It has officially been just over a year on the journey of using Explore the Bible Curriculum and the COMA technique of teaching others to read the bible. So far, its use in the Student Ministry of CenterPointe has been a success. Let me back up a bit to share more of the story about why we are using these two resources.
When I was a freshman entering Kentucky Christian University, I thought I knew much of what the the bible taught. I had competed in Bible Bowl and had attended Youth Group somewhat faithfully. When a tough bible question was asked, usually I could come up with the answer, especially the easy Sunday School ones. But, upon my first bible class, OT Survey, I realized that much of my bible knowledge had come from what other people taught me or told me, not what I had read or actually learned for myself. Quickly, in order to maintain the grade, I began diving in to the Old Testament and the Gospels. I soon realized I could make little sense of what I was reading and why it even mattered to today. I did not have any concept of how Moses connected to Jesus, or I was supposed to read Psalms different than 1 Kings.
Now to put my thoughts in perspective, my reading comprehension scores have always been low, but usually I could make out some connections to seem somewhat knowledgable. However, after struggling through the familiarity of Genesis and Matthew, I came to the conclusion that I had no idea how to connect bible stories to my own life. In the academic sense, I was fine, but in my personal walk with God I was distraught. After all the Bible Bowl and all the learning I had done, I could not figure out how to read the bible for myself and make it personal and I was supposed to be studying for life in ministry. Now, I do not mean to indict my youth ministers or others, but they had told me what to believe and think, rather than shown me how to discover it for myself in the depth of God’s Word. I merely could answer questions right on a test or pass a surface level bible study with flying colors, but there was a disconnect between learning the bible and applying the bible. Because of this, a holy dissatisfaction began to arise.
By God’s grace, people around me began to point me in the direction of commentaries and resources to help with bridging this gap. I attempted the SOAP method, but found it personally difficult. I attempted to consult commentaries, but their application was still distant and impersonal. As I began to grow in my understanding of the bible, I began to apply what I had began reading, but I sought a clear and concise way to teach others what I had been shown by others. Thankfully, my brother-in-law, recommended a resource called One to One Bible Reading by David Helm. I should mention by this point I am already a weekend Student Minister and, whether by my own curriculum, or others I resolved that I would not send my students into adulthood without being able to think critically about the bible and read it for themselves. I knew that someday Kyle (me) may no longer be CenterPointe’s Student Minister and the best way to for a ministry to sustain itself was through hearing from God and learning to be Christ-centered in every way. I was on a mission to eliminate the reasoning that the bible was difficult to understand or from another time and place so it does not apply to us today from our thinking.
As soon, as I finished reading One to One Bible Reading by David Helm, I began to implement the practices I had learned. Specifically, a process called COMA: Context, Observation, Meaning, & Application. Our church has used this process with other supplemental studies to help student and adults read the bible for themselves. I found the process worth teaching because it was able to be reproduced. About the same time, I had been searching for curriculum to use in my new middle school class on Sunday mornings. At that time, Lifeway.com had just come out with their Explore the Bible curriculum that went book by book breaking down God’s Word in a simple process. Each week the curriculum went through essentially the same process that I had learned from One to One, so I was sold on using it in my class.
Fast forward 9 months after teaching this process through the lens of Explore our students began to get it. We were seeing students in 15 minutes sit down and pick apart a passage and figure out what it meant (central truth) and then how to personally apply the meaning in specific ways with little guidance from the “teachers.”
Our next step was to begin teaching them to teach others. By God’s timing it was finally time to launch a high school class. Our high school class, by the way we only had one consistent high schooler until this summer, is devoted to equipping students to lead other students in bible study. By God’s grace, 9th & 10 graders have been opening up God’s Word, walking through a passage in Genesis, figuring out how it applies to them, and peer to peer teaching each of the past three weeks. What has been amazing, not even sure if the students realize it, but their commitment to God’s Word has affected our outreach efforts. They are beginning to lives of intentionality and purpose, not because we have some cool mission statement, but because God’s Word speaks to them and they go apply it. Also, when non-Christians are introduced to a study that asks more questions and is more process than content, we find them learning more content than simply ignoring the teacher.
As we have brought new students into the middle school and high school classes there have been challenges. One challenge has been switching the brain from learning content to learning process and learning to ask questions. I have found that much of my personal experience of regurgitating content is the same for many church kids. These church kids are bothered when the teacher of our middle and high school classes ask more questions than provide answers. They so desperately want to get the answer right that they are unsure of why the right answer matters. One of my favorite exercises is answer questions with questions that drive kids back to the text. In essence, we are helping student be more biblically-anchored, not because of teaching content, but teaching them how to walk with God by reading His word and through process making it less intimidating. This challenge has been good because it forces students to own their faith and provide substance to the content they have already learned.
I would love to hear how others are teaching students to read God’s Word! I am all about best practices, so please share your thoughts, or questions.