Our Congregations could benefit from new and exciting changes occurring within Christian Education. One breaking development is a deeper understanding of how adolescents develop their ability to understand the perspectives of other people and social groups. This is an essential social skill for children, if they are to form healthy relationships. It also could help our young people to more readily grasp how the disciples and others experienced Jesus!
Recently I was part of a teaching/learning experiment at a “Christian School” in Sydney’s North West. The staff sought to discover more effective teaching methods to help Year 7 and 8 students experience the reality of God in an educationally natural way. Their discoveries about this age group’s spiritual learning could be used in our churches — especially as we often have trouble retaining them.
The teaching program aimed to foster engagement with the Bible by getting students to take the perspective of people within biblical narratives. Using the account of Nicodemus in John 3, we wanted students to enter into people’s experience with Jesus. We also hoped they would discover how Jesus’ example in that passage applies in the present day.
Someone else’s point of view
The new Bible teaching program at the school was designed to give some basic learning steps to help young students take the perspective of the people who met Jesus. Children take years to learn the social skill of “taking the second person perspective” but it is a natural process.
Usually by upper primary school, early adolescents are able to listen to what someone else is saying and to perceive their perspective with confidence. They can begin to take into account their own response to the other person’s ideas and know the other person is doing the same.
By Year 8, many students acquire awareness of what a hypothetical observer might think of any interaction a student is involved in. This realisation often results in an adolescent accepting their own personal sense of accountability and transcendence toward a wider spiritual/moral community.
Many adult Christians demonstrate this through being conscious of God’s presence in their lives. They use this to transcend their own particular perspective, to become inclusive of God’s perspective as revealed in the pages of the Bible.
True spiritual and moral thinking is possible once people can take the “observer” (third person) perspective.
Lessons for spiritual maturity
At the school, students took the perspective of Nicodemus, the crowd or the disciples in John 3. All the students were then asked to take the perspective of a modern-day “Nicodemus”. We suggested people with mental problems who are in jail, as the sort of person Jesus would want to visit and value. Using YouTube videos to assist teaching, students quickly realised there is no quick solution in such situations. Some began to see that changing the world to make it a better place takes wisdom, the searching for answers and working with others.
It is in ways such as this that our churches can help adolescents transition from the more simplistic, concrete-thinking faith of their childhood, to a more nuanced and richer biblical faith. One that is comfortable with the ambiguity of a loving God who is Lord within a world that experiences many evil human actions.
This teaching program can be readily transferred to youth groups, senior Sunday schools and sermons.