Feast upon the Word Blog

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The Master Teacher

Posted by nhilton on February 12, 2007

Jesus As The Master Teacher : As we try to follow our Savior in so many ways, being an effective teacher is one of them. The Gospels offer a unique look into Christ’s teaching methods.

1. Using all scripture, not just the New Testament, how do you see Christ modeling teaching methods? Give examples, please.

2. Have you had success/failure in emulating these methods or is there someone else who has modeled them and thereby taught you?

3. How do you improve your teaching skills, following Christ’s model?

20 Responses to “The Master Teacher”

  1. First things first, Jesus did not use object lessons. :)

    (I’m always nervous making a joke like this on the blog, lest I be misunderstood. So: this is a joke, everyone!)

  2. nhilton said

    Joe, your comment is indeed a joke (said with a sneer of sarcasm) & for anyone just coming to this post it is also an INSIDE joke. But a good joke, too. Thanks for the much needed laugh after a long, attorney-filled day.

  3. Okay, now more seriously….

    I think the most important thing I have learned from reading about Christ as a teacher is connected with Robert’s post on the Messianic secret. That is, I have found that, just as Christ did, it is best not to “dumb things down” for the crowd. It is important to speak directly to people and in their language, but it is just as important not to change the substance of the message at all in that communication. Just because these are youth does not mean that they cannot understand the profoundest mysteries of the gospel. In fact they can. I might need to change my style a bit to communicate it, but I should not change the nature of the message. Those who seek will come, those who don’t will not (I’ve found with youth that “those who seek” includes pretty much every kid, so this last point is really connected with my experience in teaching adults).

  4. Robert C. said

    I’m still a bit stumped on the first question: how do we see Christ modelling teaching methods? From last week’s lesson in Luke 4, we saw Christ quoting scripture and proverbs/parables (it’s basically the same word in Greek) in a way that just about got him lynched (or, stoned in a pit I think is probably more accurate). But surely what’s most notable in Christ’s teaching was his use of parables.

    On the one hand, parables seem to simplify concepts in a way that makes the ideas more identifiable to those listening. On the other hand, Mark 4:11ff suggests the opposite (here’s my post Joe referenced on this), that Christ taught in parables so those outside his circle wouldn’t understand.

    I’m not sure if these two views can be totally reconciled, but I think it’s worth thinking about. A parable is, fundamentally, a comparison or analogy–a type. In fact, somewhat obscure apocalyptic literature can be (and is) referred to as parable (mashal in Hebrew; 4 Esdras and Enoch are listed as having good examples of this in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament). I think it’s helpful to think about this etymologically: para = across, ballein = throw. So, if parables are a “throwing across” type of comparison, the only question is how far the ball is thrown so-to-speak.

    All that being said, I would agree that Jesus generally (but, importantly, not always) used parables in order to help his listeners identify with what he was saying. In this sense, I do think it’s useful in teaching to use analogies, comparisons, metaphors, types, etc. in teaching, and I think this is all in the Spirit of Christ’s use of parables. (I also think that all of this is a good way to think about our earlier discussion about applying and likening the scriptures to ourselves….)

  5. brianj said

    Robert, #4: “But surely what’s most notable in Christ’s teaching was his use of parables.”

    Would you say that is a characteristic of his teaching or his audience? Take, for example, Matthew 10. Here Christ instructs his Apostles. He uses a few analogies, but no parables, and most of his words are pretty straightforward (i.e. literal). (E.g. there’s nothing ambiguous about “But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues”.) There are many examples of Jesus teaching and not using parables.

    The reason I think this is important is that it shows Jesus adapting to his audience. He clearly taught the masses differently than his Apostles, than Nicademus, than Pilate, etc.

  6. brianj said

    By the way, nhilton, I think the question you ask is difficult to answer. How do I define when Christ is teaching? Are the instructions in Leviticus for administering the temple from Christ? Well, yes and no, so I’m not sure if they’re “game” for this discussion. Also, I’m not sure what you mean by “Christ.” In some ways, that term only applies when he appears as the Son of Man/Jesus/Messiah on earth/Son of God/resurrected Lord. Could we, for example, discuss Moses 1, given that the “God” in that chapter is not clearly identified as the “personage” Jesus? I don’t mean to be difficult, but I think it’s important to understand your question, and I think his “teaching models” as Jesus are different than as Jehovah, etc.

  7. nhilton said

    Jesus’ mode of teaching was startling to those who heard him. His audience was accustomed to the tradition-bound nature of the Jews. Not only WHAT he said was astonishing, but HOW he said it. Instead of quoting previous rabbis, as did the scribes, Jesus taught with authority saying, “I say…” (Matt. 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39 & 43) without citing precedent. This teaching style was met with “…never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). Does this apply to OUR efforts at teaching the gospel?

  8. nhilton said

    Brianj: Excellent points!

    As the ultimate author of scripture, wouldn’t Christ’s teaching methods span the cannon? So you could look at the scriptures, overall, as a teaching method. Leviticus IS fair game. What do we learn about this mode of teaching? Basically the Mosaic Law is the object of consideration here, I believe. When I said “Jesus,” I meant the Savior in all his manifestations: premortal, mortal and resurrected. Thank you for requiring that clarification.

    I don’t think you have to be static in your definition of Christ teaching–certainly His methods weren’t static. Be broad in your definition because this is where I think we’ll have the most discovery in this post & in our personal reflection.

    I love your point about the audience. So, its safe to say a master teacher tailors the message AND the delivery to the audience? Perhaps we should try to categorize the audiences and identify how Jesus tailored his teaching?

  9. Idahospud said

    I think there are some pretty specific methods he used. For example, when asked “who is my neighbor?” Jesus 1)knew and referred to the scriptures
    2)answered a question with a question
    3)used a parable (in other words, language/stories that were tailored to the audience)
    4)gave a “go and do” challenge at the end of the “lesson”

    Another example is his conversation with the woman at the well. He
    1)used an object lesson (sorry!) with the living water
    2)knew his student’s circumstances and loved her
    3)involved her in the lesson–he let her ask questions as she came to the correct conclusion

    A few other methods come to mind:
    *He began with prayer in his sermon in the BOM and asked the hearers to continue to pray in their hearts
    *He taught with conviction, power, and testimony
    *He used questions effectively–he didn’t ask questions that would require a yes/no answer
    *He used familiar objects to illustrate abstract concepts (fig tree, coins, etc.)

    I’m looking forward to other comments about his methods.

  10. Robert C. said

    Idahospud, great comments. I esp. like the way you describe Jesus’ “object” lessons, in particular “he used familiar objects to illustrate abstract concepts.” Joe’s been talking a lot about typology of late and it’s got me thinking about the following couple of scriptures in these terms:

    And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me. (Moses 6:63)

    [B]ehold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? . . . [A]ll things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its dmotion, yea, and also all the eplanets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator. (Alma 30:41, 44)

    Also, I’ve been wondering about distinctions between temporal and spiritual in scripture, and I think this idea of “seeing truth in everyday objects” is fundamental to a spiritual rather than temporal perspective. (If temporal is that which separates things in time and space, then the spiritual connects things in time and space, no?)

  11. Idahospud said

    (If temporal is that which separates things in time and space, then the spiritual connects things in time and space, no?)

    I love this idea–I have danced around the edges of such but have never thought about it so succinctly–thank you.

    One of my favorite teaching methods, with any age, is the “________is like_________” exercise (I got the kernel of the idea from BKP or Elder Cook, can’t remember) in which I ask one student to take a minute and privately select a principle we talk about in church (I leave it very openended) and another student to privately select some object in the room we are in. Then I have them fill in the blanks with their selections. Then the class has to come up with ways that the abstract is like the concrete. We get some very creative and insightful metaphors, and I like how the brain has to look at both items from every angle in order to find the similarities. Your comment about the the spiritual realm connecting “all things [which] bear record of me” explains why this exercise is so often illustrative and illuminating;I’m sure that it is more than just the brain that is exercised in discovering these connections.

    I’m going to be thinking about this for a long time.

  12. Thank you, Robert & Idahospud, for reviving this post. When I wrote it I really wanted others’ input on how we can use Christ as our model in our teaching efforts. Your thoughts go to the heart of the question and certainly help me as a teacher to all ages with regard to all subjects. I hope others will contribute their insights to this post so we can perhaps ultimately list & categorize these observations in the wiki. Such a list would be something I’d tape right in the front of my lesson manual & scriptures.

    Too often people feel like they need a step by step manual for how to teach a lesson. With the change up in the RS & Priesthood lesson manuals some teachers are left lost. But if we simply began with a topic & then taught using Christ’s methods we’d probably all easily and deeply learn together.

    I really liked your analogy teaching method, Idaho… My own children love this game. It can get silly at times (like when they start comparing bugs & other icky things), but in the end it is a great testimony to them of God’s intimate role in creating our mortal experience in such a way that Christ is at the center of everything.

    Robert, the two scriptures you cited are a couple of my favorite. In addition, along this same line of thought, is 2 Ne. 11:4. I especially love Jacob’s enthusiasm for “proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ.” This enthusiasm transcends the page and inspires me in my own teaching. Todd Parker at BYU gave a great talk on this subject at Ed.Week+. (He was my seminary teacher in 1981–yes, I’m that old–and one of the best religion teachers I’ve ever had. He has, obviously, moved up to BYU now.) Here’s a link to his lectures and I think the one I’m recalling is titled “True Doctrine Understood.” Todd Parker Lectures

  13. It just occurred to me that it might be worth mentioning here that there is a section in the Church handbook of instructions called “Follow the Savior’s Example As a Teacher.” It has paragraphs titled as follows under this heading:

    Pray
    Be a Good Example
    Be Humble
    Be Dedicated
    Love Class Members
    Prepare to Teach
    Teach the Saving Doctrines and Ordinances of the Gospel
    Teach from the Scriptures and the Teachings of Latter-day Prophets
    Establish a Good Environment for Learning
    Help Class Members Become Ready to Learn
    Teach Class Members According to Their Capacity and Needs
    Teach with Power and Conviction
    Use a Variety of Teaching Methods
    Help Class Members Apply What Is Taught
    Encourage Class Members to Participate
    Plan and Conduct Meaningful Discussions
    Share Insights, Feelings, and Experiences
    Testify
    Close Lessons Effectively

    That’s quite a list, and not all of these have any discussion in the paragraphs accompanying them of how Christ did that particular thing. To what extent did Christ do all of these things? Should we have a post on each of these items?

  14. nhilton said

    One of my favorite scriptures is about Lehi teaching his children: 1 Ne. 8:38. I like the “…and he did cease speaking unto them.” The scriptures don’t have a lot of Christ’s words but what is recorded is enough. Perhaps it is everything He said. My point being, teachers sometimes ramble, are redundant and thereby water down their message. Christ’s message was never watered down.

  15. nhilton said

    In considering the sequential nature of the Ten Commandments, Beatitudes, Articles of Faith, etc. I see a pattern developing in the way Christ teaches–or at least delegates to his prophets to teach. This pattern is a line upon line concept. If we look at life as a whole we see birth to death as linear but, also, circular. Plan of Salvation is another type of this sequential, linear progression. Or, is it circular, too?

  16. nhilton said

    Joe, your list is very interesting. I’m happy to see it even included in the handbook…what, exactly, is that handbook? I do wonder if & how Christ did each of those things in the list. What about the “environment?” And the “ready to learn” one is intriguing; perhaps this is a good segway to discussing parables, as is the next “capacity & needs.” I think “use a variety of teaching methods” is where I began this post but I like the inclusion of the other aspects in your list. How did Christ help others apply what he taught them & participate in “class?” (I think the woman at the well is a prime example of “class participation.”) That the manual has nothing after this list is amazing…just left up to the reader, I guess. I think it deserves a community effort of thought. :)

  17. This list comes from the Church Handbook of Instructions, that is THE handbook for all Church policies etc. This comes from book 2 (book 1 is only for Bishops and on up the line, book 2 is for all of those and ward leaders as well, and little snippets of book 2 are excerpted in pamphlets for other callings, such as teachers, counselors, etc.). Under each of the headings in the list, the handbook offers a paragraph or more (sometimes quite a bit) about how that particular thing should be done. Many of them, but not all, specifically have something to say about how Jesus did the thing in question. It might be worth doing these one by one in separate posts.

  18. nhilton said

    An interesting note about Christ’s parables: He gave the Jews what would both condemn and save them. Ironic.

  19. nhilton said

    Regarding the concept of patterning or sequential teaching/learning, I read a great book on the D&C by Steven Covey, “6 Events.” It really opened up a whole new perspective on the D&C for me. I tried sharing it with my students at the beginning of last year’s GD course but it went over their heads. It’s really a book you must read & ponder yourself, but so rich with application & cross-over to other gospel principles, i.e. Beatitudes, 10 Commandments, Articles of Faith, etc.

  20. nhilton said

    Further considering teaching methods Christ used,

    First, Matt.14 story of Jesus walking on the water is amazing to me in that Christ let his disciples struggle with their problem and fear all night long, even 12 hours, before coming to their rescue. This shows me the value of working a problem out on my own to my ultimate ability, AND that I won’t be left to “sink” when I’ve done all I can and can do no more. As a teacher, especially as a parent/teacher, this has great ramifications. Just how long do we allow a student to struggle? What does it mean to struggle? How do we know when it has been long enough?

    Second, (also re:#9) the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4, shows the Savior teaching line upon line. He is teaching someone that others might believe is “below him” or without merit. He begins with what she knows and adds upon it, drawing her out in knowledge. It’s a logical progression in teaching and one she can’t deny as it builds bit by bit. As a teacher perhaps being willing to teach those who we might otherwise overlook or underestimate becomes a duty/opportunity with the modeling of the Savior and if we use His approach in beginning with what “they know” perhaps our lesson will be well received.

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