Teaching students how to think
Some people would hide or pretend they weren’t home, but not me. This was a dream situation for a youth pastor: two Jehovah’s Witnesses at my front door! Here were people who believed something different than me standing outside my house asking to talk with me. What made this even better is that they were two teenagers. In God’s providence, two students who didn’t know Jesus showed up at the house of a local youth pastor.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about that conversation. What I do remember is that I didn’t quickly reveal my motives in asking them questions and listening to their answers. After some time passed I explained to them that I worked at the church down the road. Through our conversation, it became clear to me that they knew how to explain what they believed, but didn’t know why they believed it. It was sad to see this—but it also reminded me of the typical teenagers in our evangelical churches who know a lot of information about God but who are unsure why they believe this or how it all fits together.
A lack of understanding by teenagers of why they believe the gospel, and the effects that it has on all of life, has crept into the youth ministry culture in our churches. This is a crisis that results from years of teenagers being told what to believe without being equipped with how to think about the truth on their own. It is as if someone has spoon-fed them information without allowing them to learn how to feed themselves. These years should serve as a safe training ground for the mind, of healthy exploration—while students have the safety of an adult who loves Jesus and loves them—instead of teens only thinking on their own once the safety nets are pulled away.
One way the church can continue to equip this next generation is by thinking with teenage students so that when they are adults they can think on their own. So how can we do this?
Teach students to think by reading the Bible with them
There are times to read the Bible to students and to teach them the truths found in God’s word. However, the teenage years are foundational times to equip students by reading the Bible with them. This allows students to have the space to think about what they are reading, ask questions, and come to conclusions with the guidance of an adult who cares for them. Besides all of this, the adult who is reading with them can learn a lot about the student by listening to the types of questions that they are asking. These conversations also shape students as they realize that the adults are learning the Bible alongside them.
Teach students to think by reading solid books with them
In God’s providence, we live in a time when we have a wealth of books that are biblically rich in content. Students don’t need to wait until they are adults to read these books. Imagine what could happen if you read through a book with an adolescent in the youth group at your church. They can read and digest it, while it gives you the ability to help them understand topics and think through how it applies to their life. This is very different from ‘story time’ where someone is just reading a book to someone else. Instead, it acts as a lab where thinking can take place between an adult and a teen. A recommended resource that adults can read with students is the Little Black Book series published by Matthias Media. These short books cover important topics and can serve as launching pads for conversations!
Teach students to think by encouraging them to serve in your church
Another key way of moving students toward maturity in Christ is to let their knowledge of God be worked out through serving others in the local church context. This serves the purpose of giving students a taste of what it means to be a servant, but it also allows them to think through the role of the local church in the life of a Christian from a different perspective. As students reflect on their experience serving others, they can talk it through with the adults who are equipping them for this service. Adolescent service in the church can include anything from assisting adults who are teaching Sunday school to children through to helping greet people as they come through the doors of the church each Sunday morning. These are acts of service that can set rhythms in their life of serving God and helping others learn how to think.
Not only do these ideas help students today, but it also cements in them the importance of equipping others! Teaching this generation to think can change the next generation and the one after it, as these students can one day replicate what they experience when they are adults in a church with teens! Let’s be a church that both teaches the truth and equips students to think about the truth on their own.