What Preachers are Fighting Part 2: Guards at the Gate

Leaderhelps is a website designed to be a support to church lay leaders, pastors, ministers and small group leaders. This series is designed as a resource for those who preach or teach God’s Word.

Do your best to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker who isn’t ashamed to teach the word of truth correctly. 2 Timothy 2:15

Your brain is wonderfully and miraculously designed. In addition to keeping your autonomic nervous system humming – and therefore your blood pumping – your brain does something for you every second that you need desperately to function. It does something without which you wouldn’t be able to, well, think. Through such sharp-eyed nerve groupings as the hippocampus, pulvinar nuclei, basal ganglia and the pre-frontal cortex, your brain was created to do something constantly that impacts both your own sanity and whether or not the members of your congregation will get anything out of your sermon.

Your brain ignores.


National Geographic: Brain Games

And it does it every second of every minute.

Think about all of the sights, sounds and, perhaps smells that you are only now attending to because you are reading this paragraph, a computer hum, a home heating system, a television in the distance, all screened out, until now, so that you could focus on this blog post.

Every second you are bombarded with stimuli that you don’t need – sights, sounds, smells, sensations. Through a marvelously complex process, your brain makes determinations about what you want to or need to pay attention to, and what you don’t. Everything your brain decides you don’t need in the moment is filtered out,  ignored.

Ever been tired one late evening and driven home along a common route without having any real recollection of each individual turn? That was your brain’s way of saying…”Done this a thousand times, we’ll take it from here…”

It’s called sensory gating, and you couldn’t live without it.

Can you imagine if you consciously had to process every bit of stimulus that came at you at a given time? Every hum every voice every sight every sound without end?

That, my friend, is why God made your brain the way He did.

Writing in the March 2003 edition of Biological Psychiatry, researchers began pinpointing the specific “spam filters” with which you were blessed. They zeroed in on sensory gating in “the temporo-parietal region (Brodmann’s areas 22 and 2), and the prefrontal cortex (Brodmann’s areas 6 and 24).” And the more the brain is studied, the more scientists understand just how much your brain invests in filtering or, put more bluntly,


And your brain is even more diligent when protecting working or short-term memory. Your working memory space is so limited at any one time, your brain is careful about the access it allows.  Only the most meaningful, sense-making information is allowed into working memory and only that which makes it into working memory has a shot at progressing into long-term memory.

And, if you’re a preacher, teacher or minister, you covet space in your hearer’s long-term memory because that’s where the relevance of the taught Word can flourish.

The point? By now you’re way ahead of me.

See those bodies out there when you preach or teach? Those are people. You know what they have in their heads? Yep, brains. And you know what those brains are busy doing as you teach?


It’s what they do.

Of course there’s nothing more important in preaching than faithfully interpreting the Word out of an intimate relationship with Christ. But, after that, preaching is a communicative craft with the goal of influencing people. It’s that second part that’s made more difficult in light of the competition you face for your audience’s attention.

But you have two powerful weapons working in your favor.

1. The Spirit of the Living God is present whenever people are gathered and the Word is taught.  It quickens, convicts, inspires, instructs. It has the pure power to smash through the gates.

2. Your training and experience as an expositor and teacher equips you to interpret and design a message in such a way that you can make it past the guards at the sensory gate.

And that’s what we’ll talk about in the next segment – getting past the guards.

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  1. Oh how I pray for the Mind of Christ to govern my brain… Nonstop. Thanks Brian.


  1. […] Part 2 focused on the obstacle that the human brain presents as it filters out millions of bits of data every day, including possibly your teaching or preaching. […]

  2. […] Part 2 focused on the obstacle that the human brain presents as it filters out millions of bits of data every day, including possibly your teaching or preaching. […]