Question: Why did Jesus mostly teach in parables, not sermons?
Answer: Because Jesus believed in active learning.
Hear me out. Im not trying to be flippant.
Parables are deceptively simple. You can’t grasp the truth of them without mulling them over, thinking them through. They shift the responsibility from the teacher to the learner. The message isn’t spelled out for you. It isn’t until you grapple with them that you discover the underlying truth. Parables teach to the whole brain. They activate our visual imagination, our curiosity and our emotional empathy. They take advantage of our innate attraction to and memory for story. They are easy to remember, and have application in the original context and in our own personal context. They have space for interaction. The listeners were allowed to question and ask for clarification. Parables aren’t neatly packaged, 3-point sermons aimed at a general audience. They require us to think, to interpret, and to apply in our own unique context.
Jesus intentionally chose not to spoon-feed his listeners. Those who longed to follow him wrestled with his message and understood it. He didn’t make his message simplistic, comfortable or formulaic. In the church today, we would benefit from not just focussing on the words Jesus used to teach, but also looking at the methods he used to teach. Despite our modern technology, universal education and mass literacy, we still learn best in the same ways we always have. We learn with our whole brain (not just one part of it), we learn by constructing meaning from our experiences, we learn through the familiar patterns of storytelling and we learn from each other.
In churches today, we’ve placed such high priority on “good teaching” and “correct theology” that we’ve reduced people’s ability to actively learn. We’ve bypassed the role of the Holy Spirit as our teacher, and employed humans to reduce the mystery of God’s message to a few well-chosen words. We’ve structured our meetings so there is no opportunity to listen to the Holy Spirit, and made the assumption that he only speaks to the theologically trained and verbally eloquent.
God’s message is not just for the intellectual elite. It is for everyone, and everyone has something to contribute. In fact, it’s often the messiest and most broken people have the most profound insights to share with God’s people. It’s going to take a fresh approach to our teaching methods to unlock the full potential of God’s people to learn together and teach one another.
What are some ways you would like to see the church use active learning, rather than passive listening?