Legend has it that while American soldiers were stationed in Italy during World War II, the coffee the Italians drank (basically as concentrated as shots of espresso) was too strong for the taste of the Americans. So, in order to satisfy the thirst of the Americans, the Italian coffee shop owners took the concentrated coffee and they would dilute it with hot water (genius, right?). This watering down of the coffee was widely accepted and ordered by the American soldiers – so much so that the Italians began calling this drink the “Americano,” as they laughed because the Americans were not ready for the strong stuff!
The Americans, however, embraced it, because it made the coffee more palatable and enjoyable. So, the American soldiers began ordering the “Americano.”
I was recently sitting with a bunch of other pastors, and we were discussing what we thought were essential elements of a good sermon. I mentioned understandability- I thought it was a no-brainer. I was a little shocked at some of the pushback I received! While the majority of the pastors in the room agreed with me, there were a few that adamantly disagreed. They told stories of their favorite preacher and about how when people came to listen to him, they brought their Bibles and their dictionaries in hopes of understanding what he was talking about. Their argument was that if we fail to use a bunch of words that people don’t understand, then nobody will be challenged to learn something new.
I wholeheartedly disagree.
When Jesus was teaching on this earth, He always watered things down to make them more palatable to the common ear. He was always using simple language that normal people could understand. He spoke in Aramaic, which was the “street language” or the “slang” of His day. He spoke of seeds, and sheep, and birds, and flowers – when Jesus taught, His lessons were simple enough for everybody to understand!
“When Jesus taught, He spoke of seeds, and sheep, and birds, and flowers – when Jesus taught, His lessons were simple enough for everybody to understand!” Click to Tweet This!
Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables.
And then somewhere along the way, we got lost in modern history, and we decided we’d rather teach complex theological terms than simple biblical truths. We’ve taken Jesus’ model of teaching profound truths in simple ways, and we’ve flipped it on its head – we take simple truths and try to teach them in profound ways. When we teach like this, the only people we’re impressing with our big words and complex ways of teaching are other people who have also been to seminary. Maybe it would do us some good to remind ourselves of what our good friend Einstein had to say on the matter:
“The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” – Albert Einstein
In other words, the definition of genius is taking the concentrate that only a few can enjoy, and watering it down to make it more palatable for the masses.
“Somewhere along the way, we decided we’d rather teach complex theological terms than simple biblical truths.” Click to Tweet This!
Now please don’t get me wrong. There is a big difference between “watering something down,” and “dumbing something down.” An Americano has just as much caffeine as does however many shots of espresso are in it. By no means did Jesus “dumb down” His message, and neither should we! I am just suggesting that we make it easier to digest.
Also, I am not suggesting that there is no place within the Church to go deeper with each other. There are plenty of people ready to drink the strong stuff – but I think that is what discipleship is for. And discipleship does not happen from the pulpit – discipleship is life on life. Just like Jesus did with His disciples.
Let’s go back to Matthew 13. If you take some time to read the chapter, you’ll notice that Jesus speaks in simple ways to the crowds that are gathered. It is when He is alone with His few disciples that He goes deeper, and explains the deeper spiritual truths.
As my main mentor and discipler, Mitch Martin, always says: “When you’re dealing with the masses, it’s best to put the cookies on the bottom shelf!”