Teaching religious principles to young people can be difficult, but the starting place has always got to be seeking to understand your learners. Whether young people, children, or peers, effective teachers strive to know and empathize with the concerns of those they teach.
Has the person you are teaching lost a loved one? It would be important to focus on Christ’s resurrection.
Is the person struggling with guilt? Teach about forgiveness.
Has the person been faced with disappointment or sickness? Talk about the consolation available through Christ and His Spirit.
Has the person been trying to overcome a bad habit? Teach of the divine help that is available.
You may not have had the exact same struggles as those you are teaching, but you can still find a way to empathize with what they are feeling. For example, I have never been tempted by tobacco and do not understand why people smoke and why they have such a hard time quitting. I could easily come across sounding judgmental and annoyed except that I have struggled my whole life with overeating. As I think about how difficult it has been for me to avoid unhealthy foods it gives me a glimpse into the smoker’s challenges. This empathy opens the door for understanding and love—all of which are essential in good teaching.
The best way to come to know learners’ needs is to ask questions before providing answers.
Instead of saying, “I know you’ll see your grandfather again.” First say, “What are you going to miss most about your Grandpa?”
Instead of starting out by saying, “Jesus understands what you feel.” Try asking, “What has been the hardest part of your current challenge?”
Instead of saying, “Those foods are so unhealthy” ask “How is eating that food holding you back from other goals?”
Asking the right questions can lead us to discover the right answers ––God’s answers.
Seek to understand.