When Jesus preached, He often used parables. The confused, illiterate and ignorant were instantly illuminated by everyday images and real life examples. He quietly questioned Himself when they yawned with boredom and felt the thrill of a true connection. He saw the same blank looks of the students in your class. He experienced the loneliness of the teacher disconnected from his or her students. On certain days, teaching can make us question why we would ever enter a classroom. The master Teacher knew the secret to teaching. Screenwriter Dudley Nichols explained the power of parables:
“Jesus of Nazareth could have chosen simply to express Himself in moral precepts; but like a great poet He chose the form of the parable, wonderful short stories that entertained and clothed the moral precept in an eternal form. It is not sufficient to catch man’s mind, you must also catch the imaginative faculties of his mind.”
The parable draws its strength from the secular world. When Jesus tied the familiar to the heavenly, He revealed the divine in new ways to His audience. The parable gives the catechist great power in the classroom. Our students are bombarded by secular images each day. We must contemplate how to manipulate the culture to our advantage.
When I sit down to write a prayer service, I often look at the current television schedule to see how to gain the attention of our students. Popular shows such as The Apprentice, The Amazing Race and The Real World have made their subtle entrance into our Advent and Lenten prayer services. Archbishop Fulton Sheen thrust the message of Christ onto primetime television in the 1950’s. Millions of people tuned in every week to listen to the master storyteller. He captivated his audience, which consisted of people from every faith, with real life examples. Fifty years later, his shows remain popular.
Last week, I received an email that advertised a colleague’s appearance on a local show called “Total Praise.” Lisa Mladinich was booked on the show to speak about this website and her puppet ministry. I had heard people praise Lisa’s work, but I had not seen her work firsthand. I recorded the show on my DVR so I could watch it at my convenience. When I finally viewed the show, my family mulled around the living room while getting ready for bed. As my nine-year old daughter passed by the television she became hypnotized by the puppet show performed by Lisa and her daughter. It was a lesson on Palm Sunday. For the entire performance, my daughter stood motionless. When the show ended, Maggie, skipped off without a hesitation.
As I contemplated the magnetism of the puppet show, I thought of the principles of compelling youth ministry. Lisa utilized the youth and personality of her daughter to convey the heart of her lesson. The puppets drew children to the gospel in a non-threatening and non-preachy way. The lesson was clear and concise for an audience of any age. My daughter comprehended the lesson on Palm Sunday without realizing that she had been in class.
The creative teacher transforms the classroom into the places that his or her students feel most comfortable. We have the freedom to tell stories that remind our students of the Master even when they have left our presence. Parables stick to our students like glue. When you watch the nightly news or your favorite television show think about how you can relate the story to the Gospel. Follow the example of the King of Storytellers. Make every word and gesture point to the Kingdom. Create your parable today!