In the following series, we asked people ministering to youth with strong educational backgrounds to look at teaching methods Jesus used as a means of helping us better communicate God’s truth to teenagers.
In John 13, we see Jesus washing his disciples’ filthy feet. He asks them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
What Jesus does at this last meal with His disciples is strange and beautiful. With great care, Jesus, our Teacher and Lord, intentionally uses the setting of the Passover meal to challenge the disciples’ assumptions of what love really is-He washes their feet! As youth leaders who have been transformed by Jesus’ love thousands of years later, how can we understand this love and follow Jesus’ example in teaching it to our students?
In thinking about what Jesus’ example means for youth ministry, I am reminded of something I learned from two professors at Covenant Theological Seminary. Dr. Donald Guthrie and Tasha Chapman showed me three components that are crucial for true learning: structure, support, and challenge. Each component is modeled by Jesus in John 13 and throughout His teaching ministry. In class, my professors would draw a triangle with each component at each point. Then, they drew curly springs joining each point to show that “structure,” “support,” and “challenge” all spring back and forth to each other in an ongoing tension and balance in educational ministry. So what does this have to do with student ministry and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet? Everything. Let me explain how Jesus uses these three components in John 13 and ask some questions to consider as we seek to follow His example in teaching students the gospel:
It is important to create a safe environment with intentional strategy in our teaching setting so that students are set up well to understand the gospel. In John 13:2,4-5, we see Jesus purposefully using the Passover Feast as His setting, and the water and towel as His object-lesson. Through His structure, Jesus shows the disciples that He is the ultimate sacrifice for them. He calls them to follow Him in this kind of selfless love and service in gospel-centered community.
We too can think about the place where we teach and our plan for teaching students. Think about the elements of the room that affect their attention and engage their senses. Think about the teaching tools you use. Are you creating a environment where students feel safe? Are they well set up to hear, receive, and apply the gospel to their lives as the Spirit works?
A nice set-up can be extremely helpful, but Jesus also shows us the significance of loving and caring for people in the midst of a safe, engaging environment. Jesus came alongside the disciples to walk with them through the learning process and extended grace to them where they were in their lives. In John 13:1-5, we see Jesus display deep love for His disciples by washing their dirty feet. He even patiently takes time to answer Peter’s questions about what He is doing and why (13:6-10).
As youth leaders, it’s important to think about how we care for our students as we teach them. Consider a gentle demeanor instead of an arrogant or frustrated one. Think of the impact our teaching would have on students if we were more concerned about our their lives than our agenda. What if we taught out of love more than fear? Do you know your students and their struggles? Are you gently coming alongside them in your teaching to connect the gospel to their hearts?
You can have a safe environment and care a lot about students, but Jesus brings in a third component that cultivates transformational learning: challenge. He challenges the disciples assumptions. Jesus stimulates their thinking. He motivates them towards change through His love. Where He goes, Jesus creates disequilibrium so that the disciples are thrown off of the balance of their false securities, allowing them to take a step forward and grow in dependence on Him.
Jesus challenges the disciples’ view of loving others by doing the dirty job of a servant for them, and Peter is appalled. With a gentle push, Jesus points him towards a new understanding of what it means for Jesus to love him. It’s uncomfortable. It’s messy. It’s a mind blowing. Peter’s life will be changed forever by the humility and sacrifice of Jesus.
When we teach students, it’s crucial to ask questions, tell stories, and be vulnerable in order to challenge students in their false assumptions about God, life, and themselves so that they are pushed out of complacency towards the radical love of Jesus. Are you providing opportunities for your students to move out of their unbelief into dependence on Christ? Are you asking questions that engage their hearts and minds towards greater understanding of the gospel?
Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus, our Teacher and Lord, implementing various levels of structure, support and challenge together in his life-changing, life-giving teaching. After rocking the disciples’ world with an intentional, caring, and stretching lesson of love in John 13, Jesus urges them to go and do likewise. They can only do that through the love and power of Jesus working in and through them. That is our only hope too. In Him, we can ask for wisdom in teaching our students as He taught. If you are a visual person like me, consider drawing a triangle with “structure,” “support,” and “challenge” at each point. Put it on your desk or on your bulletin board or on your iPad wallpaper as reminder to help you as you pray over and plan your teaching moments. Do you understand what Jesus has done for you? Then, go and teach your students the glorious gospel as He has shown you!