Teachers usually teach in their own learning style. This is natural because we think: “it worked for me, and it should work for them.” Teens learn more if lessons appeal to their own learning style, and this fact challenges the Bible study leader to find creative ways to present material. Below you will find a few ways to approach certain recurring Biblical themes when they come up in your studies.
Hand out a small stone, about an inch or two across, when students come together. Let them wonder why you gave it to them. They can hold it while you speak. Remembering what God has done for us, and telling someone else about it is foundational. The entire Bible is the result of faithful believers telling what they have seen and heard. Joshua had a representative from each of Israel’s 12 tribes pick up a stone from the middle of the Jordan River. Then he directed them to stack the stones in a prominent location. The structure would remind Israel, every time they saw it, of God’s provision as they crossed into the Promised Land. Later in life, Joshua erected a “standing stone” at Shechem for similar reasons. What is an Ebenezer? It is a stone set up in remembrance. Direct students to place stones at their lunch or dinner table and when asked, share what great thing God has done for them. This kind of hands-on element helps tactile/visual learners to assimilate the material. This also appeals to the active learners who need to know how to use what they have learned. They will remember the feel of that stone, and will associate the goodness of God with that stone. And they will use it to stimulate discussion. These activities work well when studying Joshua: Strong and Courageous.
When possible, hold a group meeting beside a creek or river. Just getting away from the usual meeting spot is refreshing, and so many Bible stories take place beside a river. Lydia heard the gospel beside the river in Philippi. (Acts 16) Once while leading a group through Lydia of Philippi, Believer in the Lord, I had a friend show up in Biblical garb while our group met by the river. He acted like Paul and told us the Good News, and we acted out how Lydia wanted to be baptized right away. Acting out Bible stories appeals to kinetic learners.
Much of Christian discipleship seems abstract to young teens. When possible, plan an activity that demonstrates understanding of Christ’s ministry to the poor, the lost, and the heartbroken. Such activities as serving a meal to the homeless or visiting children in a hospital or elderly in a nursing home stimulate compassion. If studying Ruth, try gleaning for your local food bank. These kinds of life applications are meaningful to active learners who are always wondering: So what?
Music speaks to a deep place in our souls. Listen to the music your teens listen to. Christian songs, both new and old, retell Bible stories, use scripture verses or concepts, and relate to human problems and failings. When addressing the problem of depression or guilt, listen to You Are More, by Tenth Avenue North. When considering Jesus as he collected his disciples, listen to We Will follow, by Jars of Clay. When facing tough problems, listen to Praise you Through the Storm, by Casting Crowns. Or when studying the Transfiguration, meditate on Sufjan Stevens’ The Transfiguration. Each chapter of Peter Rock Star from Galilee begins with a list of 5-6 songs which carry the theme of that week. These songs help remind students of the lessons learned. Enjoy diverse styles that might appeal to a variety of student tastes. Think outside the box and find new ways to make the Bible stories memorable. The more learning styles you engage, the more your teaching will impact the next generation.
We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. Psalm 78:4
What’s in your toolbox?
When working with teens, you don’t have time to dig through a huge selection of tools that might fit the situation. But you need a few basics that have a great chance of working. A handyman would not be without a basic set of tools for tackling most home problems. His list of basic carpenter’s tools is a metaphor for the basic toolkit you need in Teen Bible Study.
Tape Measure: “Measure twice, cut once.” That is every carpenter’s first rule. Take a good listen to your group. Measure their interests and their abilities. Find out what problems they face, and see if some Bible characters have similar issues.
Carpenter’s Square: This tool measures a good 90 degree angle, like between the vertical and the horizontal in a structure. Remember that students need to look both ways in Bible study – upwards toward God and on a level with their neighbors. Teach them to love both God and others.
Plumb Line: The plumb line is used to measure a straight vertical. Amos the prophet used the plumb line in his teachings to show people how far they had strayed from the truth. Don’t give students a watered down version of the Bible. Keep God’s word straight.
Level: Stay on the level with your teens. They will know if you are looking down on them. They will know if you aren’t being honest with them. Keep it real.
Saw: Cut out the extra stuff. Some points are just fluff. You don’t have to share every theological thought you have ever had about a subject. And don’t let your discussions stray so far from the topic that you can’t find a way back. Stick to the main message.
Drill: Dig. Create holes. Allow the water of the Word to flow through them. Make a space with your questions that can only be filled with the truth of God’s Word.
Sandpaper: Every group has one or more people with rough edges. Let them ‘sand’ one another, by learning tolerance and kindness in the group.
Pliers: Hold tight to a lesson until it sticks. Use your teaching to bend minds and hearts to be pliable in the hands of the Father.
Screwdrivers: Use good questions to remove barriers and to tighten good insights.
Hammer: Use only in emergencies. But occasionally, hit the nail on the head.
What’s in your toolbox?