Jesus’ Teaching Methods

…and How He Organised His Apostles and Disciples to Teach

Jesus was not only a master teacher; he was THE Master Teacher. He was the fountain head of knowledge and inspiration for the Fourth Epochal Revelation to our world. How did he do it? How did he manage to touch people’s hearts so beautifully and succeed in winning them over to his gospel message? And how did he go about teaching and organising those dedicated followers who were to carry that message to the world after he was gone? And what can we learn from the way he managed his mission as we attempt to spread his teachings as reinstated in the Urantia revelation in today’s world? These are all very loaded questions and ones I’ll be attempting to address over the next 30 minutes!

Extract from this famous guiding quote:

One of the most important things in human living is to find out what Jesus believed, …. Of all human knowledge, that which is of greatest value is to know the religious life of Jesus and how he lived it. [Paper 196:1.3, page 2090.4]

Personal Ministry

From about 12 years onwards Jesus spent most of his life teaching others. He did this in the most natural way by simply giving of himself and sharing his thoughts, ideals and beliefs. He was naturally friendly, naturally interested in his fellows and he was a born natural philosopher – he appealed to people’s sense of reason. The key word here is “natural” – we know he did some of his most effective teaching “as he passed by.” In other words, he taught what he lived and as he lived. And he lived what he taught.

One of the earmarks of Jesus’ effectiveness with people was the brilliant way he was able to adapt his teachings to whomever he encountered. He was truly interested in people, he respected their integrity and was quick to befriend them. He was considerate and never unthinkingly bombarded them with his thoughts; rather he carefully drew them out by asking questions, got an idea of where they were at, then adapted his language and manner of speaking to suit each individual. In this way he was fully able to engage with them and he cared for them so much that he inevitably managed to touch their souls.

We see examples of this throughout the book. Here are just a few obvious ones:

The miller he taught about grinding up the grains of truth in the mill of living experience… [Paper 133:4.2, page 1474.2]

To the Roman judge he said:

“As you judge men, remember that you yourself will also some day come to judgment before the bar of the Rulers of a universe.” [Paper 133:4.7, page 1474.7]

To a Chinese merchant he said:

“Worship only God, who is your true spirit ancestor.” [Paper 133:4.9, page 1475.2]

To the runaway lad Jesus said:

“Remember, there are two things you cannot run away from — God and yourself…” [Paper 133:4.22,7,9,11 , page 1474-1475]

And to the religious leaders in Rome when preparing them for that future time when they would receive the gospel message:

… Never once did he attack their errors or even mention the flaws in their teachings. In each case he would select the truth in what they taught and then proceed so to embellish and illuminate this truth in their minds that in a very short time this enhancement of the truth effectively crowded out the associated error; …  [Paper 132:0.4, page 1455.4]

Jesus was a true scholar and had accumulated a wealth of knowledge during his adolescent years. We begin to get a good insight into how he conducted himself during his young adult life when he was working and living with the Zebedee family.

He actually held daily discussion groups and even held a weekly study group!

…The Zebedee family … never failed to attend the conferences of questions and answers which he [Jesus] conducted each evening after supper … The youthful neighbors also came in frequently to attend these after-supper meetings. To these little gatherings Jesus gave varied and advanced instruction, just as advanced as they could comprehend. He talked quite freely with them, expressing his ideas and ideals about politics, sociology, science, and philosophy, but never presumed to speak with authoritative finality except when discussing religion — the relation of man to God.

Once a week Jesus held a meeting with the entire household, shop, and shore helpers, for Zebedee had many employees. And it was among these workers that Jesus was first called “the Master.” They all loved him. [Paper 129:1.9-11, page 1420.6 – 1421.1]

Public Ministry: Organisation and Training of Apostles and Disciples

I’ve always been intrigued and mightily impressed with the way Jesus organised and trained his apostles and disciples. On one hand he was like a best friend to each of them – they stuck with him even though they didn’t “get” a lot of what he taught them, and even though he often dashed their hopes and expectations to pieces, they truly loved him and remained loyal to him throughout all the trying times. On the other hand Jesus could be a stern task master and put them through a very rigorous training period. He would often rebuke them and many times say things like, “how long must I bear with you.”

We’re told that while Jesus primarily taught the multitudes by using stories and parables, he invariably taught the apostles and disciples by questions and answers. Many of his answers to these questions have been given to us in his untold discourses and sermons that we can study in-depth and at our leisure in The Urantia Book.

As Jesus lived and worked alongside his apostles, he’d give them intensive sessions of teaching. He’d then send them out to the people to teach what they’d learned. When they returned they discussed their experiences with each other and Jesus used these experiences and resulting questions for further training. This very natural effective technique of “learning by doing” was carried on throughout the entire public ministry.

Jesus was the master teacher and the apostles and disciples became the secondary teachers passing on their knowledge and experience to others. In this way Jesus’ followers evolved and grew from being a confused, misinformed group of innocent though well-meaning group of truth seekers to becoming seasoned teachers and courageous “Messengers of the Kingdom.”

The establishment and organisation of the various training camps are a fascinating study of Jesus’ master plan. He set up the equivalent of a university campus complete with lectures, tutorials, prac teaching, and exams; this period was like one continuous set of study groups and conferences.

Basically put, it was like a “boot camp,” a three year intensive for the benefit of the elite group of teachers who were being groomed and programmed to take the gospel message out to the wider world after Jesus was gone. Eventually a headquarters was established at the Zebedee home and as the followers increased a large camp was established. These next few quotes neatly depict how things were arranged during this time:

Throughout this five months’ period … an enormous camp was maintained which had been greatly enlarged to accommodate the growing family of Jesus. This seaside camp, occupied by an ever-changing population of truth seekers, healing candidates, and curiosity devotees, numbered from five hundred to fifteen hundred. This tented city was under the general supervision of David Zebedee, …. The encampment was a model in order and sanitation as well as in its general administration.  [Paper 148:0.1, page 1657.1]

While Andrew continued in general charge of the apostolic activities, Peter was in full charge of the school of the evangelists. The apostles all did their share in teaching groups of evangelists each forenoon, and both teachers and pupils taught the people during the afternoons. After the evening meal, five nights a week, the apostles conducted question classes for the benefit of the evangelists. Once a week Jesus presided at this question hour, answering the holdover questions from previous sessions. [Paper 148:0.3, page 1657.3]

Peter, James, and Andrew were the committee designated by Jesus to pass upon applicants for admission to the school of evangelists. All the races and nationalities of the Roman world and the East, as far as India, were represented among the students in this new school of the prophets. This school was conducted on the plan of learning and doing. What the students learned during the forenoon they taught to the assembly by the seaside during the afternoon. After supper they informally discussed both the learning of the forenoon and the teaching of the afternoon. [Paper 148:1.1, page 1657.6]

So they all sat around in groups discussing the teachings. Reminds me of what we do in our study groups and conferences.

Messengers of the Kingdom – the Choosing of the Seventy

From these growing crowds of followers and students we eventually see the emergence of the group of evangelists, seventy of whom were later ordained as “Messengers of the Kingdom.” Using the university analogy again, you could perhaps say these seventy ordained evangelists were the students who graduated with honours.

These series of quotes tell an interesting story about the careful process used to select this group:

… At this time there were also assembled … the evangelistic corps, the women’s corps, and about one hundred and fifty other true and tried disciples from all parts of Palestine. After devoting a few days to visiting and the reorganization of the camp, Jesus and the twelve began a course of intensive training for this special group of believers, and from this well-trained and experienced aggregation of disciples the Master subsequently chose the seventy teachers and sent them forth to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom.  [Paper 163:0.1, page 1800.1]

Jesus gave a talk to this company each morning. Peter taught methods of public preaching; Nathaniel instructed them in the art of teaching; Thomas explained how to answer questions; while Matthew directed the organization of their group finances. The other apostles also participated in this training in accordance with their special experience and natural talents. [Paper 163:0.2, page 1800.2]

Over fifty disciples who sought ordination and appointment to membership in the seventy were rejected by the committee appointed by Jesus to select these candidates. This committee consisted of Andrew, Abner, and the acting head of the evangelistic corps. In all cases where this committee of three were not unanimous in agreement, they brought the candidate to Jesus, and while the Master never rejected a single person who craved ordination as a gospel messenger, there were more than a dozen who, when they had talked with Jesus, no more desired to become gospel messengers. [Paper 163:2.1, page 1801.4]

This episode of the choosing or the seventy gives us great insight into how much Jesus insisted they be two hundred percent committed if they wanted to be “Messengers of the Kingdom.” Here’s what he said to several of those who could not fully commit:

“If you would be ordained, you must be willing to forsake all. The gospel messengers cannot have divided affections. No man, having put his hand to the plough, if he turns back, is worthy to become a messenger of the kingdom.” [Paper 163:2.3, page 1801.6]

 “You are a faithful disciple, and you can remain such while you return home to minister to your loved ones, but not so with my gospel messengers. They have forsaken all to follow me and proclaim the kingdom. If you would be an ordained teacher, you must let others bury the dead while you go forth to publish the good news.”  [Paper 163:2.2, page 1801.5]

Here’s something critically important:

Each of the apostolic teachers taught his own view of the gospel of the kingdom. They made no effort to teach just alike; there was no standardized or dogmatic formulation of theologic doctrines. Though they all taught the same truth, each apostle presented his own personal interpretation of the Master’s teaching. And Jesus upheld this presentation of the diversity of personal experience in the things of the kingdom, unfailingly harmonizing and co-ordinating these many and divergent views of the gospel at his weekly question hours.  [Paper 148:1.2, page 1658.1]

The reason Jesus allowed his followers to decide on their own way of teaching is because of his respect for the unique partnership we each have with the Father. And I love the last bit where they all shared their many and divergent views of the gospel… Isn’t that what we do when we come together in study groups and conferences?

There’s so much more that can be said about Jesus’ methods of training but there just isn’t time to cover it all. However I would like to bring attention to one thing after Jesus’ following fell from 5,000 to around 200 when the fickle wonder seeking masses finally turned away when they realised Jesus was not their expected Messiah. Jesus said to his loyal followers:

“You see, my children, the appeal to human feelings is transitory and utterly disappointing; the exclusive appeal to the intellect of man is likewise empty and barren; it is only by making your appeal to the spirit which lives within the human mind that you can hope to achieve lasting success and accomplish those marvelous transformations of human character that are presently shown in the abundant yielding of the genuine fruits of the spirit in the daily lives of all who are thus delivered from the darkness of doubt …” [Paper 152:6.3, page 1705.3]

Teaching the Multitudes – Parables

We’ve seen how Jesus was able to adapt his teachings in his person-to-person ministry, and how he went about training the teachers, but how did he manage to teach the multitudes? Most of them were complete strangers to him so he couldn’t use his person-to-person methods of drawing them out and asking them questions? One of the most remarkable displays of Jesus’ ability to adapt his teachings for all to comprehend was the way he was able to teach profound truths through his use of parables. Jesus said to his apostles:

“… you must always make a difference in teaching so as to suit your presentation of truth to the minds and hearts before you. When you stand before a multitude of varying intellects and temperaments, you cannot speak different words for each class of hearers, but you can tell a story to convey your teaching; and each group, even each individual, will be able to make his own interpretation of your parable in accordance with his own intellectual and spiritual endowments. You are to let your light shine but do so with wisdom and discretion.”  [Paper 151:3.1, page 1691.4]

About parables Jesus taught:

The parable provides for a simultaneous appeal to vastly different levels of mind and spirit. The parable stimulates the imagination, challenges the discrimination, and provokes critical thinking; it promotes sympathy without arousing antagonism.

To reject the truth contained in parabolical analogy requires conscious intellectual action which is directly in contempt of one’s honest judgment and fair decision. The parable conduces to the forcing of thought through the sense of hearing.

The use of the parable form of teaching enables the teacher to present new and even startling truths while at the same time he largely avoids all controversy and outward clashing with tradition and established authority. [Paper 151:3.6,9,10, page 1692.5,8,9]

What Can We Learn from Jesus’ Methods as We Attempt to Spread His Teachings in Today’s World?

When studying the way Jesus trained and organised his immediate followers we should remember that before the days of the printing press, the only way revelatory truth could be spread to the world was by word of mouth, hence the need for Jesus to work hard at making sure there was a potent pool of trained people who had a solid grasp of his teachings; people who could take the gospel message to the world and herald in a new age of enlightenment. Inevitably emphasis was placed on the need for skilled orators and teachers who were sent out to spread the word.

Jesus did everything he possibly could to prepare his messengers for the subsequent dissemination of his teachings. This word of mouth method worked to a point but we know how quickly the teachings became diluted and distorted because succeeding generations didn’t have access to the source of the original message anymore.

Fortunately we don’t have that problem today with the Urantia revelation. By comparison, we can substitute the time Jesus spent training his apostles and disciples with our personal study of The Urantia Book. Today everyone and anyone can have direct access to the original message…  if they want it…

Will the Urantia revelation fare any better than past revelations given that it’s in book form? I say that it must. This little bundle of dynamite here contains the concentrated dose; the fountain head of revelatory knowledge. It has huge potential to herald in a modern day spiritual renaissance to our world. The apostles and disciples had to live with Jesus for years and literally sit at the “feet of the Master” to learn and absorb his teachings. Today we can read and study at our leisure to learn and absorb the teachings. But as with the apostles, the outcome of our studies and endeavours will be solely dependent on our ability to internalise the teachings and bear spiritual fruits in our service life.

So what’s expected of us devoted students of the book? We need to ask ourselves whether we think this book is actually meant for everyone to read. Are we supposed to be intent on “turning people on” to The Urantia Book, or is this book designed to train those individuals who are especially drawn to it, to spread the teachings in their own unique ways?

Given the nature of The Urantia Book, I think it’s highly unlikely that the book itself will have worldwide acceptance on any mass scale in the foreseeable future. The book has a credibility problem in today’s sceptical secular world because of its questionable origin and the fantastic (as in fantasy/sci-fi) nature of its content. How do we explain to ordinary, everyday people about it being sent to us by “invisible beings?”

But we do know the world is ready for the teachings in this book. Those who have embraced the book, have taken the time to study it and have been transformed by it ARE the teachers of the book’s teachings. If we look to the way Jesus shared his philosophy and wisdom and how he taught his apostles and disciples to teach we should be able to share this message without sounding too loopy; without bamboozling people with stories about midwayers, non-breathers and other strange terminology.

If twelve apostles and seventy ordained Kingdom Messengers were able to take the message of Jesus to the world, tip the Roman empire upside down, and create a religion that formed the moral basis to the most advanced and progressive civilisation on earth, what can hundreds of thousands of souls who embrace the Urantia teachings do?

The mind boggles to think of the power contained in this little “Big Blue Book.”

And on that note, I’d like to touch on one last comparison between Jesus methods of organising his “messengers of the kingdom” and our modern day Urantia organisations.

The people involved in these organisations of today are entirely focused on assisting readers with their study of The Urantia Book and the spreading of the book’s teachings. They are – in a sense – assisting in the mobilisation of the “messengers” of the Urantia teachings. They are giving readers opportunities to enhance their understanding of the teachings by providing invaluable networking and information services. They make events like this one possible, they support and encourage the formation of study groups, they provide a plethora of study aid material and other educational services, they provide information hubs in the form of communications, websites and social media, they support outreach programs.

Oh, and I haven’t mentioned that some of them ensure the book stays in print and keeps it original text unviolated, arranges translations and book distribution – the list goes on and on… And they all need helpers. Many a time I hear an exhausted volunteer sigh saying “the work is heavy but the labourers are few.”

The work of the Urantia organisations across the globe – collectively – can be likened to the work that went on in Jesus’ “enormous camp” that was established to train the messengers of the kingdom.

Each person who feels drawn to this book and fully embraces it possesses a limitless well of spiritual power to draw from and to teach the teachings in their own way in their own sphere of influence.

…If we know God, our real business on earth is so to live as to permit the Father to reveal himself in our lives …” [Paper 132:7.2, page 1466.2]

I know these next quotes are used a lot in this kind of context, but for me they’re so powerful it’s OK to keep re-visiting them:

Religion does need new leaders, spiritual men and women who will dare to depend solely on Jesus and his incomparable teachings. If Christianity persists in neglecting its spiritual mission … the spiritual renaissance must await the coming of these new teachers of Jesus’ religion who will be exclusively devoted to the spiritual regeneration of men. [Paper 195:9.4, page 2082.9] (emphasis mine)

All Urantia is waiting for the proclamation of the ennobling message of Michael, unencumbered by the accumulated doctrines and dogmas of nineteen centuries of contact with the religions of evolutionary origin. The hour is striking for presenting to Buddhism, to Christianity, to Hinduism, even to the peoples of all faiths, not the gospel about Jesus, but the living, spiritual reality of the gospel of Jesus. [Paper 94:12.7, page 1041.5] (emphasis mine)

I believe serious students of The Urantia Book could be who they are referring to here. Will we be wise enough to follow Jesus’ way of adapting the teachings to peoples’ level of education and experience, to their cultural heritage and level of comprehension? Will we be able to embellish the truths that already exist in their current belief systems without taking anything away from them?

Will we be able to share the teachings in the book without ever mentioning the book itself, or without even mentioning Jesus in the case of engaging with those who carry negative connotations about the terms “Jesus” and “Christianity”?

But if we’re going to share the teachings of Jesus with the world, please let’s remember this one:

But religious leaders are making a great mistake when they try to call modern man to spiritual battle with the trumpet blasts of the Middle Ages. Religion must provide itself with new and up-to-date slogans. … [Paper 195:6.10, page 2077.6]

Adaptability is the key…

There are no hard and fast rules about how we should go forth to “proclaim the gospel” but we do need to be wise, sagacious and spiritually fragrant if we wish to succeed. We have a great guide in the teachings of The Urantia Book. In-depth study of these teachings should be our highest priority coupled with our personal prayer life. Sharing ourselves and what we’ve learned with our fellows “as we pass by” should be a natural fruit of the spirit if we have a true desire to “do good to others.”

If we wish to take note of this lesson:

Of all human knowledge, that which is of greatest value is to know the religious life of Jesus and how he lived it. [Paper 196:1.3, page 2090.4]

…then we need to study The Urantia Book in its entirety over and over again so we get a good handle on the real Jesus and what his true message is.

And while we’re studying and serving our fellow man with our knowledge and insights, let make sure we tap into the Spirit of Truth and draw from that deep well of spiritual power.

Let’s make sure we address the Spirit of Truth in the people we mingle with and look upon them as our spiritual brothers and sisters in the universal family of our loving heavenly Father.