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Teaching that Transforms

I was ready to call it all off. On the surface they were getting it. They could repeat my main point, apply it to hypothetical situations, analyze and critique. They could explain why it was important, and they wanted to live it out. Still, underneath the mental assent, they were not getting it. I had spent 10 hours in message prep, yet there was no visible change, just more content that I had passed along.

My assumptions about teaching and learning were centered on transmitting information. I was the dump truck that delivered the goods directly into their brains. I basically saw them as empty vessels, holes even, in need of filling. Besides not being very effective, I believe I suffered from a low view of the Imago Dei in those I taught.

Then I discovered something the church has known for a very long time. God’s Word, church history and good educational theory convinced me to use a much fuller, three-dimensional approach in my discipleship and teaching practice: The Head, The Heart and The Hands.

Dimension #1: The Head (Rational Dimension)
Rooted in the approach of doctrinal revelation, I found myself teaching solely in this area. My thoughts were: God has spoken; thus, we should know what He has revealed to us. We are to renew our minds and know the truth.

I like J.B. Phillips’ translation of Romans 12:1-2: “Don’t let this world squeeze you into its mold.” We find that truth is liberating. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). We find that truth actually sanctifies us! “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Truth is essential. We must learn to think God’s thoughts. Regular Bible exposure is essential to Christian living.

Of course there is a danger here of confusing the process of accomplishment with our ultimate goal. We cannot confuse biblical knowledge with spiritual maturity. Just because we or our students can quote, teach and argue the Bible does not mean we are transformed by it. Memorization and orthodoxy are a means to an end. It is possible to know a great deal of Scripture and not be spiritually mature. Knowledge is necessary but not sufficient. However, it is not possible to be spiritually mature without knowing Scripture.

The question each of us should ask about our teaching is, “What do I want my students to know?”

Check out the whole article here for dimensions 2, 3 and practical tips! Thanks to YouthWorker for publishing this piece!

Teaching Engine #2: Generative Themes

Sound theology

Many of us try to find a hook for our messages. Throwing out a good story or some shocking stats buys attention, at least for a time. Often these feel forced or contrived. We spend immense amounts of work and energy just to generate interest. What if there was an additional and more powerful way to tap into ideas, themes, and questions that could generate growth? Generative themes provide the engine for us to tap into where students are ready and wanting to grow.

The gospel shines brightly into our world and the world of the teens with which we minister. We must begin to see the generative themes present within society and individuals.  Generative themes are where we find God is already speaking and the gospel is already present. Adolescents can name those issues that impact their world. Often we do not need to stir the dissonance in these places. The connection is already acute.

We need to open the eyes of our youth and our own eyes to see what we have ignored. We need to see where the gospel is already working in their lives. Positive and negative experiences are only accessible through interpersonal interaction with an individual. Generative themes can be drawn out from a group or even an entire culture through dialogue. The gospel speaks into these themes. Where do teens see a contradiction in our world or church?  We can highlight the light of the gospel as it addresses their critical concerns: Peace and war, justice and unfairness, poverty and materialism, violence, brokenness, or the power of media. Sometimes simply raising awareness can generate growth.

Besides giving them a strong reason to listen and grow, generative themes provide three benefits:

1)    Gives credibility. Many teens feel abandoned and unheard by the adult world. Addressing a key area as a question proves you are listening and desire to help. It is a tangible response to the needs and questions of teens.

2)    Connects scripture to reality. I love expository preaching. However, there is disadvantage to many approaches to verse by verse and chapter by chapter preaching and teaching. Scripture speaks to many topics and speaks powerfully to where a group of teens is struggling. Not all verses in scripture speak to the generative theme and driving question. Our role as shepherd and teachers is to prayerfully bring to bear the most poignant passages of scripture that address the needs of the learners. If we ignore their needs consistently, we actually teach them the Bible does not speak to their need and questions.  

3)    It lets the Gospel shine. By acknowledging contradictions in culture and life we enable our students to engage their culture and their lives. We can highlight the light of the gospel as it addresses their critical concerns. This equips them to use scripture to themselves.

The advantages here are potent. Our culture poses a host of powerful themes for dissonance. The disadvantage is that we must uncover them. We also must be careful in dealing with these cultural generative themes. These are often felt deeply, intentionally hidden and somewhat taboo.

Look for the third and final engine coming soon.

Teaching Engine #1: Positive and Negative Triggers

We often believe that our program IS our ministry. This is fatal. Ministry is simply a vehicle for relationships, which are the core of any Jesus-centered ministry philosophy. The key here is to leverage programs to facilitate ministry. Otherwise students may be growing in spite of your program and not because of it.

Every teen is going through daily experiences and relationships. They are making decisions and learning to live with the consequences of their choices. The real life of a teenager provides a whole host of connection points for spiritual growth. Meaningfully entering into a relationship with a teen and knowing their life circumstances gives us a route to draw them toward Christ. Generally there are two types of triggers: positive and negative.

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Negative Triggers: We are often acutely aware of the negative experiences of teens. The divorce of their parents, failing a test, or losing a job all give avenues in which we can guide toward spiritual growth. The first necessity for being able to tap into these negative triggers is often relationship prior to the negative experience. When we have relationship we can pace with them through their pain questions and responses.

Positive triggers: Positive triggers are experiences in the teen’s life that provide a sense of peace, love, comfort, care or success. These experiences are often overlooked for their potential teaching value. At such times a teen will often take a teachable posture toward spiritual truth and guidance by an adult that is pacing with them. Making the team, a new friend, answered prayer, the marriage of an older sibling can all be used as appropriate doors.

In our ministry we need to ask: do we provide enough adult relationships in order to know our adolescents positive and negative life experiences? Are we walking with them? We need to ask ourselves: Are we helping teens see where God is breaking into their lives in order to make himself known?

We often believe that our program IS our ministry. This is fatal. Ministry is simply a vehicle for relationships, which are the core of any Jesus-centered ministry philosophy. The key here is to leverage programs to facilitate ministry. Otherwise students may be growing in spite of your program and not because of it.

Small groups can utilize this spiritual growth principle exceptionally well. Triggers are usually accessible only through relationship. Relationship provides the opportunity to create growth using the triggers already present within individual’s lives. Multiple people drawing toward one another and God is likely to create fiction which can drive all involved deeper into the life of God. These are often triggers that can only be seen and experienced from within the relational context. It is often very difficult to relate to a large group of teens based on individual life experiences.

Thus the difficulty: How do we guide larger groups toward spiritual growth? Look for the next post!

The Most Annoying Noise in the World: Your Best Friend in Teaching

Got the car, loaded up, it’s a sweet ride with a powerful payload: the Word of God. Jam in the key and… nothing.

Spiritual growth and learning is just like a car in only one way. No engine, no go. And pushing is just too tiring all the time, not to mention far less effective.
Research shows that the engine of all learning is dissonance. Remember the guys in Dumb and Dumber and the most annoying sound in the world? One guy makes a noise and the other matches it, but just off a half step. The resulting noise demands response. We either run or attack. Our brains cannot healthily handle large amounts of dissonance for long periods. So we automatically strive to reconcile the two noises, also known as growth.

Many authors have written on this process. It has been labeled dissonance, disequilibrium, the problem, the disequilibrating experience, stress, the tension, etc. We might call it a process within sanctification. All agree that these are the driving force in learning and growth. Without it we are dead in the water.

So what do we do? Do we create tensions and crises in our teenagers to cause spiritual growth? Artificially aggravating the already unstable state of some teens raises ethical issues. The good-news is that three sources of dissonance exist in teen’s lives. These sources provide a readymade question and a motivation for teens to learn. In most cases, our teens are already searching, seeking and addressing these issues. In these areas, the engine is running and we just need to help them steer. The following three blog posts will focus on how to leverage where God is already working. Three distinct avenues are available to us to help drive the learning of those we teach. Look for posts soon that will help you harness the inherent motivation in your hearers and learners.

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