Last night at youth group it happened again. It can be a regular occurrence if you create space for it. I was leading discussion, and one of my teens proposed an idea that was, frankly, just not in the Bible. My reflex was to correct her right away, but I’ve learned to be patient and let the conversation develop. She’s talking and that’s what’s important. We will eventually get around to the Truth.
Discussion is one of my favorite teaching methods with teens. I generally present a topic, then build questions around it, and then finish up with some closing thoughts. Leading a discussion taking guts, and practice. You have to be willing to suspend your desire to “set it right” immediately. You have to be able to let people say things you know aren’t exactly right. You have to manage people as they disagree. And you have to know when to step in and say something to the effect of, “that’s a good thought, here’s what the Bible says about that.”
Honestly, it is much easier to give a teaching than lead a discussion that heads towards some teachable moments, and some teaching points. But I think it is worth it! I’m not saying you do this every time, but this has become a tool I use at youth group (especially with a group size of 20-30 or less) on a regular basis. Here are five reasons I think discussion is such a powerful tool for youth leaders:
They Own the Material
As teens interact with the discussion, they become participants instead of just consumers. This is a huge difference, and anyone who has ever taught (or learned for that matter) knows the difference. When you participate with the material it becomes more real, and sticks with you more easily. It also gives them a chance to become more personal with the material. For instance, last night as we talked about the Bible, for some reason one of our girls said, “what if I’ve never prayed before?” This wasn’t even “on the menu” last night! But obviously our discussions over the past few weeks about praying and reading has been stirring something in her. The discussion format gave her freedom to interact with what we were talking about. It also gave her permission to speak, and ask, and then to listen!
They Have to Think for Themselves
It is much easier to consume information than it is to have to decide for yourself what you think. Some day they will have to be able to think for themselves about God, the Bible, and faith.The beauty of discussion is that it gives them a chance to start to flex those muscles in a safe environment. I have also learned over the years that teens get really fired up when they get a chance to defend their points. They get invested. They start to care. When we leave youth group and we’ve had a lively discussion, my kids will often still be talking about it. When I have just taught and we leave, sometimes they can’t even remember what I said!
It is Less Boring
This is super practical. But if you think about a teenager’s life, they spend all day in a school setting getting talked TO. I have seen it happen time and again while I am teaching that they just glaze over. It really says nothing about me or my material, they simply are out of gas. After spending eight hours in a classroom setting do they really want to sit for another thirty minutes being talked TO? This is why I try to change the dynamic from being talked TO to being talked WITH. Teenagers in general love to talk and debate. The discussion format engages them and gives them life, and honestly it works at combatting boredom and checking out. Now I know sometimes you do have to teach. That’s fine! Just be aware and sensitive, and try to incorporate discussion as often as you can!
They Get to Encourage Each Other
Going back to my first point, after the girl asked about having never prayed, I fought my reflex to answer right away. Instead I turned to the group, “does anyone have anything they can say to her?” Please don’t miss the importance of this – if I had answered that would have been it. My word is the final word. Discussion over. When I refused to answer, it forced others to step up. And then they began to find their collective voice. Four or five teens encouraged her, shared their stories, and spoke about prayer. Some of what they said wasn’t 100% what I would have said, but that’s ok! I was able to offer a summary statement, and a few pieces of advice at the end as well. But the beauty was peers encouraging peers!
They Practice Defending Their Faith
In my experience, teens (and adults for that matter!) feel pretty inadequate when faced with talking about their faith. 1 Peter 3:15 encourages us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” This isn’t a skill you “get” automatically when you choose to follow Jesus. It is something that we can develop though! During discussion, if you allow it and manage it, teens can respectfully disagree with each other. They can test out their thoughts and their opinions. They can learn to listen, and learn to speak, and learn to talk about their faith. Many Christians never practice talking about their faith, it is just something they hear, but they seldom talk about. Discussion creates a forum for our next generation of believers to grow in confidence and skill for talking about their faith.
My advice would be to prepare your main point and scriptures, and build as many open ended questions as you can into your talk. Some questions won’t work, so it’s helpful to have more. WHY questions work better than WHAT questions in general. For example, “why did Peter have a hard time standing up for Jesus” versus “what did Peter say?.” Also, application questions help to make the material more personal. For example, following the Peter example: “Why is it so hard to talk about your faith to others?”
Next time you teach – if you haven’t already started doing this – try building a discussion and see where it goes! I think you’ll find it very rewarding personally, and your teens will get a lot out of it!