An important part of learning is being able to take very specific knowledge and apply or transfer that knowledge to other similar, yet different applications. For example, a young child might learn to count objects using blocks. At some point, that child needs to understand the process is the same whether he or she is counting blocks, dogs or an abacus.
The same skill set is needed by your Bible students. Just because they learn it was wrong for Ananias to lie about the money he and his wife were donating from the property they sold, doesn’t mean your students understand it is wrong to tell every possible type of lie in every possible situation they may encounter in their own lives.
When young people find it difficult to transfer knowledge it can result in uneven obedience of God’s commands and principles. This is why it can seem young people don’t understand their own beliefs. The reality is they understand how to obey God’s commands and principles when framed exactly as they were originally taught to them. If the situation is too different from the original scenario though, they may not understand the same commands or principles also apply to this new situation. They may honestly believe they are obeying God when they are actually disobeying (what may seem to an adult) a very clear command.
There are several activities you can do with Bible students to make it easier for them to transfer what they have learned about God’s commands and principles to new situations. The most commonly used is giving students various scenarios. Have them act out the various roles creating their own dialogue and actions to show how they would handle the situation. Because scenarios are often given after a Bible lesson on a specific topic, it can be easier for students to understand the ultimate goal, for example, avoid lying. They can then focus on choosing the appropriate words and actions that would help them achieve that goal in various scenarios.
A twist on the scenario situation forces Bible students to imagine all of the possible situations that could occur requiring them to use the same knowledge about God’s commands and principles. Once again, let’s imagine the lesson was about lying. You would give your Bible students an initial real life scenario involving a situation when they would be tempted to tell a lie. This time, instead of asking them to act out the scenario showing how they would avoid telling a lie, have them think of as many different scenarios as possible when someone might be tempted to tell different types of lies in different situations.
Students may invent a scenario when someone is tempted to tell a half truth, or omit a truth or tell a lie to protect someone’s feelings. The more diverse the scenarios invented by students, the more likely it is that they will be able to transfer God’s command to not lie to any and every situation in which it would apply.
Young people can also become confused applying God’s commands and principles when they are in a different role in a situation than they imagined they would be. For example, they may know lying is sinful, but do they know what to do when someone lies to them? We often forget that not only can we be tempted to sin, but many times people sin against us. Rarely, do young people get much practice in living out this different role in the scenario. Our scenarios generally stop once the main person has figured out how to avoid lying.
What if you changed the focus? Instead of focusing on how to avoid telling a lie, focus the scenario on what God wants us to do when someone lies to us. These situations can change too, partially because your students will probably have more severe reactions to some types of lies than others. This exercise can be helpful in teaching students how God views sin compared to how mankind often views sin. The activity helps students better understand how sin impacts others, while also allowing them to work on forgiveness, conflict resolution and other Christian life skills rarely taught in depth in Bible classes.
Finally, it is important to include storytelling in your Bible classes to help your Bible students transfer their knowledge of God’s and commands to various real world scenarios. These stories should be real life stories of how you or other Christians have handled various scenarios in their careers, relationships, etc. With a lesson on lying, you might invite a salesperson, a doctor and a politician to tell their stories. They would have possibly very different stories to tell about a lie they were told in the context of their careers. The same could be true for different age groups, genders or other aspects of life that may result in people having varied experiences with a particular command or principle of God. Bringing in different people to tell their stories has the added benefit of exposing young people to a variety of Christians living their faith in possibly very different daily worlds.
Teaching young people how to transfer their knowledge of God’s commands and principles to other situations, can make it easier for them to obey God. It is worth taking the time and effort to make sure they master transference.