It Didn’t Kill the Cat

Do you every wonder “Why?” Not as in a passing thought like “I wonder why it’s so cold today…”, but rather, the kind of thought that charges your curiosty. That keeps you awake at night. That demands an answer before rest can be obtained.

Perhaps you remember Christmases as a child. I watch my grandchildren today much like I watched our own children when they were that age. Wonder is in their eyes at the beauty of the decorations. Questions about the reason for certain ornaments or light colors or house decorations or family recipes abound. “Are we going to have Papa’s stuffing this year?” And inspiring music and stories fill the time with family.

Wonder, inspiration, and such questions (Papa’s stuffing?) may seem to some to be versions of curiosity. And in some small degree, there is overlap. But questions that seek confirmation and status are not the kind of curiosity that landed man on the moon. The wonder illustrated above is just that: wonder! Beauty never before seen. Lighting effects that stretch the imagination. They cause wonder! Which may be followed by curiosity, but is wholly different from it. Being inspired at best creates a drive to replicate or improve one’s experience, but it is not curiosity.

Real curiosity fires the imagination and causes us to explore the unknown and search for answers. A child’s Christmas curiosity is best found in packages that make no noise when shaken, that mysteriously appear under the tree with no “to … from” sticker. As the pile grows higher, and Christmas Eve approaches, children in homes around the world have their curiosity fired! They struggle to go to sleep because they know their curiosity will be finally satisfied, just a sunrise away. They can’t wait for the time – when everyone has arrived, and the gift opening begins. And parents equally can’t wait, often weary of how often they have to say, “Not yet”, “I don’t know”, and “you’ll just have to wait and see”.

Some years ago, when I was with the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Georgia. I along with the rest of the staff suffered through what can only be called a failed effort in deploying an online learning system. A lot of money had been invested in providing this benefit to the staff, but less than 30 people had signed up, most showing little interest in the opportunity. They had not even had any interest in discovering if it was something that would be beneficial to them or not.

Because of some creative training I had done before, I was asked to manage a relaunch, to see if we could generate interest and involvement. Over a period of two months, I repeatedly triggered curiosity among the staff. I had the IT department create an email alias for me, “Carmen and Sam Diego”. For two months, “Carmen and Sam” emailed the staff at least once a week, with clues as to where they might be on a certain day at a certain time. I came in on the weekends and created large foam core stand up characters of Carmen and Sam, and moved them around the building. I had them at the entrance, on various floors; even coming out of the ceiling in a couple of places. The tag line? “Where in the world are Carmen and Sam Diego”.  On the day, at the place, at 10 am, two-thirds of the staff were lined up to get in to find out how their curiosity could be satisfied. 200 people participated in the registration and information fair.

They couldn’t help themselves. Their curiosity was triggered. They just HAD to know.

Do not let this irony slip past you. A five figure program to provide education and training for staff development failed to provide education, training or staff development – until their curiosity was triggered.

Does this sound familiar? We offer it but they don’t take advantage of it. We offer Bible studies but most don’t attend. And I will tell you that in almost every case, there is tacit blame on those that don’t attend (“they should want to…”). We shouldn’t blame them, but we also should not blame the church leadership. They’ve never been told of the power of triggering curiosity. They’ve never been taught how to ask GREAT questions. But they have been taught to follow the literature.

After graduating from seminary I went on to spend about ten years in youth ministry. I then went back to seminary to study for an EdD. Because it had been so long between degrees, I had to take three education classes from the Master’s program to remediate my qualifications for the doctoral program. In the “Adult Education in the Local Church” class, I had an experience that illustrates this all too well.

The purpose of this class was to inform and demonstrate for the theology students the various denominational educational resources available to them. As the only adult education course that was required for them, this was where they would get their introduction to the educational ministry of the church. I will never forget that class.

After ten years of leading people to faith in Christ; ten years of developing students and leaders; ten years of training them in life changing Bible study practice and methodology, I hear the professor say one day, “It is not possible to train your people to lead a better Bible Study week in and week out, than what they get in the literature (provided by the denomination).”

Sometimes, I just can’t help myself. So, I asked, “Then, is my job, as a minister of education, to  order literature? I don’t need to train people how to teach? How to prepare a life-changing Bible study?” The reason I don’t recall his answer is that he didn’t give one. I don’t think I made a friend that day.

But this is also not to blame the seminary professors or literature publishing houses. Perhaps no one has ever told them the value of the curiosity trigger. We have somehow come to believe and expect that it is the disciple’s responsibility to  get discipled. It is, after all, one of the spiritual disciplines that will prove spiritual maturity. This is a tragic re-assignment of Jesus’ command. Jesus told the mature to disciple the saved. I can’t find any place in scripture where Jesus commands the saved to seek out more mature believers who will lecture them about the facts and content of Bible passages, dictionaries and commentaries. (See Reason #2: Telling Them What to Think in the post Two Reasons Why We’re Not Making Disciples.)

I was a member of a church some years ago that highly valued servant leadership. I was dumbfounded when I discovered how they trained their students to be servant leaders. It began with incoming 7th graders each year. Every year, on the first Sunday when the new students moved up, they had a lunch, and they required that the 7th graders serve the high school seniors. This is because they wanted them to the Learn? Know? Obey? that they were to be servants. In case you don’t share my #dumbfoundedness, do you remember how Jesus taught servant leadership? Remember when he sat down and made all of His disciples wash His feet?

You don’t remember that because that’s not what He did. How much more powerful would it have been for the seniors to serve the 7th graders? And not just at a first week breakfast, but for an entire year. Those seventh graders would have discovered experientially the joy of service; of giving their lives for others. That someone so powerful (a senior) had consistently been there for them, would fire their imagination of what it would be like for them to give away their own life in the same way. (And tangentially, how many more 7th graders would participate, year after year, when word got out about the senior servant leader model?)

Do you remember 7th grade? Did any high school senior ever care for you in any way at all, other than being the target of some joke? Odds are, being ignored was the best you could hope for. Imagine the curiosity that Jesus triggered, and that high school seniors could trigger, when lives are invested in those less fortunate and less powerful. During and after those experiences, most seventh graders would want to become the same kind of servant for the incoming classes.

I soon discovered that this backwards service idea came from their literature.

Contemporary studies in curiosity have occurred two or three times.

“The first, in the 1960s, focused mainly on curiosity’s psychological underpinnings. The second, in the 1970s and 1980s, was characterized by attempts to measure curiosity and assess its dimensionality.” – 

The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation, Loewenstien, Psychology Bulletin, 1994, Vol 115.

There is a third view on this subject to be considered:  in Lowenstein’s work, he

“…interprets curiosity as a form of cognitively induced deprivation that arises from the perception of a gap in knowledge or understanding.”

Ibid

To simplify Lowenstein’s overview, curiosity has been studied from the standpoints of:

  • Psychological underpinnings – how curiosity affects human behavior (good and bad)
  • Measurement – how much cause and how much effect is involved (this effort failed to make any substantial determinations)
  • The Curiosity Trigger – we HAVE to discover how to fill the gap in knowledge or understanding

This third view is why the iDiscover method works. GREAT questions create the perception of a gap in knowledge or understanding. This is how Jesus had so much fun with the religious. He asked them GREAT questions that exposed the gap in their knowledge vs their behavior. This is why he asked GREAT questions of the Disciples. He created the perception of a gap in their knowledge and they just HAD to discover the answer. He did not show up and lecture them every day, expecting them to retain a level of interest, just because they were supposed to. He made us, and therefore He knows how he designed us to learn, to engage, and to be changed. Jesus was a master of triggering curiosity.

Some years ago, I was leading a home Bible study in Colorado. A very nice lady in our church had opened her home. As we discussed the parameters and logistics of the study, the reality that her husband (1) was not a believer and (2) would be present, flavored our preparations. He was in management with his company. They had a very nice home. These facts, among others, spoke to an accomplished and financially successfully life.

He was not antagonistic about Christianity. But it was very clear that he was also not interested. He was attending out of politeness and early on I could tell his plan was to silently observe. Experience tells me that he may have had it in his mind that he could gather ammunition from the experience to “prove” to his wife her “mistake” in believing in Christ

Three GREAT questions into the study, he could not help himself. His curiosity to discover resolution – to fill the gap – had been triggered. He HAD to answer. He HAD to engage. He HAD to participate and find the resolution and truth regarding the questions posed. He interrupted another participant, albeit kindly, to share his thoughts on the concepts in question.

This is why my friend, John Moore has said this about iDiscover:

“I have been teaching Bible study since 1985 and I was amazed at this fresh approach to the classroom….an approach where the newest convert can participate along with the seasoned ‘veteran’.”

www.idiscover.xyz/testimonials

And this is a key way that iDiscover is different from any other process you may have learned. This is not about showing up with enough information to fill the hour, enough doctrine to educate the masses, or enough inspiration to garner the respect of the class. iDiscover is about creating curiosity by asking GREAT questions that cause participants to engage. This is not about showing up with the just the right gizmo, gadget, or toy to illustrate a point. This is about asking such GREAT questions that those in the group just HAVE to participate with others and with God’s word. And, there is nothing better for an in-person or online group than thought-provoking and engaging questions.

I was able to share some iDiscover principles with my dear friend, Matt Edwards, a few months ago. He put them into practice the next week. After the third week, he called me. This is what he said:

“For more than 30 years, I’ve been considered a preacher, a prophet and evangelist. For the first time in my ministry, someone has called me a Bible teacher.”

Pastor Matt Edwards, Spring Creek Church, Weatherford, TX

iDiscover can help you and your ministry, whether you are on staff or simply lead a small group in your home. iDiscover is not for sale, but I’ll give it away to anyone wants to learn a better way.

You can contact me at eli.bernard@idiscover.xyz

One more thing. Curiosity did not kill the cat. And they don’t have nine lives.

2 thoughts on “It Didn’t Kill the Cat”

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