In Part 1 of this series, we examined what the curse of knowledge is and how it affects preachers. If you haven’t read that yet, definitely check it out. For today, we are going to dive into the two reasons why we preachers are so prone to fall into the death trap that is the curse of knowledge.
Let’s Get Real About Why We Do This
In addition to us unknowingly assuming that people know what we know – the result of the curse of knowledge. I think pastors are inherently motivated to sound confusing because of two traps we are prone to fall into. I would bet you can relate to one or both of these. So, why might you have a tendency to speak over people’s heads?
1. You would be embarrassed if someone thought you didn’t know a particular truth or concept.
There may be theological truths and biblical concepts so common knowledge to you that you can’t fathom someone not knowing them. You think, They should know this! Doesn’t everyone know this? Consequently, you wouldn’t want to run the risk of making people think you don’t know it or that it is new to you. And you certainly would not want someone to think you’re still wowed by it. So you end up blazing through ideas that seem simple to you to get to the more complex matters. In this case, your are more concerned with how you look than communicating clearly with your audience.
What’s tragic about this is that your listeners take their cues from you about how they should feel about a given topic. If you seem unmoved by something because it’s old hat to you, they may never experience the wonder you first experienced.
2. You preach to an imaginary audience of biblical scholars.
Pastors have a tendency to preach to impress their old seminary professors who don’t even go to their church. Or they want to impress the new family who recently started attending because “they just weren’t being fed” at their last church. Pastors feel this pressure to perform for those people and “feed” them so they get nice and fat. So they ignore the needs of the spiritually immature to satisfy the needs of people who are going to eventually find fault with them anyway. And leave.
I once heard this example and it made a huge impact on me. A young pastor, fresh out of seminary, was preaching way over the heads of his congregation. Motivated to be deep, theologically rich and biblical sound he sought to preach faithfully. And he meant well. There are certainly worse things. But he was not connecting. A mentor counseled him and said, “You have all these great teachers, mentors, church fathers, and theologians behind you. All this training you bring to the table. That’s good! But your back is to your church because you are so concerned with impressing your mentors. Turn around, face your audience, and with all that knowledge in your arsenal, speak to your people.”
A lot of preachers need to metaphorically turn around and preach to those who are in front of them.
Now, for the people with arms crossed in your audience saying, “We already know this stuff, I just want to be fed. This isn’t deep enough.” Translation, “I want to leave confused by what you said so I don’t have to do anything with it but I can pat myself on the back for attending a theologically rich church. Go me!” Don’t be concerned about impressing those people. It’s a constantly moving target and you won’t hit it most of the time. Instead, view it as an opportunity to come alongside that person and teach them to have compassion for unbelievers and those new in their faith who don’t know everything they know.
In Part 3 we’ll look at how preachers can overcome the curse of knowledge. For today, which of these two traps do you find yourself falling into the most? Not wanting to be embarrassed because people might think you don’t know a particular concept or preaching to an imaginary audience of biblical scholars? Or, what other reasons might we fall into this trap?