Example vs. Explanation: Communicating Change

Changes Ahead

The Effect of Lived Example

Five years ago I went on my first weekend retreat. It was my first time away from my wife, ever. Four days with a bunch of guys that I didn’t know, in a place I had never been, not knowing what to expect. Change, change, change. After three intense days of prayer, faith sharing, singing, and fellowship, I came to the realization that this change was exactly what I needed. And I don’t think I would’ve been open to or receptive to it in any other way.

What impacted me most about my time on retreat was not what the speakers said. Although their stories were powerful and included many teachable moments, what most impacted me over the course of the weekend was the experience.

What I experienced on that retreat was the Gospel, the same Gospel we hear about every Sunday, yet this time it was live and in living color. It was no longer some inspiring stories from the pages of an ancient book. It was real! Jesus was no longer just an historical figure. He was God among us. He was alive!

This is where the power of retreats come from. It is the experience, the encounter. The example of the other men on retreat showed me that the Gospel is real and that Jesus is alive. What they explained to us was good, but without the lived example it wouldn’t have meant nearly as much.

It is not to say that it is not important to explain the reasoning behind the change. Of course, people are going to want to know the “why”. But until they have seen it they won’t believe it, and will be unwilling to accept it. People want to see results, the fruits of the change. Why? Well, many times change requires work, effort, more stuff on our to-do lists. And in order for people to take up another task, they want to be sure the time and effort required to make the change happen is going to be worth it in the end. That is exactly why you have to show them the change.

The Power of Personal Example

These days, a promise of change is not so easy to communicate. The trust has to be earned. And that only happens by example. People believe what they have seen and know to be true and effective. Whatever the change is that you are trying to inspire, must first be shown by your personal example.

Jesus was a perfect example of this. The change that He was preaching was radical, counter-cultural, and very difficult to except for most people. But He didn’t just explain to them how important it was. Rather He showed them by His example, by the way in which He lived His own life, that this change was revolutionary and transformational.

He proved it by His example. Yes it is true, He preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. But it was in witnessing the Kingdom of God before their very eyes—in His miracles, healings, and signs—that they stepped aboard the Gospel train.

This is why when we are communicating change, seeking to inspire others to follow Jesus, the best way, the most effective and powerful way, is not to merely tell them about Jesus, but to show them through our very lives. Lead by example. Let your very life be a reflection of who Jesus is. Then you will begin to see the fruit of the change in the lives of those around you.

Question: Has the lived example of someone you know had a powerful impact on your life? If so, how?