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.