We’ve all heard the “Judge not lest you be judged” verse used in all sorts of contexts. Some of them are valid and some really aren’t. As a volunteer teacher in a Bible class for children or teens though, it’s important to try and assess where your students are spiritually from time to time.
The purpose of this assessment is not to judge their “worthiness” of becoming a Christian or to chastise or grade them in some way. Rather, it can help you as a teacher know what points you need to emphasize in your lessons, what thought questions and discussions will help your students the most and what activities might help take them farther in their spiritual growth.
What happens is we don’t do any sort of assessment or we check things that aren’t as helpful and give them too much weight. As a result, often our students aren’t getting the Bible stories, application principles, discussions and activities that will take them from where they are spiritually and help them grow. What we do will make little real difference in the lives of our students if it is too simplistic or too advanced for them.
Unfortunately, there isn’t some great paper and pencil test I can give you that will help you know what your students need the most. That’s because, as Jesus often pointed out during his ministry, knowledge does not necessarily reflect a heart that is what God wants it to be. Likewise a student may have a heart that really is trying to obey God, but for lack of knowledge in some area (like Christian Life Skills or Bible knowledge) is having a difficult time consistently doing what God wants him or her to do.
No method of assessment is perfect, because we cannot see the hearts of people in the same way Jesus can. Using certain tools though, will give you some clues that will help you in deciding how to adapt your lessons and activities so they are the most helpful to your students.
Here are seven helpful ways of attempting to assess what your students need from you to help them to continue growing spiritually:
- Observing how they act outside of class. Whether it’s on a field trip, after class in the halls, visiting their home, attending one of their events or some other real world moments – you can see more of their every day behaviors and attitudes. Often during a Bible class, the time you have with students is so short and so busy, you don’t see many student behaviors and attitudes at all – unless perhaps they are somewhat extreme. Watching how they interact with parents, siblings, friends and others will give you a lot more clues as to areas where they may be struggling.
- Bible knowledge. Yes, we said it isn’t the best predictor of a child’s heart. A serious lack of Bible knowledge, however, can leave students vulnerable to Satan’s tricks and lies. So while assessing whether a student knows little about the content in the Bible, doesn’t tell you anything about his or her heart, it does tell you they need help learning more of the information God gave us in scripture.
- Observing how they treat peers. Young people are most often their “real” selves with their peers. And if they are just pretending in an effort to fit in with the crowd, that creates its own set of problems. In general though, young people with kind loving hearts, will treat friends and those who don’t fit in, kindly and with love. The opposite is also generally true.
- The questions they ask in class. Once again, this isn’t a perfect method, but it can give you clues as to the things in the Bible they don’t know or understand yet. It can also let you know if a student is having trouble believing or accepting something in the Bible. Answering student questions carefully, will help them begin to sort out any confusion or doubts they may have. Be careful to check students to see if your answers created additional questions in their minds.
- Questions or problems shared in mentoring times. Sometimes a student will want to speak with you alone about something that is troubling them. It may be a question or a problem with which they are struggling. These conversations will possibly reveal more about the heart of a student than anything else you can do. This is why making yourself available to mentor students is so crucial to their spiritual growth and health. If the issue is something you feel unequipped to handle, help them find someone who can help them learn what God wants them to know and do in those situations.
- What they pray. Most of the time a young person’s prayers in class reveal more about what they think they are supposed to pray than anything. At times though, something will weigh so heavily on the heart of a student that he or she wants everyone they know to pray for them about it. Pay attention also to the tone of their prayers. Do they sound depressed? Worried? Angry? It might just be the kind of day they have been having, or it can reveal an ongoing issue which could be serious (and missed by others – even parents).
- What they share about their week. Some teachers will ask older students to share a high point and a low point of their week. Or perhaps how they used the information from the previous lesson in their lives during the past week. All of those sorts of activities can also give you clues to where their heart is at the moment.
Remember, life changes rapidly for young people and so do they. Any of these ways of trying to assess the hearts and spiritual needs of your students is a snapshot in time. That snapshot may look very different a month or a year from now. Those snapshots though, will help you fine tune your lessons so your students are learning what God wants them to know about what is on their hearts at the moment. It’s just one more tool to help you be as effective as possible when teaching young people the Bible.