Some knowledge only comes through experiences.
  • Our emotions shape both our internal experiences and our experiences with God and other people. They give us a sense of what is meaningful.
  • Our emotions are determined much quicker than head knowledge and determines how we think. Emotion is how we evaluate meaning in a matter of milliseconds.
  • Emotion and meaning of values are processed in the same part of the brain.
  • Gut level knowledge wins out when in conflict with head knowledge. A college professor can easily refute Christianity to a student who knows God only as head knowledge, but can never refute a student who knows God with their gut. Or, a student will commit suicide even if they know in their head that God loves them. Or, a woman will continually return to a man who will always reject her even she knows in her head what will happen.
  • Gut level knowledge of God is influenced by experiences with significant caregivers (i.e. relationships).


  • Experience is Biology. It literally alters DNA and thought patterns.
  • Realizing that experience in biology, we probably have more biologically wounded students than we think we do.
  • Realize I may need to think differently about how I approach those wounds. “Jesus still loves you…” just doesn’t just it.
  • Get kids to tell their stories by asking well-crafted questions. Get them to put it on paper.
  • We need to increase the relational surface area of our youth ministries. Youth ministry has too long been a one-man-band. Students will otherwise create a series of negative connections together about youth ministries and the church.
  • Parent/student relationships are key. Kids consistently say that parents are the most important.


  • Youth ministry must be highly relational.
  • Youth ministry must be very experiential.
  • Significant spiritual growth happens through experiences, very rarely through head knowledge studying or teaching.
  • We can’t think of an abstract idea of “fruit.” We can only think of instances of fruit, like an apple, orange or banana. Likewise, when we teach about “God,” an abstract idea, students need to learn it in experiential sensory instances.

Todd Hall and Wisdom Works are developing a tool to help youth workers evaluate spiritual transformation in their youth groups and provide resources for implementing change in weak areas through experiential means. Find more information about it here.

[tags]Wisdom Works, Mark Matlock, Todd Hall, STI, Planet Wisdom[/tags]

Posted on December 26, 2006

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