Jesus was the master teacher. Thousands would gather to hang on his every word. People traveled far and wide just to hear him. The lessons he taught spread like fire and literally changed the world.
As pastors, if there is anyone we should emulate in our preaching and teaching it is Jesus. Right?
So how did Jesus teach?
Here are nine methods Jesus used that we can apply:
1. Jesus spoke by his authority.
Other teachers quoted credible teachers or teachings to borrow authority. Jesus, on the other hand, boldly declared, “You have heard this, but I tell you …” (Matt. 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44).
The crowds were amazed because he taught as one who had authority, unlike other teachers (Mark 1:22, Matt. 7:28–29). Jesus alone could do this because he is the Word (John 1). All authority on heaven and earth has been given to him (Matt. 28:18).
Application: We cannot preach on our authority, but that’s OK. Jesus gives us his. Preach the Word. Our power and authority come from Christ alone.
2. Jesus Told Stories.
As you are aware, Jesus told countless parables. He pulled spiritual truths from everyday life. Not only did these stories make his teaching more memorable, they also connected in a much more profound way.
Think about the parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus could have taught, “God loves you so much that he will welcome you back no matter how sinful you have lived.” Instead, Jesus tells the story of a boy who disowned his family, partied away his inheritance, came home to beg for mercy but was surprisingly welcomed with open arms by his father who waited daily for his return.
Which is more powerful?
Application: Tell stories. Lots of them. Use everyday life to teach profound spiritual truths.
3. Jesus shocked people.
Jesus often used hyperbole. He used outrageous examples, exaggerations or shocking statements to get your attention. These statements were not all meant to be taken literally, but they definitely got the point across.
For example, Jesus didn’t really mean we have to rip out our eyes and amputate our hands for causing us to sin (Matt. 5:29–30), or else all Christians would be blind amputees. He also didn’t mean that the people he was speaking to literally had logs in their eyes (Matt. 7:3–5). He was making a point.
Jesus said things that shocked people and exaggerated the truth to emphasize his point.
Application: Shock people. Exaggerate a little. Say outrageous things that aren’t meant to be literal, but grab attention and communicate the point clearly.
4. Jesus crafted memorable sayings.
Jesus spoke poetically. He used catchy sayings and plays on words. This isn’t always apparent in English translations. However, in the original language, Jesus made it much easier for his listeners to remember what he said.
For example, Jesus memorably said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:37–38a). Another great example is the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31).
Application: Craft sticky statements. As Andy Stanley says, “Memorable is portable.” If your people remember the lesson, they will carry it with them wherever they go.
5. Jesus asked questions.
Rather than just tell everyone the answer, Jesus led his listeners to conclusions by asking a lot of questions. For examples see Matthew 16:26, or 22:20–21, and check out this cool resource: 173 Questions Jesus Asked.
Questions are a powerful teaching method, especially when teaching to hostile people (like unbelievers). Questions stimulate critical thinking. Good questions make the audience demand answers.
Application: Ask a lot of questions. Don’t underestimate the power of a good question.
6. Jesus used visual illustrations.
Jesus often used object lessons to communicate concrete truth to his listeners. He washed the feet of the disciples to teach servant leadership (John 13:3–17). He called a little child to him to discuss childlike faith (Matt. 18:1–4). He described unselfish giving after watching a widow drop two small coins into the temple offering (Mark 12:41–44). When he told the parable of the sower, there is a good chance he was standing near a field.
Visually communicated truth is far more powerful than only spoken truth. Application: Use objects and visual illustrations. Block out time to be creative and think of ways to communicate your message visually.
Application: Use objects and visual illustrations. Block out time to be creative and think of ways to communicate your message visually.
7. Jesus used repetition.
Jesus helped his listeners understand and remember his teachings by the use of frequent repetition. He taught the same major themes again and again. For example, Jesus spoke of his death and resurrection over and over again (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34), and his disciples still didn’t get it.
Sometimes people need to hear something many times over before they get it. Plus, teachings that get repeated get remembered.
Application: Re- re- re- repeat. Repetition builds emphasis and breeds memory. What gets repeated gets remembered. Find the main point of your message and say it again and again.
8. Jesus created experiences.
It wasn’t enough for people to just listen to his teachings. Jesus gave instructions and called them to do what he said. For example, he didn’t just teach the disciples what to do, he then sent them out to do it and report back when they were done (Luke 9:1–6, 10).
Jesus’ teaching demanded action. But not everyone could handle it, such as the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18–23). Our experiences test our faith and teach us more than any sermon ever could.
Application: Don’t just tell them what to do. Provide opportunities for them to do it. Create experiences to apply the lesson. Ask, “How could I help my listeners actually live this out?”
9. Jesus practiced what he preached.
There is no greater example of a preacher following his own teachings than Jesus. Jesus didn’t just teach on prayer; he often withdrew to pray (Luke 5:16). Jesus didn’t just teach on loving sinners; he had dinner with them (Matt. 9:10–12).
Jesus lived what he said. He didn’t just talk a good talk, he walked the walk, even through death on a cross.
Application: Practice what you preach. The greatest lessons we teach come from our lives, not our mouths.
If you want to be an effective preacher or teacher, model your methods after Jesus.
Preach the Word, tell stories, be shocking, craft sticky statements, use object lessons, repeat yourself, create experiences and practice what you preach.
Brandon Hilgemann is a pastor, the founder of ProPreacher.com (where this article was originally published) and the author of Preaching Nuts & Bolts: Conquer Sermon Prep, Save Time, and Write Better Messages.