When we are teaching children about God we need to be fairly black and white in our approach. Their minds are limited when it comes to abstract abilities, so we have to be very literal in our teaching. We have to avoid gray areas.
But college-age people are different.
This is why I’ve found that shifting our approach to teaching in five specific ways greatly increases our effectiveness with college-age people. So I want to walk through these [over the coming week or so] and give you some thoughts as to the importance of each shift.
1. From Conclusions to Assumptions
Every church has some kind of doctrinal statement. This is basically a list of all the conclusions the church has come to in regards to major theological issues. In the church we typically teach these conclusions fairly well. We teach messages on them, we have classes, and the major issues are usually peppered throughout small group discussion, class material, and Sunday morning sermons. Kids consequently grow up learning what we believe, but it’s typically our conclusions they come away with. I believe this is one of the biggest reasons college-age people walk away from the church after graduating high school. Their leaving with our conclusions, not their own personal faith.
Junior high and high school ministries of course are seeking to help in this, but even then we can fall into a rut of simply teaching our conclusions. If we want them to have their own faith, at some point we’ll need to help them understand the assumptions we embrace that lead to the conclusions we hold so dearly.
For instance, I personally believe in the Deity of Christ–Christ is God in the flesh. I can point to various passages that lead me to believe this. I have clearly concluded in my own belief that God came to the earth as a human being named Jesus. But there is a lot I assume that allows me to come to that conclusion. I first have to assume there is a God. I have to assume that the Scriptures I’m reading are in fact His words. I have to assume that the version I’m reading is accurate. And I’m assuming a person named Jesus actually lived on the earth.
My point is that I cannot come to the conclusion I did without first assuming all these things to be true. And, it’s helping people think through the assumptions that eventually allows them to personally embrace our conclusions as their own.
Sound like a lot of work? Well, it is in ways, but not as much as you might think. Just begin to think about shifting your focus a little. Instead of just teaching conclusions and showing people in the Bible where you get them from, begin helping people think through the assumptions behind the conclusions by asking questions. Forcing people to think through these is a great way of engaging their minds and also helping them formulate a faith of their own.
You can ask a group of people if they believe Jesus is God. If they respond positively, you can simply ask them why they believe that. Typically they know the conclusion, but if you ask them why you’ll likely see them squirm a little. If they respond with something like, “The Bible says so.” You can push back by asking, “Ok, give me three places the Bible says that.” To put this as simply as I can, instead of just articulating theological conclusions, we can force people to process through these things at a much deeper level by asking the why questions.
**This is an exert from College Ministry From Scratch.