The other day I was reading in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus’ early ministry had a very clearly defined communication style. In Mark 4:33-34, Jesus is noted as presenting the Word through many parables. As many of us know from Sunday school, parables were the primary way in which people understood what he was saying to them.
The part that struck me here, though, was the exclusiveness of his style, as stated in verse 34: “he did not say anything to them without using a parable”. Jesus didn’t simply use parables as an alternative for the really dumb ones in the crowd. Illustrative teaching through simple, fictional stories was his only public method.
Why? Well, for one, the larger the crowd, the shorter the attention span. In large crowds, people don’t have the opportunity for the dialogue and feedback that comes from real analysis. “Tweaking” a person’s spirit through the parable is best suited for such one way, mass communication. On the other hand, the debate that comes from tackling deeper issues is best left to an environment in which people are free to discuss and discern the truth.
I had a conversation the other day with two colleagues about a particular large church. One made the comment that the pastor there preaches issues- this week about the death penalty, the next about abortion, etc. I made the comment that issue preaching wasn’t my style and that I thought the pulpit was for the presentation of the Word, the Word being Jesus.
One of my colleagues argued with me, saying when do you go about the process of discipleship by tackling tough issues? Small groups, was my answer. Mark 4:34 says that Jesus goes into depth with his small group of disciples, and discusses and dialogues about the meaning of the parables. Earlier in Mark 4 is an outline of one of these discussions.
But the public presentation of the Word was in the form of little morsels, through metaphors, to tweak the receiver to ponder life in Christ- the casting of vision on the kingdom of heaven by the presentation of truth in easily understood pieces.
This should be our model. The purpose of media is not to further complexify a sometimes already tough presentation of abstract ideas like “grace”. Media isn’t even to echo the oral presentation through points and scriptures on the screen, no matter how colorful. Media is an ideal medium for the parable function of today. Jesus used the story form of parables through orality; we can use the story form of parables through digital media.
What does this look like? Think about those parables. I encourage you to open up Mark 4 real quick and read Jesus’ stories. Each was a simple story, with one main point.
While I was at Ginghamsburg, a youth named Ryan Douglas organized a multimedia summer camp for children. The kids (there was an initial 35 person limit, but 80 signed up, so Ryan made it work) were split into 5 groups and spent the week with a single parable. Their task: to recreate the story through the 5 distinct mediums of photography, computer graphics, sculpture, stop-motion animation, and video. The last day of the camp was a celebration of the kids’ incredible creations; we even used excerpts of their videos in worship to present certain Bible texts for the weekend. And many of the campers, as well as the helpers, said they (finallly) understood the parables because they created new stories on the same themes.
Verse 33 says that Jesus spoke in parables “as much as they could understand”, or “as they were able to hear”. In other words, they were getting it! The Gospels outline sections where there are a series of Jesus statements, starting out “the kingdom of heaven is like?Ãƒâ€žÂ¶” Jesus often got on a roll, and filled up his audience with juicy thoughts, as much as they could handle.
We produced a series of parable-like visual stories while at Ginghamsburg Church, such as one in which my colleague and friend Jason Moore parodied the Crocodile Hunter (from Animal Planet) doing a program on the vine and the branches (John 15). It was a simple explanation of a deeper idea, with one primary point. Find opportunities to tell parables for our digital generation in worship, and start producing.