Teaching Like Jesus, Part Two

LEARNING FROM THE TEACHING METHODS OF JESUS

                        The truth is, Jesus didn’t have teaching methods, at least not in the way we usually think of methods. Rather than simply employing external methods, He had a character or personhood that evaluated teaching opportunities and applied the appropriate presentation.  This internal teaching “method” or “style” is the absolutely, positively, non-negotiable goal God intends every Christian teacher to embrace (cf. Gal.2:20).

                        A teacher’s personal integrity, his or her Christ-likeness, is the most important human ingredient in a successful teaching encounter. A mature Christian is able to “stand and deliver” because Jesus has been sanctified in the heart (I Pet. 3:15). There is no method superior to this (cf. Eph. 4:11-16; I Cor. 3:1-4; Gal. 4:19).

                        Christ-like integrity brings a host of intangibles to teaching opportunities.  Jesus, the ultimate Christ-like example, was an effective teacher most especially because He was the kind of man He was.  To teach skills apart from character is foolish and unbiblical.  To teach skills as mere outward techniques, not designed to be matters of our second-nature makeup, is to foster hypocrisy.

                        There are, nevertheless, particular “methods” Jesus used to transfer the content of His heart into the hearts of others – which is what teaching is all about (cf. I Cor. 2:10-16).  Jesus’ primary methodological approach drew from discovery learning.  Jesus did not speak truth by simply presenting a list of facts; He expected his audience to “ask, seek and knock” (Matt. 7:7-8).  A lazy, uninterested, uncommitted audience was not a group Jesus could successfully teach (Matt. 13:15).  Therefore, if interest and commitment are not present, the cultivation of such attitudes needs to become our first order of business (cf. Heb. 5:11-14; I Cor. 3:1-3; I Pet. 2:1-3). Without them, true progress is impossible.

                        Discovery learning requires an engaged student. We can define this sort of learning as: putting pieces of information together to find relationships, insights, and application. This form of teaching is important for a number of reasons.  Most importantly, the relationships, insights, and applications learned in this manner actually become part of our internal make up.  Discovery integrates truth into the already existing content of our hearts and minds – it becomes “ours” in a special way.  Of all the teaching techniques available, discovery is the most successful way to develop ownership and insight.

                        Under the umbrella of a discovery methodology, we might cite a variety of specifics.  Parables are perhaps the best-known example of discovery.  Wrapped in a story about an everyday life experience Jesus wished to reveal a hidden, heavenly application of truth.  As the literal meaning of parable, “cast beside,” suggests, one thing leads to the discovery of yet another truth. The commonplace is unwrapped to discover something spiritual.

                        Another Jesus’ strategy for discovery is what we might style a “study in contrast” approach.  Matthew 5:21-48 well illustrates this.  Here Jesus contrasts the Pharisee’s misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the Old Covenant with correct, God-given insights (Matt. 5:17-20). By contrasting the two conflicting schools of thought, Jesus gave His listeners an opportunity to discover extremely valuable lessons..

                        Additionally, Jesus allowed understanding to be created through analogy.  Examples such as treasures on earth compared to treasure in heaven; the eye being like a lamp to the body, and the fact one can serve only one master at a time, are but a few of the analogies Jesus employed (Matt. 6:19-24). Analogy beckons the listener to make connections and form new understandings.

                        Analogies are exceedingly practical things to convey truth in user-friendly ways.  Much of discovery is dependant on establishing relationships between what we know and the new understandings we need to develop. Using the familiar to explore the unfamiliar is essential in effective teaching.

                        Yet another discovery model is the use of principles.  Jesus often gave His hearers certain primary principles to assist them in their search for truth.  On one such occasion He spoke of the “weightier” function of “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” in God’s overall purpose (Matt. 23:23-24).  Twice He is recorded as citing a primary truth to put complex situations into their proper perspective (Matt. 9:9-13; 12:1-7).

                        Undoubtedly, the most well known example of using principles is found in Matthew 22:34-40, especially note verse 40.  We could, as a classic Jewish play on words, could call this the “Principal Principle.”  The Great Commandment and its inseparable companion (cf. I Jn. 4:20-21) offer us invaluable recognitions of how overarching principles govern application  in specific details.  This, by way of caution, is not in any way an encouragement to neglect less-weightier matters, it is to give a sense of proportion and priority (cf. Matt. 23:23-24).

                        To sum up, Jesus’ teaching “methods” were from second-nature aspects of His character or personhood (i.e. acquired, internalized life skills, cf. Lk. 2:40).  Foremost among such things was his personal integrity.  In that context, Jesus’ used a wide variety of discovery teaching tools to transmit His understandings into the hearts and minds of others.

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Teaching Like Jesus, Part One

          

            Christianity is a taught religion. We are, consequently, but one generation from apostasy. These two truths are fundamental to a restorationist philosophy. We are, however, suffering from the loss of vibrancy in the appreciation of these two truths. In churches of Christ, we have successfully guarded many biblical formulas. Have we, however, effectively passed along the principles and purposes behind our biblical patterns? I believe the answer to this question is a simple “No.”

                        Nowhere is it more important to maintain an understanding of God’s purposes than when it comes to what and how we teach.  A study of the life of Jesus offers the only remedy to formulas that, while true, are often lifeless. Let us take a fresh look at the Christ and consider how we might reinvigorate our quest for rich, New Testament Christianity.

                        Teaching, as stated, is fundamental to both the existence and the quality of Christianity (Rom. 10:14-15, Eph. 4:11-16).  However, the computer cliché, “garbage in, garbage out” issues a much-needed warning. We cannot be true to biblical, restorationist ideals without truthful, insightful, and convicting teaching. We cannot be true to reproducing New Covenant patterns unless we first look to Jesus to show us the way (Col. 3:1-3).

                        With an unrelenting “Jesus first” emphasis in mind, let us embark on a journey to revive our noble search for complete truth.  Under the overarching focus on the teaching style of Jesus, I want to develop insight into Jesus’ character, His methods, and His teaching purposes. In each of these, I want us to see patterns. Yet in these patterns, I want us to see more than just surface models. I want people to see formulas brought to life by Jesus. That said, the central or core pattern in all we are investigating is Jesus Himself.  Often, however, as we talk about patterns, we do not pay much practical attention to Christ’s influence on an understanding of our formulas. Jesus is to be present in all things. Christianity is, after all, the pursuit of Christ-likeness (Rom. 8:29).

                        Think about it.  In churches of Christ we have extracted the biblical patterns for church government, worship on the Lord’s Day, how to become a Christian, etc., but what about the pattern of Jesus Himself (cf. Jn. 1:18, 14:7-9)?  In the particular matter of teaching, how often do we center our discussions on the Christ?  With all the programs that come and go among us, where is the overt, practical, reproducible Jesus first model?  God does, after all, have a less than subtle message in the fact He made the Gospels almost half the content of the New Testament.  The Father is, regarding His Son, asking us to “Come and see” (cf. Jn. 1:46).

                        When we go to the “Jesus Pattern” we notice what might be styled “a pattern within a pattern.”  We discover a protocol influencing all of our teaching efforts. This protocol allows us to establish concrete, practical understandings for translating the “Jesus Pattern” into present-day reality.  Consider the following progression:  PURPOSE > CONTENT > RESULTS.  Think of how these three steps work together to move us into Christ-likeness, the ultimate goal of teaching (Rom. 8:29).

                        Jesus taught with a Father-directed purpose (Jn. 4:34; 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10; 17:4; 19:28, 30).  This purpose shaped and defined everything He did and said.  Therefore, because of His exact replication of the Father’s will, Jesus Himself serves as our pattern (cf. Acts 1:1).  Notice also in Acts 1:1, Luke started with Jesus before he proceeded to the establishment of the church. Thus, Jesus, not the birth of the church in Acts 2, is the true hub of the Bible.

                        Indeed, Jesus had a Father-driven purpose and this totally defined the content of every single one of His words and deeds. His content, when embraced, had a singular result, people were transformed into Christ-like disciples (cf. Acts 4:13).  PURPOSE > CONTENT > RESULTS, this is the internal protocol that defined the teaching model of Jesus. If we choose to let Jesus be our pattern in teaching, we will welcome this pattern and make it our own.

                        Now let’s pause a moment to review in what we have developed about Jesus’ teaching methods. First, Jesus is the overarching model, pattern, or example for all things, including teaching.  He is a living, breathing, real-life, personal “if-you-have-seen-me-you-have-seen the Father,” model.

                        Additionally, within the example of Christ, we have the “pattern within the pattern” model of PURPOSE > CONTENT > RESULTS.  This pattern alerts us to the importance of associating our curriculum with God’s purposes to promote character development (Christ-likeness) as our result.  We are not, as teachers, J-U-S-T to transmit information.  We are, if following the Jesus model, choosing the information we transmit to honor God’s overarching purpose so we might develop Christ-like students.

                        With this understood, we are prepared to go to the next level, a pattern centering on the teaching methods of Jesus.