I am fully convinced that one of the great challenges we have before us in teaching the next generation to know, honor, and treasure Christ comes in regards to the “know” part. While humbling acknowledging that only God can bring about genuine saving faith, we as parents and teachers, have a sacred responsibility to provide our children and students with the essential knowledge they need to understand the Bible and the message of the Gospel. After all, you cannot honor and treasure that which you do not know. Furthermore, that knowledge must go beyond a simple “rote” memorization of facts. The Christian walk requires the mind to interact with the Bible. Consider this statement by Dr. Albert Mohler:
Christian faithfulness requires the development of the believer’s intellectual capacities in order that we may understand the Christian faith, develop habits of Christian thought, form intuitions that are based upon biblical truth, and live in faithfulness to all that Christ teaches. This is no easy task, to be sure. Just as Christian discipleship requires growth and development, intellectual faithfulness requires a lifetime of devoted study, consecrated thinking, and analytical reflection.
(“The Glory of God in the Life of the Mind,” at albertmohler.com )
This statement reflects a serious commitment to a rigorous training of the mind. Helping our children and students really learn how to think, and not merely absorb information. Here are a few practical ways that you and your church can encourage this type of mind engagement. (Note: Children Desiring God curricula is written with all the following incorporated into our lessons.
1. Choose curricula that fosters active learning.
- Look for both solid content and a teaching style that engages the mind.
2. Make sure your lesson has a logical order and structure.
- Children and youth will be more engaged if they see a logical progression in the subject matter. The subject matter is easier to recall and understand.
- A logical flow helps students actively learn by encouraging organized thought patterns. This becomes increasing important as our students examine more and more complex texts and topics.
3. Understand the cognitive abilities of the age group you are teaching, and use age-appropriate teaching methods and language.
- Make an intentional, concentrated effort to restore, train, and stretch our students’ ability to pay attention.
Consider the following from Garry Williams of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals:
Meditation is a divinely commanded duty and delight. We are commanded not to flit around. But, we may wonder, if people’s brains are trained out of sustained attention, won’t doing it put them off? I think we have no choice. We have to be teachers not only of the content of revelation, but also of its prescribed form.
(“The World in the Church: A Distracted World, a Distracted Church?,”www.reformation21.org)
4. Capture their attention with meaningful “hooks” in order to ignite their minds and direct their thoughts toward learning biblical truth.
5. Use a question-and-answer format that encourages students to observe, ponder, analyze, discover, evaluate, imagine, summarize, organize, and arrive at correct conclusions and appropriate applications—all while interacting with the actual text of the Bible.
- Start with simple questions and move to more complex ones that then also become more personally challenging.
6. Incorporate visuals, charts, illustrations, and real-life scenarios that help the mind process and understand biblical concepts.
- These tools encourage active minds. They use concrete concepts to spur more abstract thinking.
- They help the mind to look at the biblical text, observe it carefully, discover its meaning, and make meaningful applications.
7. Use” heart” (emotional) response as a means to engage the mind.
8. Incorporate competition and challenge as a mental motivator.
9. Restate questions in a different way—use opposites, analogies, exaggerations, etc. to spur thinking and encourage responses.
10. Encourage honest student feedback and use it to help them reason and respond biblically.
Please note: Teaching in this manner is HARD WORK for both student and teacher. It goes against the flow of many popular resources designed for children’s and youth ministry. Sunday school may almost come have a “school” feel to it, and not just a fun place to hang out on Sunday’s with friends. But the stakes are huge! Consider this quote from John Piper:
There is an odd notion that, if we use our minds to grow in our knowledge of God, mystery will diminish, and with it a sense of wonder and reverence. I call this notion odd for two reasons. One is that, no matter how many millions of ages I use my mind to know more and more of God’s majesty, his glories will never be in danger of being exhausted. What is not yet known of God by finite creatures will always be limitless. You honor this truth more by shameless growth in the knowledge of God.
And the second reason I find the notion odd that thinking about God and knowing more and more of God jeopardizes our worship of God, is that without knowing him we can’t worship in a way that honors him. God is not honored when people get excited about how little they know of him.
(John Piper, “The Life of the Mind and the Love of God,” www.desiringGod.org)
For more information on this topic, you can download this handout from my seminar “Encouraging Active Minds in the Learning Process.”