How many people were on the Ark? What was the name of the Apostle who denied Jesus? Who was in jail with Silas? Often the questions we ask kids and teens about the Bible have them recall facts. If we are trying to dig a little deeper, the questions often result in getting the opinion of the person answering the question. Both of those types of questions can be useful in a Bible classroom or around your house. They can confirm what knowledge has been retained or what a child’s opinion may be on a variety of subjects.
There are other types of questions I want to encourage you to start asking children and teens as you talk about the Bible and its principles. These questions will encourage them to think a little deeper. What you want to do is to try to get them to begin seeing connections between Bible stories, godly principles and real life actions. Hopefully these questions will encourage them to think a little more carefully before making decisions.
I am no neuroscientist, but I have seen quite a lot lately about the undeveloped pre-frontal cortex in teens and even young adults. This supposedly results in poor decisions and immature behavior. I have a personal theory I would love to see tested. I believe, just like you strengthen connections in the brain for knowledge and skills you use frequently, the pre-frontal cortex is developing more slowly in many people because we are not encouraging children to “exercise” it enough at a young age.
Not too many years ago, people in their teens married, built homes, farms, businesses and had children. I am sure they made mistakes, but they seemed to be able to handle the responsibilities relatively well. Even though many of these people were uneducated or undereducated, they managed to have successful businesses and raise productive families. I believe it was due in part to the fact that many of them had been expected to take on responsibilities from a very early age. I also believe family discussions were more frequent and the children heard or were included in them. I am not suggesting we marry our teens and buy them farms. I do believe though, there are ways to help them “exercise” that pre-frontal cortex.
One way is an intellectual exercise. Asking higher level questions can make them begin to exercise the part of the brain used in making good decisions (executive function). So what are these extra questions to help your children develop their spiritual thinking “muscle”? There are probably a lot, but these are some I have seen work well with kids and teens over the years:
- Why does God want us to do (or not do) that? Why questions are great questions. They force kids to consider the thought process and the principles behind God’s words. Often, the question may lead them in search of other scriptures to verify their theory. Understanding why God wants us to act in certain ways gives teens the reasons they need for what they may consider tough rules. They do not have enough life experience to know all of the consequences that come from disobedience. Asking why questions will help them discover truths without having to go through the pain of experiencing consequences themselves. Guide them in the discovery necessary to answer these questions and be sure to offer other scriptures if they begin to wander away from the truth.
- What do you think God wanted us to learn from this story/scripture? I think sometimes kids come into the youth ministry with the idea the Bible is just a book of good stories. Getting them to think about why God may have put certain stories in the Bible when He clearly left others out (John 21:25), helps them begin to understand the Bible is a book of wisdom and instruction. In the discussions that result from this type of question, make sure you encourage your children to think about what this new knowledge means for their lives today.
- How would God want you to handle a similar situation? Your children may never get swallowed by a big fish or be thrown in jail for preaching about Jesus. They may however be tempted not to tell people about Jesus because they don’t like them or because someone might tease them. These questions help kids tie what they read in the Bible back to things that may happen to them today. Their lack of life experience may not allow them to immediately connect something that happened to Jonah as something that could happen to them. Depending on the age and maturity of your children, they may need a little more adult guidance in discovering meaningful answers to these types of questions.
- How do you normally act in this type of situation? What are you thinking about when you make that choice and how does it compare with what we just read? Many times actions reflect the heart of the person. Sometimes you won’t know a child’s heart unless he chooses to reveal it to you. I have had many discussions like this over the years that were extremely revealing. I would guess the parents have no idea their kids feel/think/act the ways kids often reveal when answering this type of question. If you want honesty from your children, you have to make it safe for them to share and be open. Consequences for long ago transgressions are not nearly as important as helping your child find a way to bring her heart closer to God. Resist the impulse to lecture and try to work as your child’s coach to help him develop more godly ways of thinking/feeling/acting on a regular basis.
- Where can you find the answer for handling this situation in a godly fashion? This is really the ultimate goal in more advanced questioning. You want teens to be able to identify situations where godly and ungodly choices can be made. Once they realize they are faced with a decision, they need to ask themselves this question. Help them practice by giving them scenarios and having them give the godly choice. Opinion is okay, but the final answer should be based on scriptures – examples from stories or particular passages. It is important to help them understand life is full of little choices that will either move them closer to God or take them farther away. These types of questions will hopefully create an awareness and give them the tools to make more godly choices. It will also reinforce the absolute necessity of regular Bible study.
Next time you discuss the Bible or one of its stories with a child or teen, feel free to ask questions that will help them rehearse facts or which allow them to share their opinion. Then throw in some of these higher level questions. You may be surprised at the spiritual growth you begin to see in them.