In Part 1 of this series we examined what the curse of knowledge is and how it affects preachers. In Part 2 we examined the two biggest reasons why this can be a problem for pastors. If you haven’t check those out, definitely go back and read them before continuing as they set the foundation for this last post in the series.
Today we are asking the question, how can we avoid the curse of knowledge when preaching? We’ve seen in the last two posts that being aware of the problem is a great first step and knowing why we’re prone to it helps, but what do we do about it? I want to give you three simple steps you can take with each and every sermon you preach to avoid falling into the death trap of the curse of knowledge.
How to Avoid the Curse of Knowledge When Preaching
Finally, here a few action steps to put into motion to overcome this curse:
1. Gain the heart of a teacher first and foremost. A teacher doesn’t loathe her students for not knowing something before she teaches it. She revels in the joy of revealing new concepts to them. As a preacher charged with feeding our sheep we should be all the more eager to take painstaking care to deliver concepts in such a way that people can ingest, digest and use for spiritual fuel.
As we’ve seen in Part 1 and Part 2 preachers have a lot to overcome to be able to communicate clearly to people who do not have the same training they have (EVERYONE in your church basically). So it is vitally important that we approach every sermon with the desire to do everything we can to make the gospel clear and the Scriptures come alive in the hearts and minds of our listeners. This step has much more to do with where your heart is than what you are actually doing. Are you looking to impress scholars or impact lives when you preach?
2. Understand you have people in all spiritual conditions. There is nothing more maddening to me than when I hear a preacher say something like, “Well, we’re all believers in this room.” How do you know? You don’t know! And by saying something like that it reveals to your audience that you’re speaking to and for the people who already identify as believers. If you are going to overcome the trap of the curse of knowledge, you must do the work it takes to understand your audience and know the spiritual condition of as many people as you can. If you are going to assume something, assume this: You have people in ALL spiritual conditions in your audience. People struggling with addiction, affairs, pride, loneliness, doubts, fear and abuse. You also have people who are walking closely with Jesus and living Spirit-filled lives. Your preaching must appeal to all of them to take their next step.
3. Ask, “Would my unbelieving friend know what I mean by this?” This is a helpful method. Think of someone in your life who has little or no knowledge of scripture and ask yourself if they would understand. If they wouldn’t, how would you explain it to them? If you’re not sure they would understand, try asking them. That might start a good conversation. If you can’t think of one unbelieving friend, get out more. That alone might be a sign that you need to engage more with “regular” folks and learn to speak their language a bit more.
There are certainly more ways to overcome the curse of knowledge, but I find these three steps the simplest way to get started and the best way to remind myself continually that I need to have the heart of a teacher, understand that I am speaking to people in all spiritual conditions, and I must speak in such a way that people who know nothing about faith would have a clue what I’m talking about.
What are some of the ways you’ve struggled with the curse of knowledge? What are steps you can take to overcome it?