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Attending my first soccer game was a frustrating experience.
As a kid from New England, I had watched hundreds of Red Sox, Celtic, Patriots, and Bruins games, but none of these games prepared me for what I was about to see. Balls bouncing off people’s heads, off-sides calls, and the never-ending collision of bodies seemed a bit strange.
It didn’t take long to figure out that the point of the game was to see who could get the ball in the goal the most times, but I really didn’t understand much else. In frustration, I asked people around me what was going on.
Knowing that I was a Boston Bruins fan, a friend began to show me the parallels between the rules of soccer and hockey. It wasn’t long before I was watching soccer and actually understanding a little of what was happening on the field.
For some people, attending Sunday School is much like my first encounter with soccer.
They attend class, notice that everyone else seems to understand what is going on, and become frustrated because few of their past experiences seem to prepare them for what they are hearing. Those who really want to learn will expend the energy to try to understand what is going on. Others will simply walk away and engage in activities they are accustomed to.
One of the best ways to avoid this scenario from happening in your Sunday School class is by using the same method my friend used to explain the game of soccer to me. That method is simply to move people from the known to the unknown.
There are a variety of ways to make the transition from the known to the unknown, one of the best ways is through story telling.
Jesus used this method in most of His teaching opportunities. Whether He was teaching concerning His death and resurrection or instructing people how to become a follower of God, Jesus used common experience stories to help people understand His message.
One of the greatest storytellers I have ever had the experience of knowing was a pastor and Sunday School teacher in Modesto, California. He had the ability to capture my attention with stories about his childhood, his farming, or his latest attempt to fix an old truck or tractor. Before I knew it, he had used the story to clarify a difficult passage of Scripture I had not previously understood.
Another successful means of going from the known to the unknown is through the use of cultural icons.
There are sports events, television programs, and world events that are universal in nature. When used carefully, these can be excellent introductions to Bible passages.
I remember a teacher who introduced his group to the idea of the body of Christ through the use of a popular television program. The teacher asked the students to list the names of the members of the cast and describe each role. He then asked them how they thought the program would change if any of the characters were removed. Finally the students were asked how it would impact the show’s dynamics if all the characters decided to assume the role of the main character. This exercise easily lead into the principles found in 1 Corinthians 12.
Students were able to see that every role is important in the function of a healthy church. It also showed them what a mess it makes when people try to function outside of the role that God has given to them. Those who might object to the use of cultural icons need to examine Jesus’ use of these tools. He used contemporary parables (Luke 4:23), cultural practices (Luke 5:34), societal stereotypes (Luke 13:2), and civil institutions (John 18:36) to help those He taught to gain a clearer understanding of His message.
There are many more ways you can use this principle of building a bridge between the known and the unknown but I will limit myself to one more, which I have seen used effectively.
This method can best be labeled as the “felt-need” approach.
Everyone has felt needs. A felt need is a problem or troubling situation that a person desires answers for. These needs are largely dependent on the stage of life people are in. The single mother has different needs from a senior citizen. A newly married couple’s issues are much different from those of their parents.
If a teacher is aware of the felt needs of his or her students he or she can tailor the application of the biblical principles taught in the lesson. Jesus’ communication with the woman at the well is a good example of this method of teaching. We too must stay abreast of the questions being asked if we are going to effectively provide answers from God’s Word.
Jesus didn’t assume that His listeners would understand His teachings and neither should we.
Use stories, cultural icons, and the felt-needs of your students to build bridges between the world of the student and the world of the biblical text.
Written by Clancy Hayes
Copyright Gospel Publishing House. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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