What are these? Name them.
They are a ball, a block, and a wedge to cut wood. Circle, square, and triangle are abstract words we created to designate the shape of these geometric line patterns. A circle is a continuous line drawn equidistant from a point until it rejoins at its origin. But for most of the world these would be described by their function, what they associate this shape to in their daily life. In the daily life of a three-year-old, it’s a ball.
Are they wrong?
Are we wrong?
No. It’s all a function of how you learn, and people learn in different ways.
Throughout history, the most enduring and common form of communication has been stories. Think about it. What do you do at the holidays with family or at a coffee shop with a friend? Tell stories. What part of a speech or sermon does the audience wake up for? The stories. What are FaceBook, Twitter, and social media? People telling one hundred character stories. What does a five year old want at bedtime (yes, it’s a stall tactic)? A story. We love stories.
If you were living in a place where there was no written language, no alphabet, no Bible, no Jesus film, no church, no missionaries, few believers, little if any education, and resistance to Christianity, how could you begin helping people connect to God? Through stories.
This is the most common way Jesus did ministry, which often surprises people. In the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life (the first four books of the New Testament), 90% of what we have written that Jesus said is a story – a parable, metaphor, analogy. One of the writers actually wrote, “Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.” (Mark 4:33-34) He used a story they could experience by listening and associating with, which would stir them to want to know more.
One of my African friends said, “What I am realizing is that I have been trying to bring people up to a place where I am instead of getting down to where they are. Jesus did that and brought them up together. Climbing up together is much more effective than tossing a rope.”
Jesus would be walking down a road and tell a story about wheat fields, comparing it to the Kingdom of God. During planting season he told a story about a man planting seeds and compared it to people hearing about God. He used common coins, sheep, customs, and types of people (farmers, tax collectors, landowners, common workers, enemies, religious leaders) as his main characters, things people knew about.
What if we taught the way Jesus did?
Many of the traditional ministry methods we use are not wrong, but if they don’t connect or aren’t easily reproduced, then maybe there are more effective ways.
The shift Jesus’ method of ministry challenges us with isn’t in content, but in what to do with it. We have come to subconsciously believe that ministry happens in a certain style of communication. We teach three points and then come up with an illustration to clarify each. However, that style is one best suited for teacher-based instruction, not for conversations. Most people don’t naturally sit around thinking in three-point outlines that all begin with the letter E. When you’re talking with your kids at the dinner table, you don’t expect to hear “Mom, here’s what we did at school today. A) Encountered new ideas. B) Experienced deeper friendships. And C) Expected greater results. To illustrate…”
Jesus says in John 12:49, “I don’t speak on my own authority, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.;” Jesus was a storyteller, a verbal picture painter of truth and theology. Jesus’ method of teaching was more of a ‘life transmission’ than a ‘knowledge transmission,’ otherwise he could have just stated things in lists!
If we followed Jesus’ model, the best part for us would be that we wouldn’t have to come up with allegories or analogies. God gave us the Bible, knowing that what is recorded in it is sufficient for somebody, no matter where they are in their spiritual journey, to know and grow with him. We already have enough true stories to provide people with handles they want in life and answers to things they are asking.
We experience stories. We explore stories. We walk together with somebody through a story, talking about it, asking things about it. Stories are community, active learning, and have stickiness. Lectures are one directional, passive learning, and allow our minds to wander to our to-do lists.
Jesus told stories. And people talked about them. Then they told others. What if we taught the way that Jesus did more often?