With many such parables [Jesus] spoke the Word to them, as they were able to hear and to comprehend and understand. He did not tell them anything without a parable; but privately to His disciples (those who were peculiarly His own) He explained everything [fully].

Mark 4:33-34 AMP


In school and in church, you’ve heard great teachers, mediocre teachers, and some downright awful ones. What made the great ones stand out from the crowd?

Most likely, the memorable ones used stories to connect with your life in ways that were personal, engaging, and relevant. Jesus did that. He taught with stories called “parables,” and those stories were drawn from real, everyday situations. His stories were engaging, and they allowed Him to apply deep spiritual truths to everyone. Young or old, male or female, educated or simple, everyone could relate to His stories and understand His life-changing words.

Here are some practical ways we can follow Jesus’ example as we use stories to teach important lessons in our small groups:


Look for lessons in ordinary situations.

Children give us many day-to-day examples to use when teaching. For example, have you ever asked your children to do something only to be met with whining, complaining, and dragging of feet? Even if the child eventually gave in and did what was asked, you probably couldn’t describe the little angel as “obedient.”

You don’t have to be a parent to connect with a story like this. Anyone who’s seen other parents struggle with their kids knows the frustration of watching unruly kids drag themselves through the motions of obedience. We’ve all been there.


Make the lessons engaging.

Writers are taught, “Show, don’t tell,” and this advice applies to teaching as well. Use words to paint the scene for your listeners. Describe the tone of voice used by the characters, the environment where the action took place, and who was within earshot.

Jesus painted the scene for his listeners. For example, from the parable of the prodigal son:

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.  Luke 15:20-24 ESV


Finally, help listeners understand the main point.

Early in my teaching career, I discovered that just because a connection between an anecdote and a lesson was perfectly clear to me, students didn’t always see the connection for themselves. Sometimes they needed help making the application to the main point.

So now, though the application may seem obvious to me, I have learned to be intentional as I use everyday stories to explain spiritual truths. Jesus gave us His example in Mark 4:34 (AMP): “but privately to His disciples (those who were peculiarly His own) He explained everything [fully].”


Your turn

Can you add any ideas for using personal stories in teaching?