Lesson 5: Jesus Taught Adults

Methods of Jesus.05

Lesson Five: Jesus Taught Adults

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this learning module the class facilitator should be able to demonstrate:

  • Teaching methods best used for educating adults as compared to methods used for children.
  • Facilitation approaches for abstract versus concrete reasoning.
  • How to facilitate self-directed learning.

Adults think differently and face diverse life situations from children and adolescents. As noted in previous modules, Jesus used methods such as problem solving, critical thinking, and adapting to teachable moments for teaching adults. There are other distinct differences in adult learning that would be well for the class facilitator to address. Awareness of these characteristics can make the difference between a mediocre class facilitator and one who is highly effective.

Reasoning Ability

It is commonly understood by religious educators that adults learn primarily by processing information. Adults are normally able to relate multiple facts to complex relationships apart from reference to visible diagrams or tangible objects. Developmental progressive reasoning is seen in Sabbath School classes:

  • Preoperational thinking (Cradle Roll)
  • Operational thinking (Kindergarten-Primary)
  • Concrete reasoning (Junior)
  • Abstract reasoning (Adult)

The apostle Paul says: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). Small children, for example, will often choose a nickel rather than a dime if offered their choice of either, because the nickel is larger. This may be repeated even after the child is instructed concerning relative values.

Older children will choose the dime because they understand that value is sometimes based on the quality of the material rather than the size. When children are ready to enter the junior department of the Sabbath School, they are usually ready for concrete reasoning. They are developmentally able to reason from cause to effect when dealing with tangible material, basic logic, or clearly discernable concepts.

When a person is able to weigh multiple facts and come to conclusions through critical thinking, they are on the way to mature faithas long as they allow the Holy Spirit to operate in their experience.

Concrete and abstract reasoning. When educating children of junior age regarding the authority of the Bible, it is appropriate to ask simple, direct questions about the nature of inspiration and revelation: “What did the scribes do that shows the Bible to be authoritative?” If juniors knew that the scribes counted the number of letters and checked to make sure the letter in the middle was the same as the original, it would be quite easy for them to reason from this that the Bible is accurate. This is concrete reasoning. As valuable as it is, if adult education is limited to concrete reasoning, adults may lack experience in evaluating more complex issues.

Adults are faced with difficult challenges when addressing the nature of inspiration and revelation. They may notice apparent discrepancies, for example, between the synoptic gospel accounts or various versions of the Bible. They may observe changes in New Testament wording of Old Testament quotations. Adults should be able to understand that differing testimonies report the same truth from different perspectives. Facts that are parts of the whole supplement rather than contradict other facts. They can understand that it is not necessary to use the exact wording of Old Testament Scripture to convey absolute truth. On the other hand, juniors may not have developed the abstract reasoning skills to understand how “thought” or “plenary” inspiration works.

Consider evaluation and judgment. Adults are also capable of abstract spiritual insights. Jesus asked: “The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?” (Matt. 21:25). The answer required evaluation.

According to recognized learning taxonomies, evaluation is the highest level of learning. Evaluation requires the basics of knowledge, understanding, and application, but goes a step beyond. It requires enough ability in all these areas to make comparisons and expert judgments. When a person is able to weigh multiple facts and come to conclusions through critical thinking, they are on the way to mature faith—as long as they allow the Holy Spirit to operate in their experience.

The Adult Persona

The expert class facilitator faces challenges, however, in the process of leading adults to the application level. Adults come to class with definite ideas. Their personalities and beliefs may be set and even rigid. They have greater exposure to ideas and experience. Consequently they are often resistant to change.

Self-direction. According to Marilowe and Reed, adults learn through their own efforts. They can be guided, encouraged, excited, and motivated by an outside force, but the learner must do the changing. This change occurs when adults “do” something—discuss, think, debate, practice. Adults must “internalize” the material so that it becomes their own (Creative Bible Learning for Adults). “It is this characteristic of the adult’s need to direct their own learning, plus the use of life experience as a learning resource that most clearly characterizes adult learning” (S. D. Brookfield, Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning, p. 25).

There is a fear factor. Many adults fear showing their ignorance or failing a class environment. This no doubt results from the fact that they have had more exposure to the emphasis society places on knowledge and competence. For this reason facilitators should avoid singling out individuals with questions and expecting answers according to their strong opinion. Members should feel free to admit their ignorance, ask for clarification, or search for truth without ridicule.

Freedom must reign. Adults will not be coerced. They want to know why they should learn specific things. This is especially true of the Baby Boomer and Gen-X adults. In times past people may have studied material because it was deemed essential by church leaders. Adult class members are inclined to determine whether or not it is relevant to their lives before they spend time with it. When approaching the topic of the authority of Scripture it would be well for the class facilitator to show links between sound doctrine and abundant life as well as eternal security.

How Jesus Facilitated Self-directed Learning

He engaged learners. Consider His interaction with Simon the Pharisee at the feast in his home. If any class of people were set in their ways and resistant to change, it would have been the Pharisees. Simon considered Mary’s sins as too great to be forgiven. Jesus knew that Simon needed to change his beliefs as well as his attitudes (Signs of the Times, May 9, 1900).

Rather than simply pointing out Simon’s faulty understanding, Jesus asked him to evaluate the likely effect upon the two debtors who were forgiven (Luke 7:41, 42). In order to answer, Simon had to compare his life experience with human nature and that of his knowledge of rabbinic teaching. When Simon came to his own conclusion that the person forgiven most would love most, he gained immediate insight into the manner in which redemptive love operates. Jesus then called attention to Simon’s need to demonstrate love in the form of offering common courtesies. Jesus paved the way for Simon to examine his own heart and realize that he needed forgiveness. Jesus did this without attacking, condemning, or forcing him to change. He did not embarrass him by exposing his sin. Simon remained free to make his own application.

Jesus encouraged involvement. Adult learners have much to contribute. They have had a lifetime of experience, informal and often formal education. For this reason they may feel frustrated if they are not allowed to share. This is a plus when it comes to small group discussion of the lesson and modeling of biblical principles. Those who would be expert class facilitators must learn to guide class members into sharing vital information and experiences relative to the biblical principles being addressed.

Jesus made practical applications. Adults are accustomed to immediate application of learning. They want to know how it relates to their life and if it will work. They are more interested in practice than theory. Adults have limited time and must concentrate on learning what is vital to daily living. This is why life-related discussion of the lesson is so essential and motivating for adult Sabbath School members.

Learning Exercises

  • Ask class members to read the accounts of the resurrection in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and analyze the apparent discrepancies. Be ready to lead them into a clear solution, e.g., The Desire of Ages blends the accounts.
  • Ask participants to evaluate their thoughts when they noticed the differences. Note that the resurrection of Jesus is the most essential truth of the Bible. Ask what was happening to that truth when they were approaching it critically.
  • Discuss which methods of analyzing Scripture are constructive and which methods are deceptive. Be ready to lead the class to a summary statement.

Sample Summary Statement: “Our method of approach to the dark places of Scripture is synthetic and integrating; that is, in the case of apparent contradictions, we assume as a working hypothesis that both poles are correct and seek to trace connecting wires between them. The negative critic, on the other hand, employs an analytic and disjunctive method; that is, he assumes ultimate contradiction and sharpens the difficulties to make his point” (Clark H. Pinnock, Biblical Revelation, p. 179).


James Kilmer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists