As youth leaders, we have much in common with teachers. We are both trying to get a message across the best way that we can.
The American Psychological Association has published a fascinating overview with 20 powerful principles from psychology for teaching students from pre-K through 12 grade. As I read through them, I realized how many of these are applicable to youth ministry as well.
What They Already Know
Take the second principle:
“What students already know affects their learning.”
When we’re teaching students biblical principles, what they already know matters a great deal. They may have trouble understanding what we’re trying to teach if they don’t have much base knowledge when we assume they do (‘The apostle who? What on earth is an apostle?’). Or they could reject information if it clashes with what they’ve come to believe so far (‘You’re saying that homosexual relationships are a sin, but I don’t believe they are so I don’t want anything to do with Christianity’). That doesn’t mean we stop teaching Biblical truths; it means we assess what they already know and adapt our style and content.
Learning is Context Based
The fourth principle states that learning is context based, meaning students don’t automatically apply something they learn in one context (math) to another (physics). This is a lesson we’d do well to learn, as we all know how students can apply their Biblical knowledge to church only or theory only, bot not to their every day practical life.
Intrinsical Beats Extrinsical Motivation
This is a principle we can apply to evangelism. When we ‘scare’ students into believing, or ‘persuade’ them by dangling eternal rewards, we use extrinsical motivation. However, when we (with the help of the Holy Spirit obviously) convince students of their sin and their need for a Savior, the motivation becomes intrinsical.
It’s the same with ‘good deeds’. Doing this to score bonus points with Gods so to speak, or heavenly treasures if you wish, is far less effective than loving your neighbor because Jesus loved us first. A Spirit-filled heart is motivated to love no matter the rewards.
These are just three examples of these twenty powerful principles for teaching students, many of which can be applied to youth ministry. Here’s the list:
Read the report here and take some time to think through the implications for youth ministry.
What other great lessons and applications do you see?