I have always sort of instinctually understood that different people learn in different ways. I had a friend who made up songs to memorize facts for tests in high school. I know people who loved group work and learned best from having a peer explain a concept to them. I myself am a person who thinks well while walking or otherwise moving my body. But I didn't come to formally know about multiple intelligences theory until I took a Christian Education class in Divinity School. Our teacher introduced us to Howard Gardner's ideas, first put forth in 1983.
Gardner's thought, on the simplest level, is that everyone has a preferred style of learning. He originally devised a scheme of seven styles: interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, verbal-linguistic, spatial, logical-mathematical.
Later, some additional types have been added by different thinkers: naturalistic and existential. Think back to your experience in grade school. Was it easy for you to sit still? Did you listen carefully to the teacher? Now think to high school: were you able to synthesize thoughts well and anaylze arguments logically? If you answered yes to all of this, you probably have high linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, which are what our traditional educational system favors. IQ tests typically measure these intelligences and pronounce whether you are "smart" or not.
The issue, though, is that there is a whole more "smart" out there than just those two kinds. I cannot tell you the number of times I told wiggly little boys to "sit still and listen" while I was helping teach first grade. Many of these little boys would probably be convinced by eighth or ninth grade that they were "not smart" and "not good at school," because schools discourage their bodily-kinesthetic and interpersonal intelligences.
One of the things I love about Montessori education is that it encourages the child's dominant intelligence by having activities of all seven types spread about the room and allowing the child free choice to learn as they wish. The one downside is that certain Montessori classrooms may discourage interpersonal learning by overemphasizing independence.
Anyway, my main point for today is that Christian worship, by and large, doesn't address these seven intelligences. We are most likely to try to teach others by using our dominant intelligence. For me, this would probably be linguistic. I love words, they come easily to me, I love manipulating and creating them. Thus, in a worship setting, I am a person who leads with words. I give sermons, which require linguistic, interpersonal, and logical-mathematical intelligences (and a little bodily-kinesthetic in the gesticulating and musical in the cadences of speech). I pray, which requires intrapersonal, linguistic, interpersonal, logical-mathematical, and a bit of musical intelligence.
But think through your average worship service: hymns, prayers, quiet time, sermon, passing the peace. There is a little room for movement, but it is largely focused on listening, understanding, analyzing and applying ideas to your life. This favors a certain kind of learner, and this is unfair, in my estimation. My husband usually finds worship services boring and interminable. This is because his primary intelligences are spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and intrapersonal. These are very seldom stimulated in a traditional worship service. When I'm crafting worship, I love to keep him in mind. What would make him excited? What would keep him engaged? Not a long sermon that he's required to listen to with sustained attention. Not a lot of long and elaborate hymns from the eighteenth century. Now, don't get me wrong - for some folks, these are the bee's knees. (Namely - for me!) But for too long, churches have insisted that the worship of God must be conducted in one way, and that leaves out so much of God's glorious creation.
So, I'm committed to making a change in how we view and do worship, so that more and more of what God has made so beautifully can whole-heartedly worship God together.