In seminary I didn’t agree with one of my professors who taught a class
Christian Education. She was one of the leading experts in the field at the time and had written tons of books on the topic. People bowed down in her presence as one of the renowned specialist on the topic of educating Christians. In the particular class I was involved in, I could not bring myself to cow-tow to her and what she was attempting to teach us lowly seminarians.
The topic? The topic was teaching children’s Sunday school. The problem? Well, according to her she had never taught children’s Sunday school . . . oh, she was great with adults, but she had never spent any time teaching children . . . no experience whatsoever. Despite the fact that she had no experience teaching children she had no problem sharing the theories and practices that were the most popular and supposedly relevant for that time . . . after all, she had the “Doctor” title in front of her name, had written numerous books, and was zipping all over the country making presentations. She was the expert, I was the lowly grad student.
Now, I must admit, it might have been a case of sour grapes on my part. She gave me a “C” on a presentation that I had spent way too much time on, and one that I thought was relevant, useable, and funny. It was something I had had success with in the Sunday school classroom with actual and real children. She didn’t care for it . . . plopped a great big red “C” right on the front of the presentation. Told me it would never work according to the theories.
Of course, being the lowly and ignorant seminarian that I was with no common sense, I challenged her. I asked her if she had ever taught in a children’s Sunday school class, to which she confessed that she had never taught in a children’s Sunday school class. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to drive my point home, I asked, “So, how do you know that this would not work if you have never actually taught a child in a Sunday school class?”
Needless to say, lowly seminarians should never challenge well-respected “experts” in the field in which they make their living. All I can say is that from that point on I was not one of her favorite students . . . it was a long semester. But, the point is, it is one thing to spout off the leading theories and practices that come from the head, and it is another to speak from actual experience. I would take the word of one who speaks from experience over one who only had book knowledge of a topic.
In the Gospel of Mark the first act of ministry that Jesus performs is to teach in a synagogue in Capernaum. Apparently he does an impressive job as the writer of the gospel tells us that “the people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” In fact, the writer uses the word “authority” twice to describe Jesus and his method of teaching. There is something different about Jesus and the other teachers . . . the other rabbis . . . and, the people sense and recognize this.
What was this difference?
Remember that seminary professor that I was talking about earlier? She was well-versed in the book knowledge of the topic of Christian Education . . . she knew her theories left and right . . . she was an “expert”. It was all in her head. What she was lacking was the experience . . . she hadn’t lived or practiced it. This is the camp in which the “teachers of the law” fell . . . they were “experts” in their heads, but they had very little—if any—experience in what they were teaching.
Jesus did. After all, he was the son of God. He was the “Holy One of God”. He had the intimate relationship with God. And, most importantly, he practiced what he preached . . . he was not one of those “do as I say, not as I do” sorts of teachers. He got down in the mud with everyone else. He was one of us and he experienced what we experience . . . his words were based on experience and not some book.
Think about it.
If you were planting a garden this coming summer for the first time, would go and read a book about how to do it, or would you go to the person down the street who has been gardening for years and years to get help? You’d go ask the person who had been doing it for years! Why? Because they have experience.
Experience makes a difference. Experience is what makes a person a “real” expert . . . someone to really listen to. They have been there and done that . . . which makes a real big difference if one wants to be successful or not. Experience is what makes one an “authority”. When Jesus is teaching the people he is not teaching them anything different than the teachers of the law are teaching, he is only teaching it from experience . . . from the heart and not a book. Experience denotes a relationship . . . it means that the person can relate to what is being taught because he or she has actually lived through it . . . done it . . . experienced it.
We have all heard the story about the time that some community had held a big celebration and invited some big-time actor to come and speak. The actor got up in front of the audience and recited the 23rd Psalm . . . did a wonderful and professional job . . . it was beautiful and the audience was appreciative of the mastery of the actor. Then an old retired pastor was given the opportunity to also share the 23rd Psalm. With a soft spoken yet resolved voice the pastor shared the familiar and beloved passage. There was a hush in the audience as the pastor finished . . . the audience stood and clapped as they wiped tears from their eyes. One spoke from the head, the other from the heart. Experience makes a difference.
This passage is not meant to focus on Jesus exorcising evil spirits, though that is pretty impressive. No, this passage is meant to speak to the “authority” of Jesus . . . to what makes him the “expert” . . . to what makes him different from all the leading teachers and experts of his time. It is the fact that Jesus speaks from experience . . . speaks from that which he knows and has lived . . . speaks from personal knowledge . . . speaks from the heart. He knows what he is speaking about because he has lived it. This is what gives him authority . . . he speaks from experience.
And, so should we.
When it comes to faith . . . faith with God . . . we should all be authorities because we all have experience with the Holy . . . we all have a relationship with God. We have walked with Jesus in our lives . . . we have gone through thick and thin with the Savior . . . and, we have been intimate in our dealings with Jesus and God. Our faith is strong because it is based on our experience with the Holy . . . and, it is strongest when it is grounded on the heart and not the head.
The most effective tool in evangelism is not how much one knows of the Bible or theology or theories or books, but how well one knows his or her own personal journey with the Holy . . . how well one knows his or her own experience of faith. That is what moves people . . . not how many experts one can quote. People are moved by the stories of faith of those who have experienced it first-hand. That is what people want to hear. They want people to speak from experience because that experience makes that individual an “authority”.
As a people of faith we are “authorities” when it comes to our experience of the Holy. No one knows our story of faith better than we do. As a people of faith we are called to go out and share the “Good News” with others . . . and the “Good News” that we are to share is that which we have experienced in our own lives. This makes us experts . . . authorities . . . no one knows it better than we do. If we speak from experience . . . speak from the heart . . . about our faith others will hear and desire this gift for themselves. May God bless us all with opportunities in the days to come to speak from experience this great love and grace from God. Go forth, and with “authority”, tell your story. Amen.