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Using parables to inspire and teach

Jesus used parables to teach. The word “parable” conjures up old-fashioned images. Can there be modern-day parables? Certainly. You can use parables to teach life lessons and theological concepts. But exactly how do you bring Jesus’ parables to life?

Find parables in daily life. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you’ll find heartwarming stories that mirror the parables Jesus told. Often, you can find inspiration as close as the daily newspaper. For instance:

  • Did you read about someone finding a wallet full of cash and returning it to its owner? This teaches a lesson in honesty and relates easily to the parable of the Dishonest Steward (Luke 16:1-18).
  • Do you know a person who welcomes back a husband, child or sibling who has made mistakes and been estranged? This story sounds like the Prodigal Son parable (Luke 15:11-32).
  • Elementary schoolchildren who fundraise for a worthy cause can be seen as modern-day versions of the widow in the Widow’s Mite parable (Mark 12:41-44).

You might consider several good books on the parables:

Become a storyteller. Write your own modern parable. A powerful sermon ties the ancient and beloved parables of the gospels to a modern-day account.

Use movies and other modern media to bring the parables to life for your congregation. Find films that relay the messages of the parables. Consider running a film series on Wednesday nights or Sunday afternoons. Perhaps make this a Sunday school offering for one class. For example, the story of Les Miserables is of offering grace and mercy to the undeserving. Doesn’t that sound like the parable of the Good Samaritan?

Include film clips in your sermon. These can help illustrate a parable-related lesson. Interjecting modern examples into sermons or discussions can bring ancient tales to life and make them relevant.

Whether you’re showing an entire movie or a clip, beware of copyright laws. Use royalty-free resources so you don’t violate a film’s copyright. You can obtain hundreds of free movies at On this site, you can find Oscar-winning moviesHitchcock filmsscience fiction classicsCharlie Chaplin favorites and more. All free.

The site also has a list of life-changing books you might explore for inspiration or pithy quotations.

You’ll need the appropriate CVLI license in order to show mainstream movies to your congregation. A CVLI license gives your church blanket copyright coverage for videos from more than 400 producers and studios. You can purchase a CVLI license at the United Methodist Communication's CVLI store.

As an added benefit to purchasing a CVLI license, you’ll receive a standard free membership to a service called ScreenVue. This service has thousands of illustration ideas from both major movies and Christian or independent titles. These are tailored for church use.

If you don’t want to purchase the CVLI license, you can use a service like WingClips. For a small fee, you can download pre-cleared clips for church use.

Use arts and crafts and theater to teach parables to children. As a Sunday school project, consider having elementary school classes read the parables. Invite each child to choose a parable. Then make puppet characters and put on a puppet show. This project is ideal for third- or fourth-graders.

You can make puppets from:

Once the children make the puppets, ask them to write simple dialogue that mirrors what happens in the parable. Ask them to put on a puppet show for the younger kids. For this, consider making a puppet theater. It’s relatively simple and inexpensive! Make sure the puppeteers give the name of the parable and explain the lesson in their own words.

People may see parables as old-fashioned writings that have no relevance to modern life. However, like many parts of the Bible, parables represent timeless lessons. You can use creativity and real-life stories to help your congregation — from the youngest to the oldest — relate the teachings of Jesus’ parables to their lives.

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