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Your Belief System and Your Church (17): Problems With Memory

MOSES’ TEACHING DILEMMA AND GOD’S SOLUTION. Imagine with me for a moment what it must have been like in Moses’ shoes (sandals) coming down from Mt. Sinai. Moses had just spent 40 glorious days with the Lord receiving all of the laws recorded in Leviticus and was instructed to teach the entirety of them to all Israelites, population of a couple million. (Let no present teacher complain about impossibly large class sizes.) When Moses and Joshua neared the camp after they had been gone only 40 short days, they observed the people dancing naked around a golden calf and the pandemonium was as the noise of war. Had not they just experienced the miracles of the plagues, Passover, and Red Sea baptism? (Let no present teacher complain about incorrigible students with bad memories and rowdy classroom behavior.) Obviously Moses knew he was going to be in need of some serious teaching pedagogy. So the Lord gave him Deuteronomy 6:6-9, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” God’s master teaching pedagogy (old-fashioned repetition) is as powerful and appropriate today as it ever was for transitioning information from short-term memory to permanent long-term memory.

TWO MEMORIES. Learning receptors of aural, visual, and kinesthetic conduct units of information into our memories. Brain research within the last century has determined individuals have two kinds of memory, short-term and long-term, which network back and forth. Stimuli come at us form different directions all day and night. These may be called memory events. Our short-term memory is constantly being bombarded with events. We accumulate a limited number of them. But in an ongoing cycle, newer short-term events continually replace older short-term events. Replaced events are forgotten. This is called short-term memory.

Remembering is having events transferred to long-term memory. Two factors must occur to initiate long-term memory, (1) an X amount of repetition (2) within an X amount of time. In music, a melody or melodic fragment must be repeated a certain number of times within 30 seconds for long-term memory to occur. It is my guess that if 30 seconds applies to tonal sound, a verbal sermon must be similar because they are both aural. As changing events in short-term memory interact with more permanent ones in long-term memory, these direct the listener’s focus of attention.

LIFE CHANGES. That which is focused upon (attention) and remembered (long-term memory) creates life-changes. To illustrate, Jesus, being Creator of the brain and ultimate Teacher, knew all about short- and long-term memory interactions, and that repetition must occur for successful learning. Jesus began very important teachings with “Verily, verily,” or “Truly, truly,” which was a purposeful repetition to focus attention and stimulate memory. He also illustrated teachings with two or more similar parables spoken in a row. Throughout the Bible, every Truth is established through two or more witnesses, and the laws of double reference are types of witness (repetition).

SOWER PARABLE. In particular, the parable of the sower is a great Scriptural analogy for short- and long-term memory. The sower parable is found in three Gospels, not just one or two, which is a good indication for us to pay close attention to it and another form of repetition. In the parable, the first three categories of listeners are described as quickly forgetting what was heard (short-term memory). Events (cares of life) continuously bombarding the memory quickly displace the Word (sown seed). The first three categories produce no results. No fruit results from short-term memory. However, the fourth category is described as hearing and understanding (Matthew 13), hearing, receiving, and accepting (Mark 4), and hearing, keeping, and retaining (Luke 8). Keeping and retaining (retention) are long-term memory. According to Jesus’ parable, only long-term memory retention produces fruit (thirty, sixty, and hundred fold).

SOWER AND SERMONS. What happens when we apply the sower parable to sermon preaching? Sermon points heard only once most likely never go beyond short-term memory. A pastor may spend an average of 20-30 hours each week on message preparation, deliver that message around an hour in length, and have listeners within minutes forget over 50%. After one hour, 66% is forgotten, and after six hours, 75% is lost (Ebbinghaus, 1913). Pastor, your hour sermon, created from many hours of preparation, without multiple hearings, will have members remembering only 15 minutes after 6 hours have passed, which means the hearer remains only within the first three sower categories, from which no spiritual fruit results. Conversely, two to three hearings beyond the initial one cause retention rate to increase to about 80%. On the positive side, multiple listening not only yields retention and fruit, but also renders the hearer’s “soil” more fertile for further sowing and reaping.

TEACHING FOR MEMORY. Music teachers and pastors are somewhat similar in their teaching settings. We both meet our students infrequently only once or twice a week for short periods of time. We both suffer from problems relating to continuity of subject matter and retention. We both want our learners to leave with acquired skills. However, in music, we have solved these problems by dividing each music lesson into three parts. (Briefly explained in the previous Real and Lasting Learning section in the Overlapping Learning Cycle paragraph.) The first part is a review of important points from previously taught materials and skills. The second part is a presentation of new materials, concepts, and skills sequenced from something that came before. The third part is an immediate review and assessment of the new materials and skills taught in the second part. In an ongoing overlapping manner, each following lesson or class meeting consists of the same structure which provides repetition of subject materials, concepts, and demonstrated skills. This effectively counteracts forgetting and increases comprehension. (Notice how I do the same in this writing. There are a few references to point your thinking ahead to stir curiosity, while there are many repetitions for bringing back what was presented before to strengthen memory.)

Pastor, do your members come to church every Sunday remembering less than 15% of last Sunday’s sermon? How do you counteract forgetting? What kind of media ministry do you have in your church for fostering long-term memory and spiritual fruit? Do you record your sermons audibly on CDs and visually on DVDs and distribute copies at the exits as people leave the service? Do you post your sermons (audio “mp3” and video “flv”) on your church’s website?

Your Belief System and Your Church: (1) Introduction

Your Belief System and Your Church: (2) Your Paradigms

Your Belief System and Your Church: (3) Bondage or Freedom

Your Belief System and Your Church: (4) Gateway Skills

Your Belief System and Your Church: (5) Teacher Accountability

Your Belief System and Your Church: (6) Talking About vs. Doing

Your Belief System and Your Church: (7) Student Accountability

Your Belief System and Your Church: (8) Assessment

Your Belief System and Your Church: (9) Bury Dead Tradition

Your Belief System and Your Church: (10) Teaching vs. Learning

Your Belief System and Your Church: (11) Teachers' Three Phases

Your Belief System and Your Church: (12) Excellence is NOT a Goal

Your Belief System and Your Church: (13) My Teaching Limits Were Their Learning Limits

Your Belief System and Your Church: (14) Unlearning Creates Success

Your Belief System and Your Church: (15) Pioneers vs. Settlers

Your Belief System and Your Church: (16) Real and Lasting Learning

Your Belief System and Your Church: (17) Problems With Memory

Your Belief System and Your Church: (18) Ownership Creates Success

Your Belief System and Your Church: (19) Not Perfect, But Honest

Your Belief System and Your Church: (20) Take Risks and Give Away Control

Your Belief System and Your Church: (21) Out of a Job

Your Belief System and Your Church: (22) KCAASE and Proverbs 24

Your Belief System and Your Church: (23) Responding vs. Reacting

Your Belief System and Your Church: (24) Only When Performed

Your Belief System and Your Church: (25) A Supervisor's Vision

Your Belief System and Your Church: (26) Glimpses Into the Spiritual

Your Belief System and Your Church: (27) One Reason Alone

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Ok media ministry is great for those commited enough to take it home and do something with it. I get similar repetition by rewriting notes. Honestly though the rewrite may not occur until a year or more after the sermon is given. It helps but is not nearly as quick as what Dave is refering to here. Why not say it with your mouth while projecting it on the wall? You just engaged me visually and aurally. You also repeated it two different ways. Ever listen to a good teacher? I just had the oportunity to listen to a fast paced but skilled teacher. They repeated the things that they wanted me to remember at least three times while showing several different slides depicting variations of the same point. There was both aural and visual repetition of important points and the speed kept those with short attention spans engaged.
Hey Lisa, let me add another item to your great comments. How does a teacher or a preacher connect individual class sessions? Music teachers and preachers both have the once a week attendance problem. Here's how: every lesson (sermon) is divided into thirds. The first third is a review of what came before, in the form of asking students questions and having them demonstrate what was previously taught. The second third is introducing and teaching new materials drawn from something in the initial review. The last third is some sort of demonstration or assessment of whether or not the new material has been successfully learned. So from class to class, there is an ongoing overlapping of materials that creates repetition and transfer into long-term memory.
Imagine that! The pastor has a way to keep the sleepers alert! Ask them questions. It's easy to tune out during a sermon because often so little is required of us. IE if I pay attention the entire sermon, it is because I am driven and want to learn not because the pastor is keeping me accountable with his actions, questions. Frankly there are days when I am tired, distracted, or bored and tune out about 10 minutes before the sermon ends.
Betcha any money that Jesus operated a style that continuously engaged all kinds of learners. In the public schools, I had to keep everyone engaged because of students always being tired, distracted, bored, and even unwilling learners.
Suspect you are right. After all what is the value of even showing up on Sunday if we just ho-hum or sleep through it? Looks good to others maybe but frankly I'd have gotten just as much out of it by staying home and mowing the lawn. If I took time to read the work I'd get more than I got by showing up. No wonder churhc attendance gets spotty when folks are busy. .....Scary thought!
Hi Lisa,
It took me a while to respond, but here it is. I'll be agreeable with your comment of staying home, mowing the lawn, or reading a book if you tell me which part of your body you can cut off and have it operate with a full give and take apart from the rest of your body. 'Cuz that would be the same regarding staying home from church, only more so because it's in the spiritual realm as well the physical.
Dave
Yep and if we only show up to church to be showing up we are cutting off part of the body while appearing to be part of it...
Showing up and being mentally, emotionally, spiritually conected may be two different things.
It's easy to float in and out of even a friendly church and never connect. I did it for years could easily do it again. Having done it, I know exactly how to do it body language and a quick exit play large roles. Do this while ignoring the sermon and one would effectively be cut off even though present.
Wow, how powerful your observation is in your first sentence. That's the very reason why God said to the Israelites in Isaiah that He could no longer stand their sacrifices and solemn assemblies.
Dave

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