Last night while I was teaching my life group, I asked my boys a question and got absolutely no response. It was a pretty basic question. No response.
The section of the lesson was about reaching out to people around us when they’re having a bad day. I asked them, “What’s a good approach to reach out to them? Is it better to ask them about themselves or to tell them a story about yourself?” We had been talking about how Jesus reached out to the demon-possessed man in Mark 5. Jesus started by asking him what his name was.
There wasn’t a word of response to my no-brainer question.
I took a different approach that changed everything. I asked, “Has anybody ever asked you how you’re doing? As you’re telling them, they interrupt you to talk about themselves?” That changed everything! They could have talked for hours. The lifeless group of 20 freshman boys had come alive. They were angry because they were all thinking about a time that happened. They suddenly understood the point I was trying to teach. Jesus was able to reach people because he asked hurting people about themselves, and then listened to their responses. He was being the model of how he wants us to care for others.
This radical difference in the life of my students last night reminded me of an important teaching principle: Help students internalize the lesson by relating it to their personal experiences. In other words, make it about them. When they feel an emotion connected to what I’m teaching, the lesson will stick with them long after the night is over.
Don’t you love it when you see the lights go on inside their heads? Let there be light – lots and lots of light.
Doug Fields tells youth workers that as youth workers we have earned a place in students’ lives to hold them accountable and live up to expectations. That’s not a direct quote, but expresses the idea of what he shares. I not only agree with that sentiment, I’ve actually put that to good use.
A few years back I was with one of my students and I felt led to ask about his purity. I told him I needed to ask him a personal question. He said okay. I asked, “Do you struggle with porn and masturbation?”
He wasn’t shocked or scared by this question. Instead, a look of relief came across his face as he admitted he had been struggling with it for quite some time. He had been holding this secret in afraid of being found out and looked down on, or letting me down.
Asking this question opened a line of communication he could not bring himself to open himself, but desperately wanted help dealing with. As his respected youth leader, I have earned a place in his life to ask him difficult questions. If I didn’t get into his life and ask tough questions, our relationship would have stayed shallow and ineffective. As it stands a decade later, while we are not in each other’s lives on a daily basis, there is a level of respect, knowing each other and a close bond because I took Doug Fields’ challenge to ask tough questions of my students.
Since that day, I’ve never shied away from asking difficult questions in appropriate ways at the right time. If we are to impact students from their core, we must get to know them at the core… especially their hidden core. It gets easier once we do this once or twice because of the relief they get from finally being known… and they all want to be known. They just are scared or unequipped to do the sharing without us asking the tough questions.