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"Don’t Just Sit There—Do Something!!

By Carey Huffman

Our culture is becoming addicted to experience. For many young people, experience validates knowledge. What they believe and accept is based on their personal experience--"try it before you buy it." Although experience is not always feasible, we can take advantage of the fact that activity and experience create a context for learning.

Effective youth discipleship includes ministry to youth, but more importantly, with youth and by youth. Students who are actively involved in the learning process will gain interest and retain more. If that’s what you want from your time with students, do something interactive about it.

Grab Their Attention

If you’re going to capture attention and provoke response, you have to do it right up front. Effective openers include:

  • Delivering "news and information" by creatively incorporating students’ video and acting talents
  • Video or audio clips and presentations
  • Stories of relevant current events
  • Thought-provoking/opinion-arousing questions
  • A unique glimpse at life experiences through testimony, drama or anecdote
  • Appropriate, humorous activities
  • Engaging the senses with highly active illustrations, music and visual supplements
  • Scenarios that ask for opinions or preferences
  • Surprising, spontaneous and unpredictable object lessons or melodrama which could be the topic of conversation Monday morning
  • Graphic, interactive illustrations

These methods should be incorporated throughout lesson periods to provide variety, promote interest, and provoke student response.

Get Some Answers

Interactive discussion is still one of the most effective means of interactive learning, and teens are usually willing to offer their views and opinions on a variety of issues and concerns. But remember, it’s not always what you ask so much as how you ask it. Avoid questions that can be answered with "yes" or "no." Ask what, when, and how, followed by a lot of "why" questions. Keep them open-ended, to provoke thought, yet specific enough to apply to real-life situations. Ask questions that deal with feeling as well as fact.

Your class should be a safe place for students to be honest about what’s on their minds. When difficult questions are raised, you don’t need to have all the answers. Simply turn the question back to the group so you can see where your students are coming from spiritually and challenge them to consider the Christian perspective on tough issues.

Prepare questions that are relevant to your students and their spiritual maturity. Tie spiritual principles to common, everyday aspects of life, as Jesus did, and solicit students’ views on the analogies. Be patient when waiting for responses, and don’t be afraid of a few moments of silence. Often, students need time to consider a question they just heard. Follow effective questions with deeper ones, but don’t get into a question-answer-question-answer pattern. Instead, ask for several responses to your question, then provoke the speakers to dialogue with each other.

Use a variety of discussion starters including: agree/disagree (to rouse opinions and passionate dialogue); role-playing (for opportunity to present personal perspectives and consider the "other side"); case studies (to bring lesson principles into real life scenarios). Give students the chance to express their views on how to apply the truth.

Get Into the Action

Give students active leadership/service roles by asking them to prepare brief testimonies or help with a drama skit. Also, let students teach regularly. Helping them prepare provides you with direct discipleship opportunities. Students are usually attentive to peers, if only to see how they do.

Plan a relevant application exercise for each main point, engaging students at their "comfort level" using a variety of means—spoken and written. Providing outlines and response sheets allows students to follow along, retaining five to ten times more, even if they never refer to the notes again.

Extend learning beyond class-time by making outside projects and supplements available to students who desire to go deeper. Take Five devotionals, enhanced CD Sound Traxx, Youth Bible Puzzles, and study guides are cutting-edge resources available from Radiant Life that can help students connect learning to life.

Reserve time at the close of sessions to plan for practical applications of truth to life at home, school, and on the job.

Take the Time

Christian education must involve personal, practical ministry. If we want signs to accompany ministry of the Word, time must be given in class for Spirit-led, Spirit-dependant ministry. Perhaps the most important lesson we could teach students is how to pray---and the best way to learn that is to actually do it. We often spend far more time sharing concerns than praying for them. Occasionally dividing into pairs or small groups will provide time for individuals to share needs and receive prayer. Another novel way to cover requests is to have students pray their concerns to God while the rest of the group agrees with them. Be sure to take time before class is over to pray for issues directly related to the lesson topic and its life-application. Teach specific prayer that recognizes specific answers.

Generating response and interaction from students requires time investment: delegating responsibilities, preparing conversation-inspiring questions, tailoring curriculum options to your group, arranging media presentations and illustrative props, and gathering supplemental materials. And don’t forget to call your students, regulars and absentees, for personal ministry and conversation throughout the week. It gives you a connection prior to class, and may increase attendance and participation 10-20% or more, if done on a consistent basis.