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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Teaching the Art of Jesus

by Seattle Jon (bio)

I found the following five ways to specifically emulate Jesus' teaching art - quoted from Lowell Bennion’s Legacies of Jesus - to be extremely insightful and helpful in my own life. How about you?

1 A trait that I prize very highly in Jesus' teaching and which I have tried to emulate in my own is his positiveness. Instead of "thou shalt not," he said "thou shalt" and "blessed are ..." To the lawyer who heard the good Samaritan parable and was forced to admit the answer to the question, Jesus responded not with mockery or by gloating, but with the simple, friendly admonition, "Go, and do thou likewise." Negative admonitions have their place, but positive statements win readier responses from beings whose free agency is the most fundamental fact of their nature. Also, we are doers, and a negative admonition is an order not to do. Positive injunctions have wider applications, I have found.

2 I see Jesus as very wise, even brilliant, in his interaction with people, including those with ulterior motives. I am not sure that such insight is always available to mere mortals, but I believe that humility might frequently be a good substitute. Rather than feeling obliged to share all of our wisdom, we could follow the model of Jesus, who frequently answered a question by asking another question. He made people think, clarify their motives, explore options for themselves, and prize the insights they gained thereby. For example, when such a person asked if it were lawful to pay tribute to Caesar, thus acknowledging the legal lordship of the country's hated rulers, Jesus called for a coin, asked his questioner whose image it bore, and thus led him into identifying the image as Caesar's: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:21) As a teacher, I truly enjoy the process of helping people become their own teachers, rather than passively receiving instructions. Jesus' use of judicious questions is an effective way of accomplishing this end.

3 He taught not lessons but people. A student complained to me once that she was having a terrible time teaching her Sunday School class of twelve year-olds. I asked, "What do you have in mind as you prepare your lesson?" She replied, "How to keep the kids quiet while I give it." I was tempted to tell her that the best way to do that was to gag and hog-tie them. But remembering Jesus' way, I asked her if she thought it might be more effective to teach not the lessons, but the twelve year-olds. What did she know about them? their interests? their family backgrounds? their problems? How did they teach each other? What kinds of things did they seem to want to learn? She became quite interested in this approach, which eliminated the built-in contest between what they were doing and what she wanted them to do. I believe she saw the point I was trying to make: that the purpose of Sunday School is not to teach the gospel to people but rather to teach people the gospel. Thanks to Jesus, I always try to teach people, and to have them leave the classroom with increased faith, humility, love, or insight.

4 Jesus taught single ideas. He drove home a single point in each of his parables and discussions. That is why they are still memorable and applicable. I learned from Jesus that a good lesson is one idea, organized and illustrated, and readily - even vividly - applicable to the lives of the class members. Too often in our classes, we try to cover a multitude of ideas or many aspects of a basic theme. We take a shotgun approach. A good lesson should be like a rifle shot, in which the teacher develops one very specific idea or principle with the insights of the class. For example, instead of discussing all aspects of prayer in one lesson, why not treat a single question, such as, "When have you had reason to pray with great meaning and motivation?" This is a need we all have. Class members will think first not of rules, but of their own experiences. And in the sharing, they will stimulate and enlighten each other - and the teacher.

5 Jesus taught fundamental principles, not isolated facts or theories that do not lead directly to edification. I have listened to many discussions, some of them heated, on the nature of eternal progression, the location of the Ten Tribes, or what Joseph Smith may have meant on such and such a point. As a teacher, I believe that the time of a class is too precious to spend on anything but the most important principles that teach us how to live our lives. The accumulation of opinions about historical or future points on which we lack adequate information to make informed decisions is not, in my opinion, the most valuable way to spend an hour together. I suspect that Jesus, like most great teachers, truly loved not only those he taught and the concepts he conveyed but also the very process of teaching. What else is teaching besides the shared search for greater truth and understanding through the characteristics that make us most human - through reason, through discourse, through sympathy, and through making connections so that our vision expands and we see relationships that we had not hitherto guessed? In fact, that's not a bad definition of heaven, too, as far as I'm concerned.

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