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The lasting power of simple images

I was still a college student when I first encountered this image, or drawing actually. My husband and I were part of a Campus Crusade for Christ group and that’s where we first saw it. In the years we spent there, it became sort of funny, because the thing kept popping up in sermons, speeches, talks, Bible studies and testimonies. We referred to it as the ‘Campus-train’ and by the time we left the group, we could draw it off the top of our heads.

It’s a powerful demonstration of the necessity to put the facts first, followed by faith and then feelings. In this postmodern culture with its focus on experiences and ‘what feels good’, the temptation to put feelings first is big. But as we all know, our feelings aren’t reliable and they certainly are no indication or evidence of what God is doing in our lives. It was a deep truth, the depth of which we didn’t even fully realize at that time. Still, we found the image to be a bit silly.

fact faith feeling train

But over the years this single image has proven to be very useful and it has had a lot of impact whenever I’ve shared it. I’ve used it myself in sermons and small group studies and conferences. It keeps popping up in conversations. No matter how silly I thought it was at first, I keep coming back to it.

Yesterday I attended our new small group for the first time. We moved from Holland to Germany a year and a half ago and we’ve found a church where we feel at home. For various reasons we hadn’t been able to visit small group sooner but yesterday I finally went. One of the members shared about her brother who had a hard time in his faith in ‘experiencing’ God because he didn’t feel him. Guess what I brought up?

We talked about it for some time and one again I noticed what an impact it had. Not because of me obviously, but because of the image itself (and I only described it yesterday – and in mediocre German too!). It proved to me once again how important it is to translate abstract concepts into concrete, preferably visual images.

Mike Breen describes the same in his book Building a Discipling Culture. He developed eight shapes, eight images or drawings if you will, to use as a ‘language’ for discipling. His reasoning is this:

“In the past hundred years, however, we have entered into an image-based culture, and we store large amounts of information, stories and data by attaching them to images. Our brains are literally wired differently than they were a hundred years ago.”

I think he’s absolutely right. The ‘Campus-train’ isn’t the only image that has been stored into my brain, only to be reproduced at any given time. Think of the ‘who’s on the throne’ (also a Campus image I think from the Four laws booklet) or the bridge-illustration. All powerful images that convey a message that’s far more easily remembered.

So the next time we’re teaching a concept, maybe we should spend some extra time coming up with an image, a drawing, a picture that shows what we want them to remember. I’m convinced it could make a big difference in how they retain your message, apply it and even share it with others.

How are you using images, pictures an drawings in your teaching? Do you have any tips to add?

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