How Minister’s Refresh Their Sermons: The Creative Principle of “Perspective Shifting.”

Refreshing Sermons by the Ministry Practitioner’s Perspective Shifting

Michael Mooney, Exec Elder reporting for the curriculum of the Theological Mentor Program of National Association of Christian Ministers.

Minister’s Definition:

Perspective Shifting is the purposed art of looking at circumstances, situations, people, attitudes, thought process, and things from another person’s perspective.

Pitfall: Our own biases are the pitfalls to why we tend to think that we view the world from other people’s perspectives, when all the while we often view things from the perspectives that match our already held opinions.

Often ministers find themselves in situations where they rely on old information to determine the meaning of scripture.  Instead of performing new studies and quests for understanding, they tend to regurgitate what they learned in seminaries, commentaries, or their private Bible studies.  Ironically, this happens to the best of ministers, usually without ever realizing that they have fallen victim to their own confirmation biases.

Test It

A fun way to test this concept is to ask a seasoned believer to read John 3:16 from a different translation than their own. It is not uncommon to find that many are unable to accomplish this on the first attempt. They miss words, quote words that are not present in the translation that they are reading, and/or give little to no thought to meanings of the text beyond their already determined ideas before reading it. These are all of the tale-tale signs of confirmation bias.

The Loss

When ministers fall victims to this skewed way of thinking, they shut off the creative potential that God gave them.  They find themselves in a regurgitation mode.  When this occurs they are not engaging in any real thinking, rather they are simply reacting, recalling, and reciting.  At best someone among them will learn something, but they are not likely to gain anything more than intellectual gratification for themselves.

The Gain

One tool we can employ to overcome this hindrance is that of “perspective shifting.”  The genuine practice of perspective shifting seeks to understand more than to be understood.  It is the art of ministers seeking to truly understand the situations, circumstances, etc. in which they find themselves, with no assumptions about what is right or wrong, good or bad, profitable or unprofitable, and so forth.  It is the true attempt to suspend judgments long enough to just “be” in the situation without having to judge it. This is not to say that conclusions will not be formed, but rather it is the pathway to reaching better conclusions.  The goal is to suspend conclusions long enough to really understand before making them.

Ministers Putting it Into Practice

Our Text Will be John Chapter 3: 1-4, and v. 16.

Joh 3:1-4 ESV
(1).  Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
(2).  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
(3).  Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
(4).  Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

There is the temptation to approach this scripture in light of all that has been discussed thus far, and assume the bias of already understanding the point.  Guard against this hindering thought process and open yourself to have God grant you fresh insight.

How to apply the principal of perspective shifting to the reading of John 3 

In the above passage we have two people:

  1. Jesus and 
  2. Nicodemus.  

This means that there should be at least two perspectives present:

  1. Jesus’ perspective and 
  1. Nicodemus’ perspective.  

There also may be the perspective of: 

  1. John (the writer of this passage), and 
  1. the potential perspectives of the readers of this passage (including your own). 

Step 1) First, take a moment and identify your own perspective.  This should be what your thoughts have been about John 3 before having ever read the information here on this page. You will have a new perspective after this activity, but at this stage you only want to understand your previous perspective.

Questions to ask yourself to reveal this information:

  • If I was called to a podium and asked to teach from John 3 (without notice or time to prepare), what would I teach?
  • What do I think is the bottom line of the passage? In other words, if I were to strip away all of the details, what do I think the passage means?

Step 2) Second, identify what you believe other people’s perspectives are, based on your past experiences of discussing this passage with people (both saved and unsaved people).  Keep in mind, your idea of what other people’s perspectives are could be correct or incorrect. While you will naturally assume that your identification of other people’s perspectives is correct, eagerly assume that you may have been wrong.

Questions to ask yourself to reveal this information:

  • What have I heard people say about this passage? 
  • What was insightful? 
  • What was possibly incorrect?

3) Third, consider the perspective of the person who holds the greatest status in the passage.  In John 3 this person is Jesus.  He holds the highest status because he is the son of God.

Questions to ask yourself to reveal this information:

  • What details may be mentioned directly in the text that would offer clues to Jesus’ perspective at that very moment?  The goal here is to identify his perspective at that very moment from a human standpoint.  Was he frustrated, joyful, upset, etc?  Is he happy to see Nicodemus, or is he suspicious?

4) Fourth, consider the perspective of Nicodemus.  

Questions to ask yourself to reveal this information:
  • What details may be mentioned directly in the text that would offer clues to Nicodemus’ perspective at that very moment? 
  • For example, verse 1 states that he was a “Pharisees” and that he was a “ruler”. How might this information give us clues into his social status, and overall attitude?
  • Verse 2 states that he came by night. Why by night?  Is he trying not to be noticed?
  • Verse 2 also states that he called Jesus “rabbi” followed by his rationale for calling him this.  What might we discover about his theological understanding based upon his reasoning? 


5) Fifth, consider how John may have seen the whole situation? 

Questions to ask yourself to reveal this information:
  • Did he witness it firsthand, or was he peeking through some bushes, or was there maybe some other means by which he understood this story?
  • How did he understand this event without the knowledge that Jesus was going to die on the cross?

6) Sixth, close your eyes and try your best to enter the moment. 

Use your imagination:

Imagine standing there and overhearing the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.  Try to reflect on everything that you have concluded from the above questions while considering the questions below:

  • Imagine what the temperature may have been. 
  • Imagine what sort of clothes you may have been wearing. 
  • Consider if your feet are dirty, or maybe they have been recently washed. 
  • Is there a fire burning, or maybe a torch used as a source of light? 
  • Smell it.  Does the fire have a sent of smoke or some type of oil? 
  • Are shadows being cast by the light that might cause the situation to be intriguing?
  • Is there a breeze blowing in the air (hint verse 3:8)?

Below are example assignment questions for participants of the NACM Mentor Program.  Feel free to answer them if you are interested in grasping the concept of the Ministry Practitioner’s Principle of Perspective Shifting.

  1. How did the application of perspective shifting add to your understanding of the passage of John 3?
  2. How did the application of perspective shifting build your creative thinking skills?
  3. How did the application of perspective shifting help you to become more aware of your own spiritual condition?
  4. From your application of perspective shifting in John 3, what perspective did you gain that can be practically applied to enhance everyday Christian living?
  5. How can perspective shifting improve your effectiveness as a minister of the Gospel?
For more information on the Theological Mentor Program, 
visit National Association of Christian Ministers at this link: 
http://www.nacministers.com/mentorprogram.htm
March 31, 2018

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