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.
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.