Why Leading Discussion Groups Matters in Youth Ministry

by Dietrich Kirk 8/13/19

As youth workers, we find ourselves leading discussion groups regularly. Some discussions happen over coffee, some after significant life events, and some are a part of our regular weekly lessons. Knowing how to lead and guide a discussion is essential to helping youth own and develop their faith.

So why should we use discussion as a part of our teaching? Discussion is an essential teaching tool. Discussion also provides the opportunity for theological reflection. Let’s explore both of these reasons and how they help youth internalize your lessons.

Educational Tool

In his book Teaching That Makes a Difference, Dan Lambert highlights the following reasons for discussion:

Youth like to talk. Discussion provides an outlet for the fact that teenagers love to talk.

Discussion engages the brain. Discussion requires them to think as they process and answer questions.

It can enhance students communication skills. Discussion can help youth grow in their ability to communicate their thoughts and opinions as well as how to have a healthy argument.

You can assess whether they are learning. Discussion is a great way to discover if the goals and objectives of your lesson are being taking to heart.

They learn from each other. Adolescence is a time of peer influence, and they want to hear from each other. As they share their perspectives, they add to the learning process and broaden the conversation.

These are all good educational reasons for discussion to be a regular part of our teaching process. Discussion requires youth to engage with the subject. They learn as they articulate what they have heard, they ask questions, and they hear other perspectives. When we are the singular voice on a subject or topic, we limit their opportunity to learn and explore subjects more deeply.

Theological Reflection

From a theological perspective, discussion gives a place for practical theology to take place. Youth and leaders can do theology together as they dive into the Bible and the lesson. Here are the steps of theological reflection that a discussion can provide as Dr. Andrew Zirschky defines them.

  1. Wow! What was your “wow” moment from the lesson, scripture, or experience? What was something deeply meaningful, shocking, sobering, or poignant that you don’t want to forget?
  2. Why? Why was that moment significant? For something to be a “wow” moment, your beliefs, opinions, or assumptions have to be either challenged or confirmed. We must encourage youth (and ourselves) to look deeper to find why this story or moment impacted them. Some questions you can ask to dig deeper:a. What surprised you? What beliefs about our world or people were challenged?
    1.  What emotions did you feel?
    2.  Why do you think you felt that way?
    3. Was God working in the story? Missing? Were you oblivious to God’s movement?
  3. What? Christians are a countercultural people. What is different in this story or experience from how the world views people? These questions can help you question what is different:a. What did you believe or what have you been taught that was challenged?
    1.  What beliefs did you have about the people before the story? How about after?
    2.  What was good in the story? Bad?
  4. God? What is God’s perspective on what we have learned or experienced? We want to connect our discoveries and learners to God. Here are some questions that can help make those connections:
    1. What did you learn or hear that fit (or didn’t fit) with God’s character?
    2. What scriptures (or additional scriptures) shed light on this situation?
    3. What part or role did God play?
    4. How would Jesus respond?
    5. What new faith questions do you have?
  5. Now what? What needs to change? How do we need to be transformed so that today’s learning will impact how we live our life going forward?

Discussion is a great place of theological reflection which internalizes learning. Discussion provides not only a place for answering the “so what?” question that every lesson should provide, but also pushes us to the “now what?” question that is essential for transformation.

This article helps answer the “Why” of having discussion groups in your ministry, but the real challenges come when trying to figure out  the “How.” How do we actually cultivate and lead these groups? How do we determine practical logistics while also navigating a variety of youthful personalities?  The articles below will guide you through these challenges.

About Dietrich Kirk: 

Dietrich“Deech” Kirk has been in youth ministry for 20+ years. He served as the youth minister of Brentwood United Methodist Church for six years before becoming the Executive Director of the CYMT in 2006. He continues to serve as one of Brentwood’s associate ministers. He is the author of Raising Teens in an Almost Christian World: A Parent’s Guide and one of the co-authors of Now What? Next Steps in Your New Life with Christ. When he is not leading the CYMT, speaking at youth events, or training other youth workers, Deech enjoys spending time with his wife Keeley and daughters Carlisle and Hallie.

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