On February 11-12, 2015, thirty-four youth theology program directors and theology faculty attended a Lilly Youth Theology Network (LYTN) consultation in Indianapolis to discuss effective pedagogical practices for engaging high school age youth in theological thinking. Listed below are pedagogical recommendations LYTN offers to theology faculty to more effectively engage high school youth in theology.
The process used at the consultation to develop these recommendations included four sessions. The first session raised and discussed the big questions surrounding effective pedagogical practices. During the second session, six program directors presented their signature pedagogical practices that effectively engage youth in theology. In the third session, small groups developed pedagogical recommendations for theologians teaching in the youth theology programs. At the final session, the participants reviewed all the small group recommendations and then voted on the recommendations they thought would be most helpful for theology faculty to receive.
Pedagogical Recommendations for Theology Faculty Teaching High School Youth
We recommend that theology faculty…
1. Utilize experiential learning within your teaching. Design disorientation or dislocation experiences that surprise young people. Use poetry, movement, arts, and activities that encourage multi-sensory engagement in a theological topic.
2. Focus on the big idea in the session–clarify the one theological idea you want youth to remember five years from now. Do not dumb down the theology, but synthesize it into an accessible big idea. Some programs have found the TED Talk principles helpful in preparing 18-minute lectures. A video detailing these principles can be found at https://youtu.be/RVDfWfUSBIM.
3. Ask yourself the following questions as your prepare your presentation or course:
- What am I prepared to learn from these teens?
- How does my presentation help to create community/relationships?
4. Give youth a voice in the theological argument being covered. Don’t just prepare lessons for the youth, but prepare lessons that engage youth in thinking theologically.
5. Understand that youth are developing critical imaginations for looking at the world, which we believe is more important than mastering theological content. Theologians should engage youth in a process of reflective praxis. Establish a dialogue between theological content and its personal appropriation by young people. Do not simply provide content and assume the staff will do reflection.
6. Empower youth to do theology. Shift from content only to practice/skills.
7. Offer a generative particular of your field–not an encyclopedia survey of the entire field. Offer this through a particular window/lens.
8. Integrate the personal aspects of the theological topic. Young people love to hear how you as a theologian live out this theology in your everyday life and love to think about how they might live this out in their lives.
9. Understand the goals and outcomes of the youth theology curriculum. Faculty should consider how your course or presentation advances the curricular goals and outcomes.
10. Understand the socio-religious contextual issues facing young people. Program directors should recommend reading such as Soul Searching by Christian Smith, Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean, Youth Ministry in the Black Church by Anne Streaty Wimberly, or Sticky Faith by Kara Powell and Chap Clark.