We continue series with Northern Seminary DMin grads who summarize their chapter from Wise Church.

This post is by Dave Johnston

At 27, Lisa Piccirillo, started her tenure-track position as assistant professor of Mathematics at MIT. Piccirillo says, “we need to avoid inviting speakers to math conferences who try to show how smart they are and how hard they researched. This is not good for young people who feel like they don’t belong.” She continues, “what those people in the audience don’t know is that nobody else really understands it either.”[1] Many a church crowd, like these math conferences, are filled with listeners who have no idea what we as teachers are talking about. These are not opportunities to show how smart we are instead we need to teach and preach like Jesus.

My Wise Teaching chapter in Wise Church, surveys Jesus’ parable of the Sower with the goal of preaching like Jesus in a way where our teaching creates a wisdom culture in our church or ministry. A common question from Jesus’ parable of parables is “which type of soil am I?” Whereas a better question would be “Am I hearing from Jesus?”

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus drew huge crowds. There was an irresistible enigma to him. He is the ultimate charismatic teacher and leader. What is it about Jesus' teaching and his style of teaching that was so attractive? Jesus’ teachings require discernment. Wise teaching is teaching that requires discernment. As we, his listeners, spend time in these discernment drenched episodes of Jesus’ teachings, a wisdom culture emerges. The greatest example of these teachings is Jesus’ parables:

  1. Parables are fun to read and full of color.
  2. Parables seem to utilize common everyday relatable stories.
  3. Jesus is speaking the language of the prophets, yet we need to approach them as if they are wisdom literature.
  4. Parables contain an element of mystery and hiddenness.
  5. Parables deconstruct our assumptions and give us a glimpse into the Kingdom of God.
  6. Parables use vivid imagery to stimulate thinking.
  7. Parables require discernment.

Many of these simple parabolic images are in fact riddles, metaphors, and allegory. There seems to be lack of understanding, mystery, or hiddenness in Jesus’ parables. The appropriate response to this hiddenness is to discern. This parable creates space for a response. Parables hide and reveal, but discernment is key to moving from just hearing to hearing and understanding. It is during this time of discernment we internalize his words and put them into practice. Discernment is the time between hearing the word and living the word.

The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4.3-20; Matt 13.3-23; and Luke 8.5-15)

One common approach to the Parable of the Sower is to focus too much on the seeds and soil. As if those hearing must determine which seed or soil type they are. This approach misses the thrust of the parable and is virtually devoid of discernment. Instead of this individualistic charted approach we need an insightful chartered approach. Instead of explaining everything, let those listening spend some time in the parable. Jesus tells us, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,

“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? (Mark 4.11-13 NIV)

The Parable of the Sower is framed with Isaiah 6 in mind, and the parable, the interpretation, and the quotation are unified. This connection between the calling of Isaiah in Isaiah 6 and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry are rarely mentioned. It’s important to deal with the complexity of Jesus’ teaching resulting in his rejection--just like Isaiah. Many will not hear Jesus. The take-away from this parable is not “which soil are you?” but “are you hearing from Jesus?” Hearing is the main point of this parable. Wise teaching that disrupts our status quo and our current way of thinking, requires reflection and discernment. We need to hear Jesus and his message, discern that message in community, and commit to live for him by following him.

We must allow those listening to our sermons to engage the discernment process in community. When your sermon is over if you haven’t revealed all your cards, and if you have maintained humility and given the Spirit space to work then those hearing should want to discuss the implications with other believers. This is crucial to creating a wisdom culture. This is where God’s people find ways to obey Jesus.

As a result of our teaching, do people hear from Jesus? Do our sermons, lessons, and devotional thoughts result in people hearing from Jesus? Do they have time to discern his message? When this happens, we are creating a wisdom culture in our church. To emulate Jesus’ teaching, we need to teach in a way that results in our hearers “hearing.”

[1] John Wolfson, “A Math Problem Stumped Experts for 50 Years. This Grad Student from Maine Solved It in Days,” Boston Globe, August 20, 2020, A math problem stumped experts for 50 years. This grad student from Maine solved it in days.