Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The power and pitfalls of illustrations

A sermon illustration can be a powerful tool to increase understanding and to increase recollection. However, a danger is that sometimes we remember the illustration but not the truth they were meant to illustrate.

When I try to teach kids about God and the Bible at church and in Religious Education classes in the local primary school about God I sometimes do some simple science demonstrations, such a turning a tea bag into a rocket, breaking a rule with air pressure, or getting an egg into a bottle. The kids really love these. [I have a fan club and struggle to stay humble...]

My dear wife is so enthusiastic about this that she has signed me up to give an elective at the forthcoming Ignite conference on kids ministry in Brisbane. Hence, I am thinking a bit more systematically and critically about the value and limitations of such science demonstrations. Here are a few preliminary thoughts.

The goals of these demonstrations should be modest:
  • to have fun
  • to help engage the kids with you and with the lesson
  • to stimulate the kids to think about what they are observing
  • to give (an imperfect) illustration of the lesson
There are actually many books available at our local Christian bookstore on "Science experiments to illustrate Bible lessons for kids." Unfortunately, I am hesitant to recommend any of the ones I have looked at. They all have lots of great demonstrations. However, I find they often use the Bible in a manner that I am not comfortable with. This may be even more problematic than the debatable connections they try to make between specific experiments and specific Bible verses or stories.
Perhaps, it is enough to be less ambitious about illustrating specific stories and verses and instead use the science demonstrations to preliminary ideas such as:
  • something that we may think is impossible may actually be possible
  • something can exist even if we cannot see it
  • our perceptions of reality are not always correct
  • something may be true even if we cannot understand it
  • there are people who are both scientists and Christian
The science demonstration is then just like any other illustration (e.g., a personal anecdote, a scene from a movie, a recent news story, a joke) at the beginning of a lesson or sermon which invites the listener to pay more attention to the actual passage from the Bible being taught and its application.

Comments welcome. Any favourite science demonstrations?

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