The Ambiance of Three

Demosthenes, the ancient Greek orator, is credited with discovering the ambiance of three. Centuries later Churchill honed the communication formula to a fine point when he is remembered as saying, “I can promise you only (1) blood, (2) sweat, and (3) tears.”

The problem is, though, that everyone seems to remember incorrectly Churchill’s sentence in the World War II rallying speech to his British countrymen. The promise actually has four elements: (1) blood, (2) toil, (3) tears, (4) and sweat.

And this illustrates our teaching point precisely: The human mind loves any aggregate of three and tends to resist any new information in groups of more than three!

Three just somehow has a way of sinking in, rather instinctively and effortlessly. So the three-part presentation outline can hardly be beat. It has withstood the test of time: (1) introduction, (2) body, (3) conclusion.

Novel, complex, convoluted teaching outlines—however clever and original—just don’t cut it.

Check It Out

The next time you are impressed with good teaching or preaching, count the points. The speaker will have most likely utilized this great principle, whether he or she announced it or not. 

However, the format is stronger still when three key points are announced, giving the audience or class some pegs on which to hang the exposition. People can usually handle three major points, but after that learning falls off sharply. So master teachers use this still reliable teaching construct.

Testing! Testing!

Before we close off our teachers’ seminar today, let’s undertake a brief review of previous articles I have written for Sabbath School Leadership that presented important understandings for teachers. We’ll consider just three this time:

  1. What is the significance of the implied “So what?” question as a major teacher consciousness and strategy?
  2. How does Christian education differ from secular education—what is its genius, where secular education falls short?
  3. What is the significance of “heroic encounters” for students? for teachers?

Take Courage

Yes, teaching is teaching, is teaching, is teaching—whether it be in a sanctuary or within ivied universities. The fundamental principles can be mastered. I like the way Paul put it: “If teaching is your gift from God, then give it all you’ve got, to His glory!” (Rom. 12:7, paraphrase). 


  1. “So what?” addresses the relevancy issue. Learning is alive only when the learner sees the central organizing principle that ties everything together and carries the facts to a perceived purpose. (“So What?” Sabbath School Leadership, January 2000, p. 6.)
  2. The highest levels of learning are essentially moral, ethical. Here is where all the bits and pieces come together, are comprehended as significant, and are reassembled within the student’s frame of reference and value system. The genius of Christian education is getting students to evaluate the matter—its rights and wrongs (“Climb the Educational Matterhorn,” Sabbath School Leadership, February 2000, p. 6.).
  3. Unrehearsed and unplanned, out-of-class interfacings can loom as unforgettable “heroic encounters” for our students. Peter, John, and Mary experienced a few of these. These encounters are staged by the Holy Spirit, and they reinforce learning dramatically (“Emotional Encounters,” Sabbath School Leadership, June 2000, p. 7.).

George Akers
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists