How does memorized knowledge contribute to ministry to teenagers? I spent over a decade as a youth minister, working with teens. Teenagers often indicated that they wanted to have ‘deep’ conversations in our classrooms. However, when we looked closely at what they considered to be ‘deep,’ we found that the real content of their ‘deep’ interactions centered on things that they already knew well: feelings, stuff they heard about at some point, and things that they liked. By making connections with one another and between these various topics, their brains saw new patterns and insights emerge and released endorphins as a result, making the whole experience stimulating and ‘fun.’
‘Deep’ conversations do sometimes occur in classroom environments, certainly. But these always develop either between people that already have deeper knowledge of the subject being discussed or else between students that have spent some time studying the subjects being discussed. In both cases, real work and real education has been done in order to provide the participants in the conversation with actual knowledge that they can then share with one another to create connections. Their brains (and the brains of the audience) can see new patterns and insights emerging, and release endorphins, making the experience stimulating and fun.
Sound familiar? What is the commonality between a conversation about something of little (or perhaps ill-formed) substance and something of real intellectual value? The answer is knowledge or, to put in another way, intellectual context.
Boredom comes from a lack of relevancy, and lack of relevancy comes from a lack of intellectual context. Think about it – if you knew everything that there was to know about programming computers, conversations about coding would be fascinating to you – you could be involved, make bold statements, and debate deep digital realities. But, without that context, technical coding conversations would likely not hold your interest. Even though tremendous, valuable content is being spouted in front of you, you’d see no context to hang your hat on, and so any relevancy is lost on you.
To create great, ‘deep’ conversations for teenagers that have eternal value, you must give students intellectual context in the form of real, biblical knowledge. Then, when the time comes to talk about it, they have something to contribute to the conversation, increasing perceived relevancy and buy-in from the student. Of course, to a teenager, studying hard to gain intellectual relevancy isn’t as easy as simply spouting off material that yotheyu make up or feel on a whim. Teenagers may resist the hard work of learning. This is to be expected, but if you can help them to see how hard work can give them what they really want in the long run, perhaps they won’t resist quite so much and you’ll find that boredom can be busted… with knowledge.