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How to Keep Sleepy Students Awake

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How to Keep Sleepy Students Awake

Warm classrooms make for sleepy students. If you’re the teacher, which of these four options would you choose to keep them awake?

Years before air conditioning, an old preacher grew tired of a deacon sleeping in every summertime service. So one Sunday, during the sermon, the preacher whispered, “Everyone who wants to go to heaven, stand up.” The whole congregation stood except, of course, the sleeping deacon. The preacher motioned them to be seated, then bellowed loudly, “Everyone who wants to go to hell, STAND UP!” Startled awake, the deacon heard the words “stand up” and naturally stood. He looked around and said, “Preacher, I don’t know what we’re voting for, but it looks like you and I are the only ones in favor!”

How would you keep warm students awake? Option 1: holler louder.

Last month, I taught a weeklong preaching class to 28 students—mostly pastors and wives—at Cuba Bible Institute on the communist-controlled island. We met in Havana’s toughest neighborhood. Electricity was off for long stretches. For half the week, we had no running water. (I couldn’t flush the toilet in my small room, but I discovered I could fit a cup under the air conditioner’s condensation hose. When electricity was on, I could fill it every hour. Ten cups filled a waste basket—enough to flush—with a little left for a shave and head bath. I felt like MacGyver.)

But the students were a joy. After great classes Monday and Tuesday, the electricity was out Wednesday—no A/C! These pastors don’t get many training opportunities, so despite rising temps, they took notes eagerly. But by Wednesday afternoon, we were melting in the Caribbean heat. Sweat dripped in the 90° building, and attention drifted. In the midst of perspiration, I needed inspiration. Then the Holy Spirit reminded me: Cubans love baseball.

So that sweltering afternoon, I launched into my best baseball story: I played Little League for the first time as a skinny, glasses-wearing sixth grade nerd. Do you remember the TV show Family Matters? I was a white Steve Urkl, and I stunk at baseball. Twelve games into the season, I had 0 hits—not even a foul ball. Coach said it was because, after I started to swing, I would close my eyes. (He was wrong. I closed my eyes way before I started to swing.) Though our team made it to the championship game, we were losing in the bottom of the last inning, 9-6.

On the mound for the other team was their best pitcher—a huge 12-year-old, shaving since second grade—and with two outs and the bases loaded, guess who was up to bat? True story: it was me. I was in for my mandatory two innings in right field, and as I walked to the plate, our fans groaned. Now we’d lose for sure. (The Cubans, listening intently now, all laughed.) But Coach hollered, “Keep your eyes open!” and it finally clicked. I kept my eyes open, hit a triple, tied the game, and on the next play, I crossed home plate. My only hit won us the championship!

The Cuban pastors went bonkers! They stood and cheered and clapped and laughed. For the rest of the afternoon, we discussed Jesus’ parables and the power of sermon illustrations, and they paid great attention.

How would you keep warm students awake? Option 2: tell a story.

Which option would the apostle Paul choose? Keep reading to find out...

In Acts 20, Paul is teaching at a nighttime service in Troas. The church gathers in a large room on the third floor, and because he’s leaving the next morning, Paul tries to cram in a month’s worth of sermons, preaching until midnight. (I have a friend known for windy sermons, and after one lengthy Sunday morning, folks thanked him as they left: “Nice message. Nice sermon.” One man shook his hand and said, “Nice sermon series.”)

Why does Acts 20:8 mention the “many lamps in the upstairs room” that night? To tell us the room was stuffy. Warm classrooms make for sleepy students, and though one young man named Eutychus sits in the open window, trying to stay awake, he dozes off and then falls off, tragically, to his death. What does Paul do? He walks down, raises the boy back to life, walks back upstairs…and keeps preaching his “sermon series” till morning!

How would you keep warm students awake? Option 3: perform an actual miracle.

By the way, this is not a hypothetical question. Every fall, I teach a preaching class in the Don DeWelt Preaching Center in the OCC library. It’s a great classroom…but the A/C for that part of the library is outdated and faltering. If you were teaching in that room this August, you’d be facing warm, drowsy students, so you could:

1. Holler louder. (Don DeWelt used to do this.)
2. Tell a story.
3. Perform an actual miracle.

But may I tell you the option I hope you’ll choose? Option 4: install an air conditioner.

This summer, we’re updating part of the library HVAC system, including the preaching classroom, at a cost of $40,000. We want to provide a conducive learning environment for our preaching students. (It’s hard to preach the highest glories of Heaven when the classroom feels like the lowest stories of Hell.)

Would you consider a generous gift to the OCC general fund as we update the A/C for the Preaching Center?

We want our students to preach messages rooted in God’s Word, focused on Christ’s cross, delivered in the Spirit’s power. When Jesus preached, “the large crowd listened to him with delight” (Mark 12:37), so we also want them to preach in a way that keeps people awake! And to start, we need to keep them awake in preaching class.

Would you consider a gift to the OCC general fund as we prepare this classroom to prepare preachers? Thank you for considering this gift, and please join us in asking the Lord to send more students to boldly “proclaim him.” (Col 1:28)

Yours in Christ,
Matt Proctor

P.S. This summer, we’ve already welcomed over a thousand folks to our events—CIY on campus, Creative Arts Academy, sports camps and our Branson conference. Praise the Lord!


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