Lesson 6: Jesus Facilitated a Change in Attitude

Methods of Jesus.06

Lesson 6: Jesus Facilitated a Change in Attitude

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this module, class facilitators should be able:

  • To explain the role attitudes play in the process of spiritual learning.
  • To enumerate the factors that influence the development of attitudes and to facilitate changes in attitudes using Jesus’ methods.
  • To develop attitude scales and icebreakers to assess current attitudes and possible underlying factors that shaped them.

Attitudes influence not only our selection and application of biblical facts, but also our beliefs and conduct, our spiritual development. Attitudes impact our choices in almost every aspect of life. Jesus addressed the role of attitude in spiritual learning, and so do contemporary religious educators.

Attitude in Spiritual Learning

Class facilitators encounter members who come with diverse attitudes about church leadership, government, Spirit of Prophecy, worship styles, lifestyle, racial diversity, witnessing, relationships to other members, and the nature of biblical inspiration. Attitude goes beyond strong feeling or beliefs. It takes an active position in reference to an object, or person, or teaching.

“An attitude is an affective, acquired, and relatively permanent disposition or personality-set to respond in a consistent manner toward some physical or mental stimulus” (The Content of Religious Education, James Michael Lee, p. 217). Attitudes therefore condition all of a person’s learning. A class member will be inclined to accept or reject light from the Bible, experience, or example depending on his/her previously developed attitudes.

Beliefs and actions may be more impacted by attitude than by acquisition of facts. For example, the person who has a negative attitude toward church leadership may be inclined to reject an article from the General Conference president calling for revival and reformation regardless of how compelling the factual need is.

Attitudes play a significant role in determining whether or not members experience the latter rain. The Lord is “testing and proving their love for him by the attitude they [church members] assume toward one another” (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Oct. 6, 1896, part 9).

How Attitudes Are Formed

Part of the class facilitator’s task is to become aware of the various attitudes held by class members. Becoming familiar with members’ backgrounds helps unearth factors that may have impacted attitude development.

Most attitudes are developed during childhood. Children not treated well by a parent, teacher, minister, or camp counselor; children whose parents divorced; or who otherwise experienced trauma, may still hold attitudes shaped by that pain. Children are also inclined to form attitudes similar to influential adults in their lives; therefore, even a child may harbor resentment or affinity toward a certain political party, ethnic group, or professional baseball team because of strong opinions expressed by an uncle, dad, schoolteacher, or other significant adult.

Any emotional trauma tends to shape attitudes. The person who has felt mistreated by an employer, spouse, friend, or relative may develop certain adverse attitudes. Loss of a job, divorce, culture shock, loss of a loved one, or change of status may cause trauma that impacts attitudes.

Religious educator James Michael Lee writes that “total institutions” often shape attitudes. He defines a total institution as a “place of residence or work where a person, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable length of time, lives together with like-minded individuals in an enclosed, formally administered round of life” (The Content of Religious Education, p. 225). Considered with the fact that adolescence is another period when attitudes are formed, the person who has a traumatic experience in an Adventist academy would be a prime candidate for a hostile attitude toward the church. It also underscores the potential for positive attitudes resulting from favorable experiences at Adventist schools.

Changing Attitudes

Social learning specialists have focused on attitude as the most indispensable concept of social psychology, lying at its very core (Deborah J. Terry and Michael A. Hogg, Attitudes, Behavior, and Social Context, p. 1). Through the years, several factors have surfaced relevant to changing attitudes.

Information. The information may have been slanted, partial, or biased. For example, a person raised in an environment in which they were told that the police were out to “get them,” may not trust law enforcement officers. If that person were to receive information about the true nature of police work from a trusted person, their attitude could change over a period of time.

Example/Modeling. This is especially true if emotional bonding exists between the model person and the one who is bonded to them. If big brother Mike becomes a policeman, little brother Tom may develop a positive attitude toward law enforcement.

Group Socialization can bring about a change of attitude. Since attitudes are formed in social situations, a group of people can help individuals work through their emotional pain, prejudices, or conditioned attitudes.

Patience. Attitudes are deep-seated and require time, in most cases, for them to be changed.

Social learning theory is primarily based upon human research. Basic concepts are formed and then refined on the basis of a series of experiments or studies. Recent research has uncovered few, if any, major breakthroughs concerning how to change attitudes in the social science context.

How Jesus Facilitated Attitude Change

Jesus worked with people who had strong, deep-seated attitudes. Most of the people He worked with saw the people of nations other than Israel as unclean heathens worthy of death. The Pharisees believed they were the only ones who had time to practice all the requirements of God and, therefore, were the only people who could be saved. Common people or “people of the earth” had little, if any, hope of salvation in their way of thinking.

The disciples thought their high calling was to throw off the yoke of Roman bondage. They thought that the blind, lepers, tax collectors, and prostitutes were cursed of God. They had strong prejudices against the Samaritans.

Jesus shared information that would help to change the attitude of the disciples. For example, He called attention to the Samaritan leper who was the only one to return and give thanks for being healed. He told His disciples that He had not come to destroy lives but to save them, when they wanted to call down fire to destroy the Samaritans.

Jesus associated with His disciples in a small-group environment. He did not openly attack their wrong attitudes or debate with them about differences. He allowed His association with them to make changes over a period of time.

One of the key things that Jesus did to change attitudes was to serve as a connecting link between prejudiced people. People who loved and trusted Him could learn to trust one another. Think of the diverse people He called as disciples. Simon the Zealot, Matthew the tax collector, and Peter the fisherman all sat at a common table. Notice how Simon the Pharisee was linked to Mary Magdalene through Jesus. Think of the impact upon Simon the Zealot when Jesus healed the Roman centurion’s son.

Jesus modeled associating with publicans and sinners. Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well and offered her salvation. Jesus showed respect for the Roman officials and demonstrated the validity of paying taxes by calling attention to the inscription and image on a Roman coin.

Jesus went far beyond social science in changing attitudes. He offered the power of the new birth. This power is still available to the religious educator today. “Again and again the Lord has sent His Spirit to change the attitude of His people by infusing into the church a living, working principle” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, p. 154).

“If teachers would humble their hearts before God and realize the responsibilities they have accepted in taking charge of the youth with the object of educating them for the future immortal life, a marked change would soon be seen in their attitude” (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, pp. 371, 372).

Exercises

1. Attitude scale. As a class facilitator you may design an attitude scale that will help you discern attitudes of class members. An attitude scale often states a position and asks members to indicate their attitude toward it on a scale of 1 to 10; 1 being little or no agreement and 10 indicating strong agreement.
 

Example. The Clear Word is the most accurate and trustworthy translation of the Bible available today.
 

Agree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10    Disagree
 

Add statements, e.g., about other denominations, church leadership, government policies, Spirit of Prophecy, Muslims, church standards, worship styles, music, biblical authority.
 

2. Icebreakers. Once the small-group Sabbath School class has become quite comfortable sharing, ask members to share a childhood experience that may have impacted attitudes. Everyone gains insight.
 

Example. Once when I was a youth at camp, a renown conference evangelist was coach. When I did not perform as he expected, he bellowed strong expletives that I interpreted as swearing. I feel a twinge of aversion to church camps.


Jim Kilmer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists