7 Dec 2017

How to be an effective youth Bible teacher

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A few weeks ago I was reminded again of the privilege and responsibility of teaching the Bible to young people at the Youthworks College end of year dinner. As we farewelled Albert, an international student from Mauritius, he reflected on how God had changed his ministry foundations over the last two years.

College was a great opportunity to learn how to read my Bible as I should, not just picking some verse from here or there and going ‘Wow’…but understanding how the Bible is one story from Genesis to Revelation. I have now been trained and can now train leaders back home [in Mauritius].

Each week, many of us have the privilege of reading and teaching God’s Word with young people. The power of our teaching is not our eloquence, illustrations or passion. God works powerfully and constantly through his Word to create faith, and transform people (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Our role is to share the truth of the revelation of God in Christ which is authenticated by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). At the same time, we have a responsibility to teach God’s Word with wisdom (Colossians 1:28). Our teaching needs to be faithful AND contextual, clear and engaging.

Why? Our goal is not Bible knowledge. Our goal, like Paul, is to present every young person in our church fully mature in Christ. We teach the Bible to see young people changed by God’s Word, changed in their understanding, attitudes and behaviour. Change is the mark that learning has taken place (James 1:22).

Engaging Bible teaching does not rely on tricks, flattery or false promises (1 Thessalonians 2:3-5). However, engaging teaching is definitely a skill. It is something we prayerfully work hard at. Below are two ideas to ponder and work on to help you become more engaging as you teach.

1. Engaging teaching connects the Bible with your listener’s world

Jesus recognised that often he was teaching people mind-boggling things about God and his plans for the world. One of his techniques was to connect new ideas with people’s prior learning and experiences. He used pearls, birds, lilies, weeds and seeds to teach new aspects of the kingdom of God. Jesus used fishing to challenge Andrew and Peter to a monumental change in their vocation and lifestyle. Jesus uses seven concrete pictures in the ‘I am’ statements to connect his listeners to the eternal truth of his identity and mission.

Likewise, youth learn more readily when they can connect what they are hearing to what they already know. These connections enable young people to place the unknown from the Bible next to the known of their world and in the construction of worldviews. Most importantly these connections help them to answer the 'So what?' question: "Why should I listen to the Bible and this preacher?"

We need to build a variety of points of intersection between the Bible passage and their world.

You could do that in one of the following ways:

  • Use modern vocab that illuminates theological ideas.
  • Imagine how young people will emotionally react to the passage and engage with it. Will they be stunned, confused or deeply comforted?
  • Consider the apologetic question they might have after reading the passage.

We also need to discard the list of application points and replace it with stories that imagine implementing the passage and the barriers to overcome. Our illustrations need to come from their lives and not from the internet or our parenting experiences. All these connections come from being a great listener, especially of their stories and prayer points.

2. Engaging teaching uses discussion within Bible talks

Jesus often taught people through dialogue. Surprisingly, He would stop speaking and ask questions:

  • Who do people say that I am?
  • Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
  • Why do you call me good?

Jesus used this technique to correct their thinking and help them construct new understandings.

Likewise, engaging teaching occurs when young people are actively involved, as opposed to remaining passive as we make our presentation. The human brain is not made of Velcro [1]. Teaching is not the act of throwing concepts at a surface and hoping they stick. It is about giving youth opportunity to verbally construct their own understanding of the Bible passage. Note they do not construct their own truth. Rather we use interactive activities, with guidance from the Holy Spirit and skilful leadership, to enable young people to engage with God’s Word and sort out new ideas, their own thoughts and their next steps.

In our decision to leave the discussion to small groups, we limit the opportunity of learning in our talks. Instead, we need to look for ways to interact with youth during our biblically rich, clear and passionate talks. A simple way is to take a poll (use fingers or hands) to assess awareness or agreement. You can ask pairs to explore an emotional reaction or apologetic questions or invite comments and questions at different points of the talk. These activities do not replace the proclamation of truth. They enable youth to participate in the discovery and incorporation of truth in their lives.

Teaching God’s Word to youth is a privilege and a responsibility. What is one way you can grow as an engaging Bible teacher this year?

Youthwork's Ministry Support Team can help you train your youth ministry team in the essentials of youth Bible teaching. Visit the Ministry Training page to find out more about our short course content and pricing.

[1] Coley. K, Teaching for Change (Nashville: Randall House Publications) 9.

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