Powerful Reasons to Use Object Lessons to Engage and Teach the Male Brain (Women and Kids Love it, Too!)
- David Murrow Author
- 2019 27 Aug
It takes 20 hours to prepare a message – and 20 minutes for men to forget it.
God’s Word is preached, presented, and taught hundreds of thousands of times each week. Why isn’t it having greater impact? Because men are forgetting what they hear — moments after they hear it. The Word is being sown, but it is failing to implant and grow (Matthew 13:4).
It would be easy to pin this failure on poor preaching or men’s stony hearts. But in many cases the fault lies not with the messenger, the message, or the men. The problem is the method.
The Problem: Monologue Lectures
Most Christian teaching is delivered verbally. Somebody stands up and talks. People listen. Mission accomplished, right?
Not really. The verbal regions of a man’s brain are typically smaller and less interconnected than those in a woman’s brain. Therefore, the average man is less able to process a stream of verbal content, such as a lecture or sermon.
I’m not saying men can’t learn from a lecture. Some men have highly developed verbal skills (pastors, for example). But studies have shown that monologue lectures are one of the least effective ways to teach for comprehension and retention. This is true for both women and men – but especially true for men.
The Solution: Object-Based Illustrations
However, the male brain is very good at recalling and manipulating three-dimensional objects moving through space. If men see it, they tend to remember it.
So if you want men to remember your words, tie those words to common 3D objects men see all the time.
Jesus knew this. He built his teaching around things his hearers saw every day. Christ used sheep, wheat, coins, cadavers, lakes, fig trees, loaves, fish, children, nets, blind men, and many other physical objects to convey spiritual truths.
As a result, his teachings are still with us today. Why? Because men remembered them. Men recalled them so vividly they were able to write them down years after they happened.
If we are serious about implanting God’s Word in men’s hearts, we must do what Jesus did: use live, object-based illustrations (OBIs) when we teach men.
Here are five steps to create a memorable object-based illustration (OBI):
You may be thinking, “I’m not creative enough to come up with an OBI.” Baloney. Any Christian can create a memorable OBI. I’ve created dozens of them – and I’m not even a preacher.
Let me walk you through the process. Along the way I’ll give you an example you’re free to steal.
Step 1: Pray.
Start by praying and asking God for the gift of creativity. God is first and foremost a creator — and you’re made in his image (Genesis 1:1). Ask him to give you the gift of a creative OBI so people will remember His Word.
Step 2: Focus.
Identify the central point you’re trying to convey. What’s the most important thing you want men to take away from your teaching?
Let’s say that you’re preaching on Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Your central point? Salvation by faith vs. works.
Step 3: Find an object.
Ask, “What’s an object that’s LIKE my central point?”
In our example, what’s analogous to a free gift? Thinking…thinking…EUREKA! Salvation is like getting a gift card for your birthday. Somebody else paid the price; you get the benefit.
Step 4: Find a related object.
Next, develop the idea further. Are there any other closely related objects that fit your analogy?
Back to our example. Thinking…thinking…YES! Salvation is not like a debit card, where you deposit your own good works on account, hoping to withdraw them later. Salvation is not like a credit card where you work to pay back your crushing debt to God.
Step 5: Build your message.
Finally, build your entire message around the metaphor. In our example, you’d plan to bring three cards into the pulpit: a debit card, a credit card, and a gift card.
Stick with one OBI, build the entire talk around your OBI, and practice!
Before you teach – rehearse! Practice your OBI in front of the mirror – or with a friend. Have it down pat before you speak.
It’s better to stick with one OBI per message. Remember the saying: don’t mix your metaphors. Men will retain one strong OBI more readily than three or four weak ones.
You may be tempted to set up your talk with a two-minute OBI, and then spend the rest of your time delivering a traditional sermon. That’s a mistake. If you really want your point to stick in men’s minds, build your entire talk around your OBI. Come back to it again and again. For example, keep holding up those plastic cards as you make your points.
Coin a phrase or phrases to reinforce the message. For example, “Debit Card Religion.” “Gift Card Faith.” Use your phrases repeatedly as you teach.
No matter how great any talk goes, there will always be some critics. Just be prepared to respond.
About 90 percent of your hearers will really appreciate this technique…and 10 percent will hate it. The latter will say things like this:
"This is juvenile. If I want a kids’ lesson I’ll go to Sunday school."
"Object lessons are a gimmick. They’re a crutch for the spiritually immature."
"This is milk. Give me the pure meat of God’s Word, preached with power!"
Here’s how to answer your critics:
- Agree with them. Tell them you’re simplifying the message to reach the immature and the unchurched (implying that your critics, of course, are spiritual giants).
- Gently remind them of how frequently Jesus used OBIs in his ministry.
Enjoy the eight great benefits of using OBIs:
You may be thinking, “Wow – I’d love to use more OBIs, but it seems like a lot of extra work.” Not really. A good OBI can actually save you time in preparation. And the benefits are huge:
Benefit 1: Greater retention.
Men will think about the illustration all week long. And some men will remember the point of your message weeks, months, or even years later.
Benefit 2: Life situations serving as lesson reminders.
For example, every time your men see a debit, credit, or gift card, they will recall God’s free gift of salvation.
Benefit 3: More men in your church.
If your church has an OBI in the pulpit every week, I can guarantee your church will grow. And men will be leading the parade.
Benefit 4: Greater interest among the men.
The male brain is also wired for novelty. Men love to be surprised. They’ll anticipate each message, wondering, “What’s he going to do this week?”
Benefit 5: Men emboldened to invite their friends to church.
Interesting sermons encourage people to invite their friends. And visitors generally love OBIs because they help them understand complex spiritual truths.
Benefit 6: People using your illustrations to disciple one another.
It’s true. I’ve seen it happen. Guys will get their wallets out and share their faith using their credit, debit, and gift cards. And guys will use the metaphor to challenge each other: “Hey – knock it off! You’re practicing debit card Christianity, dude!”
Benefit 7: Men equipped to disciple their children.
Fathers who would never re-preach a sermon would eagerly re-enact an OBI with their kids at home.
Benefit 8: Viral sharing.
Not long ago a three-minute video clip showed up in my Facebook feed. It featured a pastor clutching a balance beam for dear life (Google search: pastor balance beam). He was illustrating how timid most Christians are. The clip has been viewed almost 1.5 million times – and has been copied by pastors around the globe. People rarely watch 40-minute sermons online. But 2-minute OBIs get shared all the time.
What about women and youth?
Let’s address the elephant in the room: If we teach for the male brain, will females feel left out? Not at all. Women benefit from OBIs just as much as men do.
Our children are growing up in a visual culture. Television, the Internet, and social media – it’s all about images. Innovative companies and schools are moving away from lectures and bullet points, toward interactive lessons involving 3D objects.
Is this really something new? Christ taught men this way 2,000 years ago – and those men turned the world upside down. We may not be able to walk on water, heal a paralytic, or wither a fig tree, but with God’s help we can take common, everyday objects and create unforgettable illustrations that change the lives of all those we teach.
David Murrow is the bestselling author of Why Men Hate Going to Church and several other books. He is the founder of Church for Men, an organization that helps congregations reach more men and boys. His web site is www.ChurchForMen.com.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Hoxton-TomMerton