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Teaching Them Like Adults

Teach the WordLook across the landscape of your Bible study. What do you see? There are no Kool-Aid mustaches. These are adult learners who have come to Bible study to learn more about their Jesus and what he means for their lives today. Just as we treat them like adults, we teach them like adults.

What makes them different?

So what makes the college student, the mom of three, and the retired couple different from the wide-eyed preschooler, the inquisitive second grader, and the shy 12-year-old? God made them to learn differently. Keep in mind these differences:

Who’s helping them learn?

  • Children are adult-dependent learners. They depend on their adult teacher to tell them what they are to learn next because that is what the teacher tells them they need. They will learn about Daniel in the lions’ den because their Sunday school teacher tells them it’s the lesson for that day.
  • Adults tend to be self-directed learners. They tend to want to make choices in what they learn. So, an adult may look at the study guide you hand out, assess the questions, and decide that he or she is primarily interested in question #7. Indeed, that adult may not pay much attention until you get to question #7. How can we apply this? Perhaps at the end of the lesson we have three applications and allow the learners to decide which of the three they’d like to address. Or perhaps we try to address all three, and the learners relocate themselves to discuss the question each of them prefers.

How are they going to learn best?

  • Children have limited life experience. Because of that, it’s more difficult to connect children’s learning to solving problems in life.
  • Adults have many life experiences. They’ve seen life’s joys and challenges, and they want to learn to connect God’s truths to those life experiences. In addition, they’ll tend to learn best when they are presented with a problem of life and then study the Word to see how God’s Word addresses the issue. So if you’re studying the creation account, perhaps you introduce the lesson with this task: “Many people seem to think that things that happen in life are totally random and that there is no plan. What are some replies we might be able to give to people who think like that?” That places a problem in front of them. You can follow up on their discussion by saying, “As we study, let’s discover some truths which would help us address that type of thought process.”

What’s the point?

  • Children will learn whether or not they see a purpose for the learning. They’ll likely not question it. Children learn the multiplication tables and geography features unaware of how they will use these later in life.
  • Adults want to know that what they’re studying will help them somehow—preferably, immediately. It has to pass the “who cares” test. So instead of asking, “How many days did it take for God to create the world,” ask, “In what ways does the creation account give you confidence as you approach life?” The second question brings obvious, immediate application to the adult’s life.