Ricardo Norton was born in Costa Rica and has lived in the United States for 40 years. With two doctorate degrees in Ministry, he is currently completing a doctorate in Leadership. He has worked as a pastor for more than 20 years, and since 1996, has been a theology professor at the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He is married and has two children. Norton often travels to other countries, teaching postgraduate classes. One of his specialties is “Methods of Teaching Spiritual Themes to Adults.” This is the topic of this interview.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE “SPIRITUALITY”?
Spirituality is difficult to define and is often misinterpreted to mean introversion and mysticism. The word derived in the person of the Holy Spirit; therefore, it should be understood in relation to Him. The importance of the Holy Spirit is emphasized by the apostle Paul when he declares that the children of God are those who are “led by the Spirit” (Rom. 8:14). The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and leads us to truth. A spiritual person is not mystical; rather, he or she is someone who displays the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5).
HOW CAN LEADERS DEVELOP THEIR MEMBERS’ SPIRITUALITY?
Spirituality is linked to Christian practices such as reading the Bible, visitation, private devotions, family worship, and prayer. By promoting these practices, church leaders may encourage the spiritual development of their members. Prayer in particular is very important for the development of spirituality and the acceptance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus declared that God will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask” (Luke 11:13).
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PREACHING AND TEACHING?
One of the main differences between preaching and teaching is that preaching usually tends to be a monologue, while true teaching promotes participation. In general, preaching has the objective of intentionally transforming the believers’ morals, while teaching concentrates more on the intellectual transformation of the listener.
SHOULD THE CHURCH TEACH MORE THAN PREACH?
Yes, especially because Jesus’ charge involves two key tasks: to make disciples and to teach (Matt. 28:19, 20). Although these two functions do not exclude preaching, their purpose is intrinsically instructive. As one can observe in the Scriptures, it is evident that Jesus’ communication with His disciples had a more pedagogical character (teaching) than homiletic communication (preaching). Jesus is more popular as a Rabbi and Master than as a preacher. Ellen G. White emphasizes the importance of teaching for spiritual growth, indicating the value of limiting preaching in order to dedicate more time to the preparation of members to share the gospel.
WHAT IS MEANT BY “CONTINUING EDUCATION” WITHIN A CHURCH SETTING?
Ellen G. White tells us that each Adventist church should be a place for ongoing education in spiritual matters, a place where church members are prepared for ministry. Each church can be encouraged to function as a small seminary in which the church members are the learners and the pastor is the instructor. The “classes” can deepen members’ understanding of the Bible and the principles that Christ Himself taught (Matt. 28:20). This ongoing spiritual education should be continuous because new members need to be instructed, and there are always new outreach challenges.
WHAT SHOULD A CHURCH DO TO BE ATTRACTIVE?
Churches that grow are churches that attract—their own members and the community around them. An attractive church is magnetic. A magnet has the ability to attract a metal object. That object in turn is magnetized and attracts another. A magnetic church has magnetic members who attract others to church. In biblical terms, believers do not go to church; they become a church. What attracts them is the friendship they find in the fellowship of believers. A magnetic church also has magnetic preaching. This kind of preaching is relevant because it focuses on the basic needs of the listeners. It is presented in a style that reaches the heart and the mind. A magnetic church has magnetic programs and is a place where adults and children may learn about Jesus from dedicated, competent teachers.
HOW CAN WE APPLY TEACHING TO CHURCH?
Teaching applies especially to the Sabbath School class. I reiterate that teaching is not preaching. Often the adult Sabbath School teachers are tempted to preach, not teach. They are telling instead of teaching. The good teacher should instead be a moderator who asks key questions and promotes participation by each member of the class.
WHAT KINDS OF SERMONS DID JESUS PREACH?
Classifying Jesus’ sermons within the homiletical taxonomies of our day would be a job corresponding to a doctoral thesis. However, two types of sermons are clearly identified in Jesus’ preaching: thematic sermons (the Sermon on the Mount, for instance) and narrative sermons (parables and other metaphors).
WHY DID JESUS’ PARABLES RECEIVE SO MUCH ATTENTION?
Jesus’ parables were usually based on events and stories in the listeners’ everyday lives. Each time the listeners observed something similar, they remembered Jesus’ teachings.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN TEACHING ADULTS EFFECTIVELY?
When teaching adults, it is vital to remember that they bring a wealth of experience to the class, seminar, or Bible study. They are used to being valued, listened to, and treated as equals. The teacher’s approach must be one that encourages participation and values what each student has to offer. Everyone benefits when the class is viewed as a collaborative effort involving the entire group. The goal is to involve all in searching the Scriptures and preparing to share the gospel.
This interview first appeared in the Portuguese edition of Elder’s Digest.
Kingsley Whitsett lives in Buckhannon, WV, U.S.A., where he resides with his wife, Nancy, after 40 years of denominational work as pastor, teacher, departmental leader, conference secretary, and conference president, serving in the Georgia-Cumberland, Chesapeake, Florida, Missouri, and Potomac Conferences, and with the last half of those years in the Mountain View Conference. In 1986, when they first moved to Mountain View, he became pastor of the Buckhannon Church, while also serving as the conference Pathfinder/Youth Director. At that time, Rick Cutright, a West Virginia coal miner, was head elder of the church. Years later, when Elder Whitsett was Conference Secretary, he encouraged Rick to enter the gospel ministry. Today, in retirement, Elder Whitsett serves as the head elder of the Buckhannon Church where Elder Rick Cutright is now his pastor!
Elder Whitsett says, “It’s a privilege, in my retirement years, to continue my ministry for the Lord as a church elder along side of one whom I have endeavored to mentor in gospel ministry. While we may retire from our jobs, we never retire from active service for the Lord in uniting with pastors to prepare hearts for His eminent return.”