Teach Students HOW to Think | Not WHAT to Think

We want students to know Jesus personally and intimately. My hope is that by the time a student goes from 6-12th Grade through our ministry, they are well equipped to defend their faith and walk in their faith on a daily basis. For that reason, it's not enough to just tell them what to think or what to believe; we have to teach them how to think for themselves. Here are a few ways to do that:

1. Discuss more Than you Lecture

When a student asks a tough question, instead of immediately answering it, pose that question to the group and let other students attempt to answer. Obviously, if the answers being given are way off track, you bring guidance and truth into the midst of the conversation. But giving students the opportunity to answer their own questions teaches them how to think and not just depend on an adult to provide the answers for them.

2. Observe All Points of View

Don't just give your opinion on topics; help them explore all sides of the argument so that they not only know what other people think, but they begin to understand how to defend their viewpoint against others. In the midst of doing this, obviously we want to teach them to respectfully debate, but still defend the truth.

3. Ask Them "Why?" Alot

Be like the 2 year old who has to know why every two seconds. Okay, maybe don't be THAT annoying, but when they give an answer ask them why (or ask them how they know that). Again, the goal isn't just that they can regurgitate information, but that they know how to think through things for themselves. This can sometimes get frustrating for them because they often would rather have the correct answer than know why they have the correct answer. Press them and make sure they know why they believe the things they do. If we don't challenge them, the world will; and then what will they do? Unfortunately many young Christians in this position begin to abandon their faith because they simply don't know why.

4. Point Them to the Scriptures

Don't let them believe for one second that you or I are the authority on any of the things we talk about. Make it crystal clear that we get our truth from God and His Word. When you do answer questions for them, back it up with Scripture. When they ask you a question you don't know, tell them "I don't know, but let me check the Bible this week and get back to you." This isn't to create a "the Bible tells me so" culture, but to establish the authority for truth; God and His Word.

Conclusion

There are other ways to teach students how to think, but those are some of the most practical ones off the top of my head. Constantly seek to find ways to drive them to think, not just absorb what's being taught. I would rather have a youth group full of people with questions, healthy doubts, and challenges, than a group of people who just take us at our word for everything we say, yet never actually thinking through it for themselves. We have to trust that the Holy Spirit will lead them to truth as we point them to the Word and challenge them to think.

Tips for Cultivating Small Group Discussion

We've all been there: the sound of painful silence from a group of teenagers that we have just asked for input from. This may be one of the most frustrating things about student ministry because we spend so much time and energy trying to point them to Jesus and when it's time for them to respond, we often get nothing or the typical "Sunday school" answers.

Unfortunately there is no magic answer for how to solve this problem, but here are just a few tips to help with those awkward moments:

1. Silence is okay.

I know how hard it is to be okay with silence. My personality drives me to fill the silence with a comment or two in the hopes that it's not so awkward. But have you ever thought about the fact that silence is really okay? Maybe they actually are thinking about what you just asked them. Or maybe they really don't know how to respond. Let those moments happen and try your best not to be the one to break the silence.

Eventually, students will begin to step up and break the silence themselves and learn that this is actually supposed to be a discussion, not another sermon or lecture from you. Silence, and even awkwardness, is okay sometimes. Obviously we don't want half of your time to be take with nobody saying a word. So use discernment in those moments and balance the tension as best you can.

2. Ask more questions than you give answers.

This is another one that can sound counterintuitive. Aren't we the ones that are supposed to give the answers? Not really, we are actually called to point them to the One Who actually does have all the answers. Our goal should be to teach them how to think, not just what to think. Of course, there are times that you have to correct them and give them the answers, but try your best to lead them to discover the answers for themselves rather than just giving it to them.

This correlates with the whole silence thing as well. When they are silent because they don't know the answer, don't fill the silence with an answer right up front; ask another question that will help them think further and arrive at the answer themselves.

3. Have students read the questions and scripture references.

Again, if you're the only one talking, it's not much of a discussion. Also, if they are the one's asking the questions, they will begin to see how difficult it is when you ask a question and nobody answers. It gives them ownership of the group as well. They aren't spectators, they are meant to engage with the discussion.

4. Open up about your own life.

Tell them about the last time you failed in the area you're discussing. Talk about what you've learned from personal experience on the topic at hand. Keep it short, don't give your life story, but let them know that you are a real person with real struggles just like them. Lean into your own story and experiences to help these students connect with you better. This will also encourage them to open up about their own lives and that only helps your discussion time.

Conclusion

I could go on, but this seems to be enough for now. Make small group your own, try something new at times, be the youth pastor of your small group, and above all have fun with it. Small groups are not meant to be as rigid as we often make them.