Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, shares a story about a time when she was asked to read a sentence that had a very obvious typo in it. But, because she expected to see the sentence as it was, it took her brain several times to really see the typo. She said the following about this experience:
"I was positively amazed. It took me three times to see [the mistake]. Why? Because I saw only what I expected to see."
The author then makes this remarkable observation:
"We do the same thing with God. We see Him in precisely the same old ways we've always seen Him. We see what we've come to expect. Nothing more."
I think this is a PROFOUND statement, one we as people who teach teenagers the truth of God should take to heart.
Because here's the deal: I believe inevitably and unavoidably teach students the God we know.
- If we know a small, vindictive, vengeful God, we pass Him along to our students.
- If we know a God who is the ancient of days, yet still immediately relevant and active in the redemption of His children today, we pass Him along to our students.
- If we know a laid-back, hands-off, do-whatever-makes-you-feel-good, Grandfatherly God in the Sky, we pass Him along to our students.
- If we know a compassionate, loving, just, gracious, righteous God who desires that we live our life on mission to advance His Kindgom on this earth, we pass Him along to our students.
If our image of God is off, the image we are passing along to teenagers is probably off, as well. If we are not constantly growing and expanding in our knowledge of God and our understanding of His ways, we are simply not living up to the full life of faith Christ lived and died to make available to us. And, again, my bet is that we pass along the same blindspots, deficiencies, weaknesses, and prejudices about our faith that we ourselves harbor.
For many of your students, you are the primary source of spiritual enrichment. What if the God you teach is the only God your students know? Are you doing God justice?
How do we broaden our students' image of God?
How do we stretch their faith?
How do we lead them beyond knowledge and understanding of God's Word to bold application?
First and foremost, you can't teach what you don't know.
You must have an active life in the Word, seeking God through the study of the Bible and through prayer, if you are going to teach teenagers. Simple as that.
We have to go beyond mere knowledge of God.
The Bible is not a textbook, or some fieldguide for good living. It is God's revelation to us. It is to be lived out, practiced, put to use. Stop depositing knowledge into your students like they were some weird intellectual bank account. James 1:22 says it as well as can be said, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." Create environments that encourage your students to apply their understanding of Scripture.
We have to evaluate the fruit our students are producing.
When we see our students not living as we know or believe they should, we all can be quick to blame culture, or students' family, or their friends, and so on. While any or all of these may be to blame, let's first look at US. Let's look at what we are teaching. Let's look at Who we are teaching. Maybe students aren't living as Christ-followers because the Christ they are being taught does not compel them to follow.
Ultimately, our youth ministries must be founded on the true person of Christ. Not just in name or in principle, but in practice!
Maybe we should all take a moment and evaluate exactly how accurate the image of God is that we are teaching our teenagers.