Sunday School is about the gospel. Teaching the gospel is often about finding new ways to say the same thing. Illustrating the gospel with an analogy or a visual representation often helps students understand the gospel better. Here are three ideas for illustrating the truth of the gospel:
The Dirty Shirt: Ask for two volunteers. Take a clean white shirt and hold it up in front of the students. Put it on one of the students. Explain that human beings were created (in the garden) with clean shirts. As sin entered the human population the shirt was marked by sin. Mark the shirt with black pen/paint/food dye. Explain that Jesus came as one who is clean. Hold up another, clean, white shirt. Put it on the other student. Explain that Jesus “wore” our sin on the cross, he exchanges the clean shirt for the dirty shirt. He wears our sin and we wear his righteousness. As he bleeds on the cross all our sin is covered by his blood. Mark over the black marks with red marks. And we are given his righteous, clean shirt. Place the clean shirt on the first student.
The Horrible Question: (this works especially well with middle school). Ask your group: “How do you get into heaven?” Take as many answers as you can. You might be surprised at the answers. Often they will miss the point, that you cannot get into heaven – there is nothing you can do. Tell them this, emphasize it – “there is nothing you can do, nothing!” This will, hopefully, produce silence (and a little shock). Then tell them the gospel. That no one goes to heaven because of what they have done; they go because of what Jesus has done, because of the grace of God.
The Trolley Story: This is adapted from a famous ethics dilemma and, like all illustrations of the gospel, cannot do it justice. A man is driving a trolley down the track. He sees five people down the track and knows that they will not be able to get out of the way. Then he sees that he could steer the trolley onto another track, but doing so will kill one person on that track. He veers the trolley to kill the one so that many would be saved. The one he killed was his son.
You will notice that each version uses a different method even if it is attempting to communicate a similar message. The first was interactive, required role play and was highly visual. The second was discussion based – the class does most of the work while the teacher draws the conclusion. The final example was narrative based and attempts to draw a mental picture of an idea in a form requiring an emotional sense of the gospel from the father’s perspective.
Any gospel illustration is always incomplete (in fact, some say any gospel illustration is always a heresy!) and can only point to the proclamation itself, so don’t leave the illustration hanging; instead use the illustration to explain the good news about Jesus.