Early Years of Discovery
Very early in our ministry experiences among oral learners in the villages of Mexico, we often asked some “analytical, expository” questions about the Scripture passages we were introducing. In our ignorance about oral tradition and learning styles, our questions were directed at abstract nuances of meaning, at implied inferences and broader applications. The questions would hang heavy in the air, unanswered; our dialogue attempts met with awkward silence. But one day while watching the Jesus film, we were struck by the simplicity of Jesus’ questions. Even when speaking to a lawyer or a religious leader, His questions were rhetorical, direct, simple, and very easy to answer.
Jesus the Master Communicator
From then on, our dialogue in the villages changed. We began to pattern our questions after the dialogue style of Jesus Himself. He already was our inspiration for using the mother tongue and for using parables. Jesus used Aramaic, the mother tongue of his audience, so they would understand. Likewise, He chose parables to provide contextualized illustrations.
He also knew the common people admired the repetitious speech of the Hebrew poets and prophets and used such speech in His teachings, such as the Beatitudes. Since Jesus was a master at understanding His audience, why would He not be the inspiration for our style of dialogue? Should we not also avoid abstract, theoretical questions?
We noticed that the simpler Jesus’ questions, the more profound the truth that lay within. “Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?” Profound and essential truth lay within the answers to those two questions. In the telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the dialogue began with a question from a lawyer who was trying to justify himself. “Who is my neighbor,” he asked. Jesus then told the well-known story and ended by asking, “Who then was his neighbor?” The obvious answer was given, the command to action stated. The meaning was stunningly clear, especially within a culture that understood the natural enmity with Samaritans. Jesus’ questions were to the point, not speculative. We realized that by following Jesus’ model, we too could avoid ambiguous and intangible concepts so inappropriate among oral learners.
Relevancy and WHY Questions
In learning more about the dialogue style of Jesus, we recognized that intuitively, Jesus seemed to stay away from WHY questions. In Luke 17:17-18, Jesus performed a miracle, healing ten lepers. He asked:
“Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” Notice Jesus did not ask WHY the nine went away without a word of thanks. Instead Jesus said, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Another of Jesus’ questions in Matthew 7:4 avoided the word WHY in a rather spectacular way:
“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘let me take out the speck in your eye’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye?” The question says it all.
Jesus’ simple, direct questions and answers were part of His whole approach to communication, RELEVANCY. He understood His audience, and He asked concrete questions pertaining to people, events, actions, and locations in everyday life. In understanding His audience, He always got to the heart of the matter—what was relevant in His listeners’ lives and would bring them closer to the Kingdom of God.
Jesus’ Discovery Style
Jesus modeled His own kind of discovery learning. Listeners were required to observe, participate, answer questions, and take action. Jesus sometimes responded to questions with a story, followed by questions of His own. He encouraged two-way conversation, giving specific, contextualized examples. His characters themselves provided the truth, illustrating the right or wrong path.
His metaphors were inspired by everyday symbols and illustrations. The answers to His questions were always supplied in His story or parable. His questions were not “beyond” the story but were content-oriented. He did not ask the listeners to leap to conclusions, infer, project feelings, thoughts, or emotions that were not there. He never said, “What did you learn from the parable?” Instead he directed them to the truth within the story and then challenged them to action, to go and apply what they had learned. Jesus simply stated,
“Go and do the same.” “Go and show the priests.” “Go and tell others.” “Go and sin no more.”
What do you think about Jesus’ dialogue and discovery style? Please share your thoughts or additional learning about these insights and observations. If you have a moment, we would really like to hear from you!
Read other posts in this series by SIU founders, Jim and Carla Bowman:
Short, simple, effective reminder, Kent! Thanx!
Thank you for the encouragement, Keith. Yes and so profound! The “Jesus Model of the 1st Century” is alive and well in the 21st! Dialogue the Stories and Words of God much with others as the Holy Spirit shows up everytime. God bless, Kent
I woke up this morning with three words “Jesus in dialogue”. I typed that into my browser and discovered your insights on teaching people about Jesus. As an aspiring life coach in my more mature years, I have been looking at Jesus and His “coaching style” Yes, He really did avoid the “Why questions”, He did answer questions with powerful questions of His own. Like you say, simple questions that had a profound impact on His audiences wherever they were in their walk with God. Your articles has encouraged me to continue finding Jesus in dialogue. Thanks for sharing. Hope you continue sharing what you discover in the Word.
Those of us who are graced with a teaching gift must re-examine the purpose of the gift God has given us. Otherwise, we get locked into our oratorical abilities to “wow” crowds and we find satisfaction with responses like, “that was a great message” or “that was very moving.” That is all well and good, but we must never be content with that. Our fulfilment must always be, are more people becoming obedient to the Lord by what they do and what they say (Rom 15:18)?
This was a great article and I will pass it on to my contacts in various parts of the world as I continue to train them (and myself !) in story-ing and presenting the One Story of God in ways that engage people and help them to think through for themselves the implications of what they hear.
Thank you for taking the time to read this Blog and responding to it. Your points are well taken and spending time in the Word of God and using Stories and Parables with the Dialogue approach Jesus modeled for us is just the start! We like to call the “Oral Arts” and “Bible Storying” the tip of the spear in reaching and engaging people in oral cultures as we all continue to grow in grace and knowledge from the Lord’s active, living Word of God! Warmly in Christ, Kent
Great reminder. Imitating Jesus always works.
So true! Thanks for reading the blog and responding to it, Dennis. You are an Orality Champion! Blessings, Kent
I am very interested in adopting oral strategies for our ministry with college students in the US. I have presented story/discussion using the Simply the Story model, which is fantastic. But, I also find myself asking a lot of “why” and “interpretive” kinds of questions. i am intrigued by your observation that Jesus’ questions were more concrete and action oriented.
Do you know if there is a workbook or study guide on Jesus’ use of dialogue, questions, and so forth? I am hoping that someone has put together a resource to help us learn directly from the example of Jesus as presented in the gospels.
That is so great to hear! And YES, we have training curriculum (known as “Bridges”) that goes deep into how to dialogue and the best way to ask discovery questions within a Story. We also have a free, online “Bridges Online” orality exposure course you can register online at any time at http://www.siutraining.org. This online course takes about 9-10 hours to complete, but it allows you to set your own pace as the program can be started and stopped at any time. The online course gives you the big picture as to how we train the methodology and some training examples with our indigenous, international partners. The videos are a bit outdated, but the principles and concepts of what we do and how we do it are all there. It is just the starting point of understanding our approach of what we call “the Jesus Model of the 1st century” and this is a resource that multiple groups and leaders have used to start on this approach. It even has a completion certificate with it when finishing all the units.
TJ, after exploring this online resource, please let us know if you would like to go further exploring and connecting with us and I can also provide the “Communication Bridges to Oral Cultures” training manual too.
God bless, Kent
So profound. Thanks for sharing the simplicity of Jesus’ teaching. Good reminder for all of us!
Amen! So true and thanks for reading and engaging in this blog, Steve. God bless, Kent