I did a sermon on the woman caught in adultery years ago. I told the first part of the story then said, “Just then, people starting running through the crowd passing out stones. Everyone knew what they were for. They were and instrument of death. There was about to be a stoning.” Just as I said, “people started running through the crowds passing out stones” the youth group was cued to do just that. They jumped out and began passing out stones. When everyone had a stone, I asked, “Who would you hurt if you had the power to do so? God calls upon us to forgive. He calls us to set down our judgmentalism and forgive. I want to ask you to set down your stone and with it, your judgmentalism. Set down your slowness to forgive. Set down your stone and forgive.”
If you would teach sticky lessons, if you would teach like Jesus taught, you need to do this kind of thing from time to time. You need to use stuff that you can touch and feel.
I say, “from time to time” because of the last principle–unexpected. If you do the unexpected every week before long people come to expect the unexpected. At that point it is almost impossible to be unexpected. There was a book on this ago titled, “All creativity makes a dull church.”
I don’t do it every week, but often in my lessons I will ask teachers to bring in something that you can touch and feel. I often ask teachers to email their students and ask the students to bring something to class. (For more information, see www.joshhunt.com click on the button that says “Lessons.”)
Heath and Heath, who wrote Made to Stick, on which I am basing this series of articles, site Aesop as an example of sticky writing. Aesop lived in the mid 6th century B.C. and his writings still stick around. That is what you call sticky writing. Consider some of his fables. What do all of these fables have in common?
- The Tortoise and the Hare
- The Fox and the Grapes
- The Boy who Cried Wolf
- The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs
All of these parables are about concrete ideas. They teach abstract notions–slow steady progress can overcome a burst of energy that fizzles–but they do it in very concrete ways. They use objects and animals and people and things that we can see and touch and smell.
If you would teach effectively, teach concretely. Use stuff that you can hold and smell and see and touch and smack against something.
Jesus and concrete teaching
I can’t prove it and maybe I am wrong, but I think Jesus often held stuff when he taught. I think he held some wheat and let it slip slowly though his hands as he taught about the seeds. Perhaps he held up a light as he said, “You are the light of the world.”
Jesus’ best example of concrete teaching, however, is when performed what some have called an acted out parable. One example of this is when he was asleep on the boat. He calmed the waves and taught us how he can calm the storms in our lives. But, he didn’t just talk about it, he calmed an actual storm.
When he fed the multitudes he was teaching a parable about his provision for us. He didn’t just tell us he provides, he multiplied the loaves and the fishes.
When Jesus wanted to teach about the importance of fruit bearing, he didn’t just talk–he cursed a fruitless fig tree. Theologians have written volumes on this, but the message is pretty clear if you see it as an acted out parable: bear fruit or else!
Jesus taught about the importance of servanthood. He told us that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. Then, he picked up a towel and a basin of water. What do you think taught more?
The ultimate example, or course, is the cross. It was the ultimate acted out parable. The Bible teaches us to look not only to our own interest, but also to the interest of others. Jesus lived in out on the cross. Jesus told us about how to handle persecution. He showed us on the cross. He talked to us about servanthood. He showed us on the cross.
Of course, the cross was more than a powerful teach tool. It was the means by which our sins could be forgiven. But, it was a powerful teaching tool and we can learn much from it. We can learn about Christian living, and we can learn about how to teach.
If you would teach and make the lesson stick, if you would teach as Jesus taught, teach concretely. I want to help you. I write four new Bible study lessons every week. I usually try to include some concrete elements. These lessons correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines, as well as the International Standard Series. They can be used by themselves or as supplements. I have likely written more lessons than any other person, living or dead. For details, see www.joshhunt.com