One of my favorite teachers growing up was Mr. Howard. He taught 9th grade Earth Science. What made him so popular for me and his other students was his obvious enthusiasm for his subject, and his ability to impart knowledge to us. We learned a great deal about igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks (though I still don’t know why). Plus he genuinely seemed to enjoy teaching. To put it simply, Mr. Howard could communicate.
If you are a Christian pastor or Bible study leader, you are involved in the act of communicating truth. But teaching biblical truth involves more than just imparting facts. No lesson derived from Scripture is ever complete unless the students are willing to apply those facts, and the principles they advocate, into their lives practically.
That is not always an easy task. It is what we call the Biblical Application Arch. That is, we research and teach what the Bible specifically says in its original setting (exegesis), keeping in mind that it was written thousands of years ago. But then we must try to find an appropriate application of its eternal truth principles for life today. This is certainly the most challenging aspect of Bible study, teaching, or preaching.
In this article we will examine four key methods the world’s greatest communicator and teacher used to convey His message. I speak, of course, of none other than Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher. We will look carefully at several examples of His teaching techniques. We will analyze how He brought truths to life for His disciples so they could (as can we) apply them to their lives.
1. Direct Command
In John 15:9-14, 17 Jesus gave a direct command to His disciples:
9 “As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. 12 This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you…. 17 This is what I command you: Love one another.” (Christian Standard Bible [CSB] 2017)
His command was clear and unambiguous. He told them, “Love one another as I have loved you.” It was a direct order without qualification. The disciples (and we) do not need to have the command explained. Jesus repeats it and simply reiterates it, “This is what I command you: Love one another.”
Sometimes truth just needs to be communicated by direct mandate. This is especially true for those who are under our authority or who submit to our influence. However, this kind of teaching is limited for several reasons. To start with, we rarely have people directly under our supervision. It may apply to children, employees, or those under the command of a military superior.
In any case we should be careful not to use our authority too often or too harshly. Abusing authority can invite resentment or outright rebellion. In every case, a command must be given in love and have the other person’s best interest in mind.
Another important way Jesus communicated truth was by preaching and teaching God’s Word to the crowds. Perhaps the best example of that method was what has come to be called the Sermon on the Mount. “When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them, saying…” (Matthew 5:1-2 CSB). In Matthew’s Gospel, in chapters five, six, and seven, are delineated the major elements of Jesus’ message.
During that extended lecture Jesus presented a number of primary spiritual and moral principles. He focused on each of the following issues:
* The Beatitudes (5:3-12).
* Being “salt” and “light” (5:13-16).
* The Law (5:17-20).
* Anger and the reconciliation (5:21-16).
* Adultery and lust (5:27-30)
* Divorce (5:31-32)
* Telling the truth (5:33-37)
* Turning the other cheek (5:38-42)
* Loving your enemies (5:43-48)
* Giving (6:1-8)
* Prayer (6:9-15)
* Fasting (6:19-18)
* Possessions and money (6:19-24)
* Anxiety (6:25-34)
* Judging others (7:1-6)
* Asking, searching, knocking (7:7-12)
* False teachers and fake disciples (7:24-29)
Whew! That was a lot of material for Jesus to unload on his disciples and the crowd. It would probably make several years worth of sermons for most pastors. It’s a good thing Matthew, who was well educated (he was a tax-collector, remember), wrote them down. Nonetheless, every point Jesus made was of critical importance for those in the Kingdom of God.
Preaching or teaching is still the most basic method of imparting truth to believers, and presenting the Gospel message to nonbelievers. Worship services should always include a sermon or teaching lecture by a pastor, or other qualified speakers, including laypeople. Also, teaching the Bible in a church classroom, in a home, or in some other venue, usually includes some element of lecture.
We must be careful, however, that this type of instruction is not used exclusively, especially when teaching children and youth. People have limited and varying attention spans. About thirty years ago a research study found that teens generally have an attention of about 12 minutes. Children listened only about 10 minutes. Adults were shown to pay attention for about 20-30 minutes on average. My guess is that with all the modern social media available, those 1980s numbers are now even lower.
Preachers can use PowerPoint and fill-in-the-blank listening guides to help their listeners stay focused. Sometime other methods of teaching (Q & A, games, art, music, etc.) can help with children, youth, or even adults. In any case, preaching and teaching are still primary ways to communicate God’s truths and to invite lost people to accept Christ as Savior and Lord.
3. Verbal illustrations
“What man among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’” (Luke 15:4-6 CSB)
Does that story sound familiar? Of course it does, it is Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Sheep. One of Jesus’ favorite ways of imparting spiritual truth was by using stories involving familiar environments and events in people’s lives. His parables, like the one above and many others, are scattered throughout the gospels. They allowed His hearers to imagine a common scene that they could easily picture in their mind’s eyes, through which He would illustrate a particular truth.
Usually each of the common objects, situations, and human characters in Jesus’ stories were symbolic. They would be emblematic of the coming of the Kingdom of God, some group (egs.: Jews or Gentiles), or just one person. For instance, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus answered a question about the meaning of the word “neighbor.” He contrasted the hypocrisy of the esteemed but apathetic Jewish Priests and Levites, to the humble righteous behavior of a despised Samaritan, a good neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).
In some cases, a character represented God Himself. An example is the shepherd in the above quoted Parable of the Lost Sheep, as well as another in the same chapter; the woman in the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10). Those clearly demonstrate the love of God for the lost sinner. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father obviously represents God, and the wayward son represents the lost sinner who repents (Luke 15:11-32).
On a few occasions, Jesus even interpreted His own parables. A good example is the Parable of the Sower (which should really be the Parable of the Soils – Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:1-15).
For a complete list of all 46 of Jesus’ parables recorded in the Gospels go here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parables_of_Jesus
The key point is that Jesus, the Master Teacher, understood that the best way to embed something in people’s minds is to use vivid verbal illustrations of familiar events and things. Nearly every great communicator I have ever heard preach, teach, or speak included stories of historical events, personal encounters, and places or things that captured the attention of their audience and appropriately illustrated the truth being expressed.
4. Personal Example
My Mother always repeated that old axiom, “Actions speak louder than words.” Surely what we are and do communicates far more and much louder than what we say. Studies have shown that as much as half of learning is derived from role modeling. People will listen to a speaker and give him genuine credence if his behavior reflects his words. If not, forget it!
Jesus demonstrated this principle on many particular occasions. For instance, He submitted Himself to John for baptism (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23). In another instance leading up to His crucifixion, Jesus washed His disciple’s feet to demonstrate true humility (John 13:5-17). He also rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19). Those visible dramatic acts of Jesus made indelible impacts on the lives of His disciples. Our actions also impact those around us. If and when our students witness our sincere deeds of obedience to God, they will say more than anything we can utter with our mouths.
On the other hand, if a preacher or teacher of God’s Word does not demonstrate that it is authoritative in his/her own life, he/she can not expect anyone else to do so. This is perhaps where many gifted communicators have had their greatest failures. How many times have we heard of some notable Christian leader who has fallen morally, embezzled funds, or entangled themselves in some questionable political activity? Those things will destroy a ministry and disillusion those who have trusted his/her teaching.
I don’t know how Mr. Howard, my Junior High teacher, learned to teach science so effectively. I did learn some interesting facts. I can’t say, however, that I have spent much time since then looking for metamorphic rocks. But, as we said in the beginning of this article, the ultimate objective of all Christian communication of truth is not only to change minds, but to change lives. We want to preach or teach in ways that lead to the practical application of God’s Word. We want to bridge the Application Arch from the ancient inspired Scriptures to contemporary people’s lives. That’s why it is important, if you are a pastor, teacher, lecturer, blogger, or whatever, that you work to enhance your communication skills. No better example exists than Jesus Himself. In this article we have examined several powerful methods that He used to teach the truths of God.
© 2017 Tal Davis