Imitate the Great Teacher
“Go therefore and make disciples of people . . . , teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—MATTHEW 28:19, 20.
1, 2. (a) How are we all, in a sense, teachers? (b) When it comes to teaching, what unique responsibility do true Christians have?
ARE you a teacher? In a sense, we all are. Every time you give directions to a lost traveler, show a fellow worker how to perform a particular task, or explain to a child how to tie his shoes, you are teaching. Helping others in such ways brings a measure of satisfaction, does it not?
2 When it comes to teaching, true Christians have a unique responsibility. We are commissioned to “make disciples of people . . . , teaching them.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) Within the congregation too, we have occasion to teach. Qualified men are appointed to serve as “shepherds and teachers,” with a view to building up the congregation. (Ephesians 4:11-13) In their daily Christian activities, mature women are to be “teachers of what is good” to younger women. (Titus 2:3-5) All of us are urged to encourage fellow believers, and we can heed that admonition by using the Bible to build up others. (1 Thessalonians 5:11) What a privilege it is to be a teacher of God’s Word and to share spiritual values that can have long-lasting benefits!
3. How can we improve our effectiveness as teachers?
3 How, though, can we improve our effectiveness as teachers? Primarily, it is by imitating the Great Teacher, Jesus. ‘But how can we imitate Jesus?’ some may wonder. ‘He was perfect.’ Granted, we cannot be perfect teachers. Still, regardless of our abilities, we can do our best to imitate the way Jesus taught. Let us discuss how we can employ four of his methods—simplicity, effective questions, logical reasoning, and fitting illustrations.
Keeping It Simple
4, 5. (a) Why is simplicity a key feature of Bible truth? (b) To teach with simplicity, why is it important to watch our vocabulary?
4 The basic truths of God’s Word are not complicated. In prayer, Jesus said: “I publicly praise you, Father, . . . because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes.” (Matthew 11:25) Jehovah has caused his purposes to be revealed to those with sincere and humble hearts. (1 Corinthians 1:26-28) Thus, simplicity is a key feature of Bible truth.
5 When you conduct a home Bible study or make return visits on interested ones, how can you teach with simplicity? Well, what did we learn from the Great Teacher? To reach his listeners, many of whom were “unlettered and ordinary,” Jesus used plain language that they could grasp. (Acts 4:13) To teach with simplicity, then, a first requirement is to watch our vocabulary. We do not need to use high-sounding words or phrases in order to make the truth of God’s Word more convincing to others. Such “extravagance of speech” could be intimidating, especially to those with limited education or ability. (1 Corinthians 2:1, 2) Jesus’ example shows that simple words carefully chosen can convey the truth with much power.
6. How can we avoid overwhelming a Bible student with too much information?
6 To teach with simplicity, we must also be careful to avoid overwhelming a Bible student with too much information. Jesus was considerate of the limitations of his disciples. (John 16:12) We, too, must take the student into consideration. For example, when conducting a study in the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, we do not need to explain every detail.* Nor is it necessary to rush through the information, as if covering a set amount of material is the most important thing. Rather, it is wise to let the student’s needs and abilities determine the pace of the study. Our goal is to help the student to become a disciple of Christ and a worshiper of Jehovah. We need to take whatever time is necessary to help the interested student to grasp clearly what he is learning. Thus, the truth may touch his heart and move him to action.—Romans 12:2.
7. What suggestions can help us to teach with simplicity when we give talks in the congregation?
7 When we give talks in the congregation, especially if there are newcomers in the audience, how can we utter speech that is “easily understood”? (1 Corinthians 14:9) Consider three suggestions that can help. First, explain any unfamiliar terms that you have to use. Our understanding of God’s Word has given us a unique vocabulary. If we use such expressions as “the faithful and discreet slave,” “other sheep,” and “Babylon the Great,” we may need to explain them with simple phrases that make the meaning clear. Second, avoid wordiness. Too many words, too elaborately stated, may lose the audience. Clarity comes from pruning out unnecessary words and phrases. Third, do not try to cover too much material. Our research may yield many interesting details. But it is best to organize the material into a few main points, using only the information that supports those points and that can be clearly developed in the allotted time.
Effective Use of Questions
8, 9. How can we choose a question that is tailored to a householder’s interest? Give examples.
8 Recall that Jesus was a master at using questions to get his disciples to express what was on their minds and to stimulate and train their thinking. With his questions, Jesus gently reached and touched their hearts. (Matthew 16:13, 15; John 11:26) How can we, like Jesus, make effective use of questions?
9 When preaching from house to house, we can use questions to arouse interest, paving the way for us to talk about God’s Kingdom. How can we choose a question that is tailored to the interests of the householder? Be observant. When approaching a house, look at the surroundings. Are there toys in the yard, indicating that there are children in the home? If so, we might ask, ‘Have you ever wondered what the world will be like when your children grow up?’ (Psalm 37:10, 11) Are there a number of locks on the front door, or is there a security system? We could ask: ‘Do you think the time will ever come when people like you and me can feel safe in our home and on the street?’ (Micah 4:3, 4) Is there a ramp for wheelchair access? We might ask: ‘Will there ever be a time when everyone living will enjoy good health?’ (Isaiah 33:24) Many suggestions can be found in the book Reasoning From the Scriptures.*
10. How can we use questions to ‘draw up’ the thoughts and feelings of a Bible student’s heart, but what should we keep in mind?
10 How can we put questions to good use when conducting Bible studies? Unlike Jesus, we cannot read hearts. However, tactful but discerning questions can help us to ‘draw up’ the thoughts and feelings of the student’s heart. (Proverbs 20:5) For example, suppose we are studying the chapter “Why Living a Godly Life Brings Happiness,” in the Knowledge book. It discusses God’s view of dishonesty, fornication, and other matters. The student may answer the printed questions correctly, but does he agree with what he is learning? We might ask: ‘Does Jehovah’s view of such matters seem reasonable to you?’ ‘How can you apply these Bible principles in your life?’ Keep in mind, though, the need to be respectful, according the student dignity. We would not want to ask questions that embarrass or humiliate the Bible student.—Proverbs 12:18.
11. In what ways can public speakers make effective use of questions?
11 Public speakers can also make effective use of questions. Rhetorical questions—questions that we do not expect our listeners to answer aloud—can help an audience to think and reason. Jesus occasionally used such questions. (Matthew 11:7-9) In addition, after introductory remarks, a speaker might use questions to outline the main points that will be discussed. He could say: “In our discussion today, we are going to consider the answers to the following questions . . .” Then, in the conclusion, he could refer to those questions to review the main points.
12. Give an example to show how Christian elders can use questions to help a fellow believer to draw comfort from God’s Word.
12 In their shepherding work, Christian elders can use questions to help a ‘depressed soul’ to draw comfort from Jehovah’s Word. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) For example, to help one who feels dejected, an elder might direct attention to Psalm 34:18. It says: “Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” To be sure that the discouraged one sees how this applies to him personally, the elder might ask: ‘Jehovah is near to whom? Do you at times feel “broken at heart” and “crushed in spirit”? If, as the Bible says, Jehovah is near to such ones, does that not mean that he is near to you?’ Such tender reassurance can revive the spirit of one who is downhearted.—Isaiah 57:15.
13, 14. (a) How might we reason with someone who says he does not believe in a God he cannot see? (b) Why should we not expect that everyone will be convinced?
13 In our ministry, we want to reach hearts with sound, persuasive reasoning. (Acts 19:8; 28:23, 24) Does that mean that we must learn to employ sophisticated logic in order to convince others about the truth of God’s Word? Not at all. Sound reasoning does not need to be complicated. Logical arguments presented in a simple manner are often most effective. Consider an example.
14 How might we respond when someone says that he does not believe in a God he cannot see? We could reason on the natural law of cause and effect. When we observe an effect, we accept that there must be a cause. We might say: ‘If you were in a remote area and came across a well-built house that was stocked with food (effect), you would readily accept that someone (cause) built that house and filled its cupboards. So, too, when we see the design evident in nature and the abundance of food in earth’s “pantry” (effect), does it not make sense to accept that Someone (cause) is responsible?’ The Bible’s simple argument puts it best: “Of course, every house is constructed by someone, but he that constructed all things is God.” (Hebrews 3:4) However, no matter how sound our reasoning may be, not everyone will be convinced. The Bible reminds us that only those who are “rightly disposed” will become believers.—Acts 13:48; 2 Thessalonians 3:2.
15. What line of reasoning can we use to highlight Jehovah’s qualities and ways, and what two examples demonstrate how we might use such reasoning?
15 In our teaching, whether in the field ministry or in the congregation, we can use logical reasoning to highlight Jehovah’s qualities and ways. Particularly effective is the ‘how much more so’ line of reasoning that Jesus occasionally used. (Luke 11:13; 12:24) Based on contrast, this type of reasoning can make a deep impression. To expose the absurdity of the hellfire doctrine, we might say: ‘No loving father would punish his child by holding his child’s hand in a fire. How much more so must the very idea of hellfire be repugnant to our loving heavenly Father!’ (Jeremiah 7:31) To teach that Jehovah cares for his servants as individuals, we could say: ‘If Jehovah knows each of the billions of stars by name, how much more must he care about humans who love him and were bought with the precious blood of his Son!’ (Isaiah 40:26; Acts 20:28) Such powerful reasoning can help us to reach the hearts of others.
16. Why are illustrations valuable in teaching?
16 Effective illustrations are a seasoning that can make our teaching more appetizing to others. Why are illustrations valuable in teaching? One educator noted: “The ability to think abstractly is one of the most difficult of human accomplishments.” Illustrations impress meaningful pictures on our mind, helping us more fully to grasp new ideas. Jesus was outstanding in his use of illustrations. (Mark 4:33, 34) Let us consider how we can make use of this teaching method.
17. What four factors make an illustration effective?
17 What makes an illustration effective? First, it should fit our audience, drawing on circumstances that our listeners can readily relate to. We remember that Jesus drew many of his illustrations from the everyday life of his hearers. Second, an illustration should reasonably parallel the point that is being made. If the comparison is strained, the illustration may only distract our listeners. Third, an illustration should not be cluttered with unnecessary details. Recall that Jesus provided necessary specifics but omitted nonessentials. Fourth, when we use an illustration, we should make sure that the application is clear. Otherwise, some may not get the point.
18. How can we come up with fitting illustrations?
18 How can we come up with fitting illustrations? We do not need to think up long, elaborate stories. Short illustrations can be very effective. Simply try to think of examples of the point being discussed. For instance, suppose we are discussing the subject of God’s forgiveness, and we want to illustrate the point made at Acts 3:19, where it says that Jehovah ‘blots out,’ or wipes out, our errors. That in itself is a vivid figure of speech, but what concrete example can we use to illustrate the point—an eraser? a sponge? We might say: ‘When Jehovah forgives our sins, he wipes them away as though using a sponge (or an eraser).’ It is difficult to miss the point of such a simple illustration.
19, 20. (a) Where can we find good illustrations? (b) What are some examples of effective illustrations that have been published in our literature? (See also box.)
19 Where can you find fitting illustrations, including true-life examples? Look for them in your own life or in the varied backgrounds and experiences of fellow believers. Illustrations can be chosen from many other sources, including animate and inanimate objects, household items, or a current event well-known in the community. A key to finding good illustrations is being alert, “carefully observing” the everyday circumstances around us. (Acts 17:22, 23) One reference work on public speaking explains: “The speaker who observes human life and its various occupations, talks with all sorts of men, looks straight at things and asks questions until he understands them, will gather a mass of illustrative material that will serve him in good stead when needed.”
20 There is another rich source of effective illustrations—The Watchtower, Awake!, and other literature produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. You can learn much from observing how these publications employ illustrations.* Take, for example, the illustration used in paragraph 11 of chapter 17 in the Knowledge book. It compares the diversity of personalities in the congregation to the variety of vehicles traveling alongside you on the road. What makes it effective? Note that it is based on everyday circumstances, it closely parallels the point being made, and the application is clear. We may use published illustrations in our teaching, perhaps adapting them to the needs of a Bible student or adjusting them for use in a talk.
21. What rewards come from being an effective teacher of God’s Word?
21 The rewards of being an effective teacher are great. When we teach, we share with others; we give part of ourselves to help them. Such giving brings happiness, for the Bible says: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) For teachers of God’s Word, that happiness is the joy of knowing that we are imparting something of genuine and lasting value—the truth about Jehovah. We can also have the satisfaction that comes from knowing that we are imitating the Great Teacher, Jesus Christ.
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
See the section “Introductions for Use in the Field Ministry,” on pages 9-15.—Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
To locate examples, see the Watch Tower Publications Index 1986-2000, under “Illustrations.”—Published in a number of languages by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Do You Remember?
• How can we teach with simplicity when conducting a home Bible study? when giving a talk in the congregation?
• How can we make effective use of questions when preaching from house to house?
• How may we use logical reasoning to highlight Jehovah’s qualities and ways?
• Where can we find fitting illustrations?
[Box/Picture on page 23]
Do You Remember These Illustrations?
Following are just a few effective illustrations. Why not look up the reference and note how the illustration helped to make the point under discussion?
• Like trapeze artists or figure-skating partners, those seeking to build a good marriage depend greatly on a good partner.—The Watchtower, May 15, 2001, page 16.
• Expressing your feelings is like throwing a ball. You can toss it gently or you can fling it with such force that it causes injury.—Awake!, January 8, 2001, page 10.
• Inherited sin can be compared to what happens when a computer’s files are corrupted by a virus.—Is There a Creator Who Cares About You?, page 156.
• Spiritism does for demons what bait does for hunters. It attracts prey.—Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, page 111.
• How Jesus comes to the rescue of Adam’s descendants can be compared to a wealthy benefactor who pays off a company’s debt (incurred by a dishonest manager) and reopens the factory, thus benefiting its many employees.—The Watchtower, February 15, 1991, page 13.
• As lovers of art will go to great lengths to restore a badly damaged masterpiece, Jehovah can look beyond our imperfections, see the good in us, and eventually restore us to the perfect standing that Adam lost.—The Watchtower, February 15, 1990, page 22.
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True Christians are teachers of God’s Word
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Elders can use questions to help fellow believers to draw comfort from God’s Word