4 EXCUSES THAT KEEP US FROM TEACHING LIKE JESUS by Rob Trenckmann
If you could magically teach like anyone in the world, who would you choose? Do you wish for Piper’s power? Keller’s clarity? N.T. Wright’s wisdom? Maybe you long for the deep simplicity of C.S. Lewis or the apologetic genius of Ravi Zacharias.
I think—for once—that the “churchy” answer is the best: Jesus. But how often is he studied as a model for teaching? Sure, he saved the world from sin. Sure, his work on earth has defined the last two millennia. Sure, he was the smartest person who ever lived and never lost an argument. But learn from his methods? Most of us haven’t even considered it.
Go to Bible college, attend seminary, take a preaching course, and you’ll read and learn all sorts of useful things: how to find the big idea of a text, how to make a textual outline, how to offer real application. But rarely will you find an extensive study of how Jesus taught—his methods, his strategies, his techniques.
No one will argue his credentials. He is God, after all. We’re promised that his word is “living and active.” No other teacher in history has spoken words that are so enduring, so provocative, and so transformational.
So why don’t we model our teaching after him? Here are four reasons we don’t teach like Jesus.
1. “I’ve never thought about it.”
For many of us, it starts here. We look to this preacher, that book, this lesson plan, or that video series because we genuinely want to communicate well. We want to see lasting change. We want to make a difference. But no one told us that we should teach like Jesus. We’re so used to looking to Jesus for his message and his work on the cross that we forget to study his methods. We miss the teaching secrets of the greatest communicator of all time.
2. “We can’t imitate him. He is God, after all.”
Many of us get stuck here. It seems humble and respectful to admit that we’re not Jesus. And of course, it’s true! But Jesus invites us to imitate him. In John 14:12, he says, “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” Why? Because of the work of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16). Jesus wants us to imitate him, and he gives us the Spirit so we can.
3. “I’m too scared.”
We might not admit it out loud, but it’s true. Popular preaching today is clear, crisp, and direct. Jesus was often the opposite. Instead of giving lectures, in many cases he told stories—and left it to his listeners to figure out the meaning. Instead of answering questions, he asked them—more than twice as many as others asked him. Instead of resolving problems, he created more—by provoking, confusing, and challenging his listeners. Imitating Jesus means being willing to wade into the muck and mire of life. It means standing for truth, but it also means teaching in a way that reflects the complexities of our world. It means we risk being misunderstood. It means we become vulnerable, just like Jesus.
4. “I don’t know what to look for.”
Maybe you’re thinking, I don’t know what you’re so worked up about. Jesus teaches like everyone else I know. Sure, he does a good job it, but it’s not that different. Oh, but it is! Look closer. Notice his masterful use of imagery and metaphor. Pay attention to his use of disequilibration. Watch as he tells just the right story for a diverse audience. Study how he asks questions, both in conversations and in sermons. Look closer, and you’ll notice it’s unlike anything you’ve seen.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the children’s teacher at church who was trying to describe a squirrel to some young children. She explained, “It’s brown; it’s got a long, bushy tail; it stores nuts for the winter; and it lives in trees. What is it?” All of the children looked nervously at the floor, and no one answered. She tried again: “It’s brown; it’s got a long, bushy tail; it stores nuts for the winter; and it lives in trees. What is it?” Still, no one would answer. Puzzled, she finally called on young Adam. He fidgeted, stammered, looked at the ground, and finally said, “Well, it sure sounds like a squirrel to me . . . but I’m going to say, ‘Jesus.’”
Maybe you, too, grew up in church, where the right answer is always “Jesus.” Or maybe you’ve more recently come to know and trust him. Either way, is it possible that we’ve grown so familiar with Jesus that we’ve missed his methods? There is a difference between teaching his words and teaching his words his way. We’re most effective as communicators when we teach the word of Jesus using the methods of Jesus.
Question: What do you like most about how Jesus teaches?