How Would Jesus Teach?
- Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Personally, this has been one of the most difficult years of ministry in my eight years of experience. It’s not because of kids’ schedules, a difference of opinions with church leaders or not having enough adult volunteers. Those things always have been issues. What makes this year so different and more difficult for me is that I decided to stop teaching.
I consider my gift for teaching students one of my biggest strengths. For the first seven years of my ministry, there always would be a time in youth group when I would get up and teach my students everything I knew about Jesus. Kids kept coming, learning and growing. Still, something eventually started to bug me.
As I spent time with students outside youth group, they would ask questions. Often, I already had answered the same questions in great talks given in previous months. Their questions made me feel like my teaching and perfectly executed answers were going in one ear and out the other. Was I just wasting our time?
As I began to pray about this and figure out what to do, I got a suggestion from my senior pastor that I didn’t like. It wasn’t because the idea was outdated or not culturally relevant, but something completely different: pride!
His idea was for me to stop teaching every week, and instead, focus on having discussions with the group. I should let the kids share their opinions about different ideas, point them to different scriptures relevant to our topic and allow them to disagree and challenge one another to be like Christ. This meant I would lose my coveted time to teach and be up front, providing the answers.
As I began to work though this new idea in my own heart, I was challenged by a simple realization: This was how Jesus taught.
HWJT (How Would Jesus Teach?)
By our standards, Jesus was a horrible teacher. He didn’t teach from perfectly outlined three-point sermons. He didn’t have clever hooks and easy-to-understand adages and acronyms; and His points didn’t always start with the same letter. Instead, His “classes” were confusing, frustrating, short and a huge turn off. It seems to me that when Jesus taught, His pupils tended to walk away and never come back.
Was Jesus trying to confuse people on purpose? Was He trying to hide the gospel from them? I don’t think so. Instead, I think He was inviting the crowds and disciples to enter into something much deeper.
Jesus could have given all the answers the disciples needed in a clear and concise way. He could have pulled out His flannel graph or His PowerPoint presentation and waxed eloquent, explaining the Roman Road, thereby having droves coming down the aisle at the altar call. Instead, Jesus understood what we tend to overlook: People don’t need answers. They got plenty of those from religious teachers. What they need is a relationship with the Answer.
Jesus as Model Youth Worker?
Our kids are no different than the people in Jesus’ day. They have no shortage of answers to life’s most important questions at their fingertips. What often is missing is a deep, personal connection to the Answer who could impact their daily lives. In order to help our students better connect with Jesus, as opposed to downloading answers in Sunday School, we need to change the way we are teaching.
First, we need to learn how to be part of the conversation with our students. I have seen a world of difference between teaching my students versus engaging them in a conversation. Suddenly, the dazed looks on their faces are fading; I can see their minds processing data more deeply than before. They ask questions and engage in topics instead of regurgitating answers.
Second, we need to be authentic with our students when engaging them in conversation. They don’t need us to be super-Christians who make having a relationship with Jesus look impossible. They need adults who will walk through life with them, willingly being open and honest about their lives—the good, the bad and the ugly.
Third, we need to learn a phrase I have borrowed from my senior pastor: I don’t know. Sometimes we take difficult questions about God and make them seem easy to answer when they aren’t. By doing this, we minimize the mystery and greatness of God, to which our students are drawn. Being honest about the things we struggle to understand provides a great opportunity for discipleship as we revisit the issue with our students and search for clarity together.
Fourth, another phrase we need to learn is: What does everyone else think? I have found this does two things: It helps other volunteer leaders feel like they are contributing to the group, and it helps students engage in the conversation, which helps them feel important and meaningful within the group. Asking this also will leave you surprised about what you will learn about God, faith and the Bible from your students.
Fifth, we need to challenge the answers. When you are talking about a subject, don’t go into the conversation presenting only your church’s “correct” theological answer. Instead, contradict the “right” answer and play Devil’s Advocate by asking a lot of questions. Use passages that seem to contradict one another (i.e., free will vs. predestination) or that seem out of date (Leviticus). Challenging the answers helps students really think about what they believe and profess.
Sixth, we need to leave our students hanging sometimes. When your conversation is nearing an end, resist the urge to reveal which answer is “right.” Challenge them to keep wrestling with the issue. Give them weekly Scripture readings to help them continue the learning process at home. Suggest books, articles and Web sites that will drive them deeper. Teach parents how to carry on these conversations outside of youth group.
We cannot continue to fill our students’ heads with answers and hope they make it in college and beyond because of the sound theology they received. We need to shift our methods to encourage them to go deeper into a conversation with Jesus and Scripture.
In the end, some of our students will disagree with us, but at least those who are on the same page will know why they are. They will have owned their own decisions because they went through a process to form those beliefs.By changing the way we engage our students, they will graduate with a deeper understanding of their relationship with Christ and how His Word affects the way they live. This will lead to better apologetics, better Christian living and more evangelism because students will have more than pat answers. They will have Jesus—the best thing we can give them.
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