10 brain rules: Leveraging neuroscience in your training

By Rick Duncan

Trainers who were trained before 2018 might recall that we learned five brain rules. We are now introducing our seasoned trainers to the 10 brain rules we’ve learned from Charles Stone.

Charles Stone has served in ministry for 35 years as an associate pastor, church planter, leader coach, and lead pastor. He wrote Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry. He’s created an acronym – ELEPHANTSS – that incorporates brain science to help you make your teaching and training stick. The 10 brain rules can be helpful in leveraging the neuroscience behind God’s design for learning.

Stone says: “The Bible directly and indirectly supports learning how our brains and minds work. Scripture often refers to the mind (over 140 times) and to functions of the mind like memory (over 175 times). God tells us to renew our minds (Rom. 12.2) and think a certain way (Phil. 4.8-9). Jesus even tells us to love Him with our minds (Matt. 22.37).”

So, what does neuroscience tell us about how the brain learns? What are some concepts we must learn to leverage in our training, teaching, leading, and preaching?

Emotion: The brain more deeply encodes and more easily retrieves learning that has an emotional component.

Lightbulb learning: Learning Is more deeply embedded when the learning environment and experience fosters “aha” moments.

Environment: The brain more easily recalls information when in the same environment it learned the information.

Pre-encoding: Memory is enhanced when a general roadmap or metaphor is given prior to the information being presented.

Humor: Humor activates the brain’s dopamine reward system and stimulates memory and motivation.

Application: When we see how information applies to us, it’s sticks in our memories better.

Novelty: Unconventional communication techniques or presenting familiar information in surprising ways helps the brain retain information better.

Testing: Frequent testing makes the brain work harder and thus enhances later retention; our brains will retain what they work hard to obtain.

Spacing: Providing breaks and leveraging breaks between review sessions increases retention.

Stories: Telling good stories enhances learning.

When you learn how people learn, it will change the way you teach. We all know the brain is the organ that controls learning. However, very rarely do we as pastors and teachers study how people actually learn. Eye doctors study the eye. Heart doctors study the heart. Foot doctors study the foot. If we want people to learn, we need to be studying the brain. Why? The brain is the organ that impacts learning and life-change.

Deep Practice:

  • How will you leverage these 10 rules in your life and ministry?
  • How will you remind yourself of these rules?
  • How will you apply them to your own life? In your family? As a trainer? As a teacher/preacher?
  • Which brain rule is a strength for you? How can you leverage it more?
  • Which brain rule have you been most lax in using? How will you implement that this week?
  • What is one way you can use these rules to strengthen your church planting cohort?

Note: You are free to use the ELEPHANTSS acronym in the Send Network Training. To receive permission in settings other than Send Network Training, please contact Dr. Charles Stone at Charles@charlesstone.com.


Published May 1, 2018

Rick Duncan

Rick Duncan currently serves as the East Coast Trainer for the Send Network, the church planting arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). As an appointed missionary by NAMB in 1986, Rick was Founding Pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Church (CVC) near Cleveland. A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, Rick earned All-SEC baseball honors three times as an outfielder. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins and spent five years playing professional baseball. Before becoming a pastor, Rick served four years on staff of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Jacksonville, Florida. Rick graduated from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He loves to encourage younger leaders to create environments that God can use to invite people to new life in Christ. After 42 years of marriage, Rick is still in love with his wife, Maryanne. He enjoys spending time with his three sons: Alan, Ryan, and Evan. He is the proud father-in-law of Joanna, Alan's bride, and the proud grandfather of Ethan (7) and Caleb (3).