For just a moment, I was able to understand the differences between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. A teenager explained it to me. We were riding along the highway on the way to a youth camp in a packed van. He was one of those uncommonly intelligent teens; but what made him unique was his ability to take a somewhat complex concept and explain it in a way that was simple to understand. For a brief moment, I felt my IQ soar (temporarily) as concepts like free neutrons and subatomic particles became clear to me.
Making the complex understandable is somewhat uncommon – not necessarily because it is impossible to do, but rather because those who instruct often do not strive hard enough to achieve it. …maybe because it is hard work, or maybe it’s simply because they prefer to sound lofty. Either way, no one wins: the listener doesn’t learn, and the instructor doesn’t educate.
Whether you are teaching a lesson, preaching a sermon, writing a paper, or leading a small group, the listeners will appreciate your efforts to make the complex simple and the foggy clear. Nearly anyone can say something deep. To be honest, a person doesn’t even have to understand a concept in order to recite it. But the small amount of false praise a person may receive for speaking over people’s heads is dwarfed by those who walk away confused, uninformed, or unchanged.
If you are teaching God’s Word, you should work extra hard at clarity. If you deliberately strive to sound lofty, you will likely alienate the majority of your audience. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said he studied hard and also looked for ways to “express truths clearly.” Similarly, think of the various stories, object lessons, and experiences Jesus used in His teaching.
There is an old adage that says, “Put the cookies on the bottom shelf.” Everyone likes cookies. A teacher can put them on the top shelf to be admired, or on the bottom shelf to be experienced. Speaking clearly and simply doesn’t mean the instructor is less intelligent.
This ISN’T about “dumbing it down.”
This ISN’T about avoiding difficult or deep subjects.
This IS about making every effort to explain things in a clear, logical, practical, and interesting way.
Think about it… there are many well-known and successful TV shows that deal with topics that are difficult to understand (Mythbusters, Planet Earth, Nova, Brain Games, etc.) Their success is not simply because of the subject matter, but in how it is offered. It is usually presented in a fun, interesting, and comprehensible way.
When the teacher understands the concept, the process has only just begun. Creating a way to communicate the concept in a way the listener can understand is where the real work begins.
Think ahead to the next time you will be instructing others (in any form). How can you strive to make things simple to understand and interesting to learn?
- How can you express your thoughts in a clear and concise way?
- How can you bring deeper subjects closer to the surface where people can grapple with them?
- How can you organize your points to help walk others through the thought process?
- How can you illustrate the concept to help provide some context?
- How can you add some flavor to keep the listener engaged?
- What creative elements can you include in order to help people absorb the information?
Now, there are some people who are genuinely so intelligent that they sincerely have a difficult time bringing the concept down to a layman’s level. They don’t strive to sound lofty, they just are. Let’s cut them some slack. But for the other 98% of us who teach, preach, write, and lead discussion, let’s work harder at helping people truly understand.
I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. (NLT)
Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. 10 The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly. (NLT)