Letting teens discover Biblical patterns themselves

There are patterns in the Bible. There’s a pattern of rebellion in the history of Israel. There’s a pattern of forgiveness and grace on God’s side. There’s a pattern of God picking some highly unlikely candidates for important jobs. There’s a pattern of sacrifices being made to atone for mankind’s sins. There’s a pattern of love. Unbelievable, indescribable, unimaginable love.

These patterns are important, because they show the bigger picture of God’s redemptive story. They’re important because they show why certain stories are in the Bible. They’re important because they show God’s consistent character and the depth of His love.

But do your teens see these patterns? Do they recognize them in your sermons, in the small group materials you use, in their private Bible reading?

As human beings, we have an incredible skill in the recognition of patterns. We may not always realize it. But our brains are really good at classifying and categorizing information we come across. We are made for pattern recognition.

Our brains have an incredible ability to recognize patterns. But do we use this skill when we teach Biblical patterns?

The bad news is that a lot of teaching methods don’t make us of this phenomenal ability. Even with all modern technologies like iPads in class rooms, a lot of teaching is still consists of theories, patterns discovered by others. Think about how you were taught certain math problems for instance: they showed you one type of problem, taught you how to solve this and then you had to practice this with two or twenty of those exact same problems. That’s not pattern recognition, that’s learning a trick.

When I read about this issue in a New York Times article, I was wondering if we don’t do the same in youth ministry. Are we teaching in such a way that our teens can discover the Biblical patterns by themselves? Are we helping them to see, to discover that redemptive story for themselves? Are we helping them to discover patterns in Jesus’ teachings, thus enabling them to find out for themselves what Jesus would say, think or do in certain situations?

I think a lot of the times we are teaching tricks too, showing merely patterns that we have discovered ourselves, or in the commentaries we used to prep our lesson or sermon. We cleverly link Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac to God sacrificing Jesus, but do our students really get that? Do they understand the depth of the Old Testament atonement of sin versus how Jesus’ death atoned for our sins? There’s a pattern for sure, but will they see that if we merely show it to them?

What’s the alternative you may ask. Well, how about letting them discover these patterns for themselves? I’m not saying we shouldn’t show them the bigger picture, but I think we need to go about it differently. If we start asking questions about these patterns, that’s a big first step. Or if we would choose our topics such that they stress the patterns, allowing teens to discover it for themselves.

For example: you could plan your small group studies in such a way as to study the Old Testament regulations for the priests and the high priests first and then study Hebrews 7. Do your teens see the pattern themselves? If not, start asking them if they spot the similarities and the differences between the Levites and Christ’s priesthood. Giving them room to discover the patterns themselves will also help in anchoring new Biblical truths.

I’m sure we could come up with more creative ways to let teens discover Biblical patterns themselves. How life-changing this could be if they sport the pattern of God’s redemptive story and accept it as truth…

How do you go about teaching patterns? Do you think there may be value to letting teens discover these themselves?

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