For the past four years, I have taught two Bible study groups on Sunday mornings: a group of 50-year-olds at 8 am and a group of 4-year-olds at 11 am, with worship sandwiched in between. One of the common questions asked of me is how teaching these different age groups compare.
When adults enter a classroom, they do so with a filled mental slate. Children, on the other hand, walk in a classroom with a mostly blank slate, looking for something to learn. Adults have slates filled with facts, presuppositions, and experiences. They are not so interested in adding to their slate, as they are interested in making sense of everything they already know.
Some adults are interested in adding to their slate, but not for the reasons we may think. They don’t want to make sense of their experiences. Adding is easier and doesn’t require them to take a critical look at their past experiences—especially the painful ones. But if they only add to their slate, it becomes more cluttered and less clear. Going deeper in Bible study isn’t always about learning new facts; rather, it usually involves connecting the dots between facts that are already known, along with life experiences.
The experiences of adults drive their learning. For example, an adult has a friend with a terminal illness. That friend appears to have done everything right in life and is the most generous person they know. So how do they reconcile terminal illness happening to people who do the right thing? What they believe (good things happen to good people) does not match up with their experience (good people get sick).
For adults, education becomes self-directed as a function of making sense of experiences. Connecting the dots between knowledge and experiences usually takes place as adults reflect on an experience in light of a truth discovered, rediscovered, or recast in a different way.
Our responsibility as teachers of adults is to highlight a truth, provide tools to dig deeper into that truth, and then allow adults to reflect on their experiences in light of that truth. The Daily Discipleship Guide was created around this concept. Group time serves as an orientation time to define a biblical truth, and setting in motion the opportunity for members to dig into that truth after group using the five daily exploration activities. Personal reflection is encouraged through questions at the end of each daily exploration section. Additional reflection is encouraged through the questions found in the Talk It Out section, helping the adult come to some conclusion about their life experiences in light of biblical truth.
How adults learn matters. Adults need tools to go deeper on their own. They need opportunities to reflect. They want to interpret their experiences through the lens of biblical truth. If we want our group members to become spiritual adults, then we should teach them to connect the dots between their experiences and God’s truth.