youth ministry, youth worker, easy

Death of the Easy Answer

By Doug Franklin March 19, 2013

We’ve all gotten them before. Easy answers. Students love to throw them out during small groups and Bible studies. They grow in our youth ministries like a virus in a weak immune system. Ever led a Bible study or small group that looked a little like this before:

Us: “Who is the most important person in your life?”
Students: “(Long silence)Um…Jesus?
Us: “Great! And after reading Matthew 22, what is Jesus calling you to do?”
Students: “(Long silence)Um…love God and love people?
Us: “Fantastic!”

Okay, so I know this conversation seems pretty pathetic, but I think we often find ourselves getting easy answers like these from students. Students, like most of us, will deflect questions about their lives by giving easy answers. Students tend to steer towards the easiest possible route, which means they give easy answers. But have we ever thought that maybe, just maybe, students give us easy answers because we ask them easy questions? We lead Bible studies that have rock solid content, but then we don’t get students to think about what the Bible means in their everyday lives. Our students become adept at memorizing Biblical knowledge but horrible at living out their faith in their schools, locker rooms, band practices, homes, and jobs. When we ask questions that don’t require anything of students, we get answers that don’t require anything of students. I think we ask these questions because we don’t know how to help students make an application with what they are learning. Yet, if we can get them to apply what they learn, the content has so much more power.

So how do you push for application?

1. Know the material
We need to do a better job of preparing our material before we ever teach. Spend time studying first for yourself and your own growth, then go over it again for your teaching. When you make an application based on the material, it will only help you push students towards applications.

2. Focus on principles, not facts
Anyone can answer a question where the answer is on the page right in front of them. We need to get rid of the “Who did this…?” and “Where were they going…?” questions and look more towards principle questions. Scripture is filled with principles for life and for our faith that we want students to know. When we focus on principles rather than facts, it can create better discussion.

3. Ask 2nd level questions
Many of us stop at principles. Don’t. Try to take the questions deeper by asking students how that principle fits into their life. “Have they seen that lived out lately?” “By whom?” “Have you ever lived that out?” “What would that principle lived out look like in your life?”

4. Push for application
When you’re able to get students talking about what the Bible means in their own lives, it’s a good time to ask them to make an application. Applications should never be, “I’m going to love people better,” because it isn’t measurable. Students should be able to say when, where, with whom, and how about what they are going to do so that you can keep them accountable to it. Oh, and be okay with silence. We will often get uncomfortable with silence, so we let students off the hook and move on if they don’t answer right away. Students know this so they keep quiet. Instead, stay quiet with them and wait for them to have the answer.

5. Keep them accountable
I was talking to a youth pastor today who had purchased some of our middle school Character curriculum. He said he loved how the material pointed his students to make applications with what they were learning, rather than just relying on the material itself to create change in his students’ lives. I loved hearing that. He went onto to tell me that he doesn’t let them off the hook either. He writes down their applications and follows up with them the next week. He told me that his students keep coming back to small group each week with stories of how God is using them as his vessel in their schools.

We need to help students apply what they are learning. We need them to learn and grow and live out their faith in real ways. James says it like this: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:22-24) If we don’t help students kill the easy answer by pushing for application, we are helping students deceive themselves.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More