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During the last decade, I have worked as a high school teacher and volunteered in various student ministry roles. In that time, I have learned two major lessons regarding teaching students:
- Students tend to meet your level of expectation for them.
- The best teachers train students to learn on their own.
Failure to set high expectations for students creates a path for them to perform at a lower level than they’re capable of. Any great teacher I’ve spent time around gets the most out of their students by training them to own their learning. Students excel when the expectations are high and they know they have the tools to reach them. Don’t doubt what your students can do. A student’s typical schedule might consist of going from calculus to anatomy to British literature to football. Many of your students are impressively capable. We don’t need to dumb anything down or believe that in-depth, personal study of Scripture is too difficult for them. Instead, we should encourage students to pursue Christ richly in His Word on their own.
In the New Testament context, the word for a follower of Christ, “disciple,” was used to describe someone as a learner. Specifically, a disciple was a learner who followed the instructions of a great teacher. If our mission is to create disciples, we should develop learners that follow Christ. We live in a biblically illiterate culture, and students often struggle to reconcile what they believe, what the world says, and what Scripture teaches. So, to help students grow and become learners, here are a few things we can do:
Not all sermons come easy. Some texts are just challenging and require some serious study to preach well. Texts that experienced believers find difficult will be especially tough for students to approach. I’ve always valued preachers that walk through some of the difficulties they’ve had with passages, as that simple action encouraged me to ask questions and seek answers.
If you struggle with a passage, students likely will as well. Students value authenticity, so let them have some insight into your prep and how you arrived at your conclusions. Teaching this way will enable students to better connect the message of Scripture with their current lives and culture.
Explaining context is a vital part of any sermon, but anyone who teaches the Bible should preach context as well. Similar to providing background information from the stage, youth leaders should push students in small groups or Bible studies to understand the context of their reading. In a culture that is less and less biblically literate, students have difficulty gaining the intended meaning from a text. Instead, they tend to input their meaning on a passage ripped out of context. Helping students understand what is being communicated to the original hearers and why will help build their biblical understanding and confidence in Scripture.
God has blessed His Church with many resources to deepen their faith. Of course, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to us as a Helper to lean on, but He has also given us the gift of the Church. Most of us have been blessed by the work of other believers, and we currently have access to more resources than ever – books, sermons, podcasts, videos, and even social media. Students are not too young or unintelligent to begin using these resources themselves. Mention resources that you used in preparation for sermons or Bible studies as a means of helping students to discern quality resources. A student that begins using other resources to better understand Scripture will start to find answers to their questions.
Students value authenticity. Encourage them to visit you with questions, especially after preaching or teaching difficult topics or passages. Ask other ministers on staff if they’re willing to answer students’ questions as well. One of the marks of a learner beginning to own their learning is asking questions. Be encouraged when students ask questions; they’re seeking answers and trust you enough to be vulnerable to ask.
Unfortunately, students get their theology from all over the place (I can’t tell you how many discussions I’ve had with students that get angelology from Supernatural). Challenge them with questions, not in a condescending manner but as a way to clarify the origin of their beliefs. Gen Z is increasingly comfortable picking and choosing their beliefs from various places. Asking why they think or believe a certain way can give you opportunities to put their beliefs up against God’s Word.
The Bible truly comes to life when we use it in prayer. Model this habit for students when you pray. Thank the Lord for His Word in your prayers, quote Scripture back to God, and encourage students to do the same. Praying the Word is a surefire way for it to sink into your students’ hearts and encourages Scripture memorization. Speaking of memorization, push your students to memorize Scripture. Don’t challenge students with anything you would not do, so memorize Scripture with them!
One of the best gifts we can give students who graduate from our ministries is a love for Scripture and the tools to study it. Students are completely capable of growing into disciples driven to know Scripture deeply because of their love for it, and it’s part of our job to teach them how to do it.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- What tools or strategies do you use to encourage a love for studying Scripture in your students? Of the above tips, which ones have you used before? What was your experience? Of the ones you haven’t implemented, which do you think would be most helpful to you and your ministry?