As much as I would like it to be so, experiential teaching does not appear to be a mainstay of Paul’s ministry, but Paul did advocate and promote one experiential activity that was central to the life of the early church.
This experiential activity is common today in churches around the world. Jesus initiated this experiential activity, and it appeared again and again in Paul’s church planting and pastoral ministry.
We are, of course, referring to the Lord’s Supper. Before we see how Paul used this experiential activity, a look at its meaning will provide some context for Paul’s experiential teaching.
The Lord’s Supper is so named because the Lord Jesus Himself instituted it on the night of His arrest.
Another reason for the significance of the Lord’s Supper is its link to the Passover, a feast that has served as an experiential activity for Israel since the time of Moses.
Many of the elements of the Passover seder are essentially experiential activities designed to teach the participants. God established the Passover celebration in Exodus 12:21-27 when, through Moses, He provided these instructions:
"Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants…. And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'" (Exodus 12:17-24, 26-27)
Originally, the Passover celebration was an experiential reminder of what God did to spare His people the death He inflicted on the Egyptians (v. 23), to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, to bring them out of bondage (v. 17), and to guide them to the promised land (v. 25).
It was not just talking about what happened, nor was it an object lesson that you watched someone perform. Everyone was involved in eating the Passover meal that some of them had worked to prepare.
During this special and historically significant Passover meal, every faithful Jew ate unleavened bread, roasted a lamb (no bones were broken when it was slaughtered), and dipped bitter herbs into saltwater before eating them.
Later, the seder—a Hebrew word referring to an order of service—became formalized, adding various symbolic elements like raw vegetables dipped in a tart liquid and a pasty mixture of nuts, fruit, and wine.
Observant Jews remembered the original Passover event in Egypt as they experienced the seder through their senses of sight, smell, texture, and taste.
Traditionally, the highlight of the seder is when the son asks his father, “Why is this night different from other nights?” The father responds with a synopsis of “God’s redemptive dealings with Israel that led to deliverance from Egypt.”
The Exodus events—beginning with God’s calling Moses to lead His people (Exodus 3) through to their entrance into the promised land (Joshua 1)—are central to Israel’s understanding that they are God’s people.
Celebrating with the experiential Passover meal reminded them of how God had worked to make Israel—including the boys and girls of Israel—His people.
Celebrating the Passover with Jesus
During the last week of His life, Jesus celebrated this traditional experiential activity with His disciples, but the Lord elevated its meaning to a level of majesty no Jew would have imagined.
At this Last Supper, Jesus wanted His closest followers to understand in a revolutionary new way the holy meal and the event it commemorated.
Consider these lessons:
- Jesus is the Passover Lamb.
- The shedding of Jesus’ blood causes eternal death to pass over children who trust Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord.
- As a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection, children experience freedom from slavery to sin, and they enter a new land where He reigns as King.
The Last Supper was a dramatic experiential announcement that through the death of Jesus—our Passover Lamb—our sins are forgiven; we can know freedom from slavery to sin; and we are a new people, God’s Kingdom people, when we confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
In the same way that the Passover defined and established Israel as the people of God, Jesus’ death and resurrection defined and established Christians as the people of God.
Paul’s understanding of the Passover and Jesus’ fulfillment of its prophetic aspect is evident when the apostle addressed the Corinthian church about issues that had arisen around their celebration of a seder: “Some of you go ahead with your own private suppers.
As a result, one person remains hungry, and another gets drunk” (1 Corinthians 11:21). The Corinthians’ approach to the Last Supper directly conflicted with the unifying purpose of the feast.
Paul understood that followers of Christ were the family that God had promised to Abraham (Galatians 3:7, 16) and that they were to live according to the reality that they are one unified people. Members of Christ’s Kingdom are reconciled to God as well as to each other (Ephesians 2:14-22).
Jesus’ death and resurrection defined a new people, and they—including their children—are to be a unified people just as we and our children today are to be a unified people.
We could go on in our interpretation of the passage, but for our purposes we should simply note that the Last Supper had become an important element of Paul’s ministry. It was an experiential activity associated with the message of the original Passover.
Paul knew that engaging Christ-followers in this way made the gospel message an experiential reality. When the body of Christ was spoken of, it was with the taste and texture of the bread in the mouth.
When the meaning of Christ’s shed blood was taught, it was with the taste of wine on the palate.
Paul’s use of this experiential activity in his ministry shows the power of experiential teaching and the crucial role that experience can play in the learning process.
In fact, experiential teaching is an essential element in EGM’s work with children: designing experiences that connect God’s Word to the children’s real life has been very impactful.
To sum it up, an experiential activity makes the Bible Truth being taught more real, more relevant, and more memorable.
The Courage of a Child
It was about ten years ago. The church was in El Menya, Egypt, and the Bible Truth was from Jonah 1, where God called Jonah to travel to Nineveh and preach to the people about their sinfulness.
The lesson aim was for the children to understand that they can do difficult things because God will help them. The experiential activity involved throwing dried beans into dog-food-sized cans that were more than 25 feet away.
The children were divided up into six teams of five, and each child had the opportunity to throw ten beans into their team’s can. Each bean was worth one point, and the winning team would receive a prize.
It is also worth mentioning that in addition to being far away from the can, the bean-throwers were blindfolded.
At the end of the first round, no team had any points. After a second round and still no success, the children were frustrated. For round three, the cans were only two feet away from the bean-throwers, and each child could lean forward and pretty much drop their beans into the can.
In addition, they took off their blindfolds. Surprise! Everyone succeeded. When the children gathered for the Bible Truth, they talked about how difficult the bean challenge was at first and how it became so much easier.
The teacher explained that they were going to hear about a man in the Bible who God asked to do something very difficult and who, instead of trusting God for help, tried to run away. The teaching of the Bible Truth followed, and then came the Discussion and Response.
The next day at school, one of the eight-year-old girls in that class was on the swing set, and she began to talk about Jesus Christ with her Muslim friend.
Learning about the conversation, the girl’s older Christian sister and her sister’s friends explained to her that she was going to get in big trouble.
In Egypt it is against the law to share the Christian message with a Muslim. In fact, it is a capital offense. If the Muslim girl were to accept Christ, she, too, could be charged with a capital offense.
Although that law still stands, it wasn’t and isn’t commonly enforced. However, the potential for some bad things to happen was very real. Horrible riots had sometimes been sparked and stoked by incidents just like this one.
The little girl explained to her sister and her sister’s friends that God calls us to talk about Jesus with other people and that when He asks us to do difficult things, He helps us.
Over the following few days, the little girl continued to witness to her friend—and she did this despite her Christian friends’ warnings. After several days, the father of the Muslim girl called the father of the witnessing Christian girl and asked to meet with him.
More than a little nervous, the Christian father had several members of his church ready in the adjacent room in case the meeting led to violence. These Christian brothers were ready to step in if necessary.
The Muslim father arrived and sat down amicably for tea. After the perfunctory social graces, the Muslim father explained to his counterpart that his daughter’s behavior had changed over the past few days—and it had changed for the better.
When he asked her about it, his daughter explained that the improvement was due to her Christian friend. The man asked the Christian father what his daughter had heard.
Amazed by this turn of events, by this opportunity to share the gospel—and to be led by the Holy Spirit—the Christian father explained the message of salvation and the Christian life to the Muslim man.
After he finished, the Muslim man left—and then returned with his entire family. The Christian father repeated the message he had shared with the father, and every member of the family repented of their sin and surrendered their life to Christ.
The family joined a secretive Christian fellowship that meets regularly in El Menya, and I believe this family continues to follow Jesus Christ today.
What a powerful example of experiential teaching helping to reduce the gap between truth and practice, between Sunday school lessons from the Bible and a child’s everyday life at home and at school.
Experiential teaching engages a child with God’s Word in transformational ways. This account is one of hundreds of such stories of the Lord blessing a child’s experience with His truth.