Updated: Mar 31, 2021
I have tried to argue in several places how Bible Art-infused ministry can help students deepen their biblical literacy. But because I straddle the awkward space between focusing on art and focusing on youth ministry, I could imagine some youth leaders might write off these suggestions as only being relevant for "artistic" students, and therefore not really worth serious ministry investment. Fortunately, educational research is making clear that drawing benefits the learning of all students, regardless of their artistic aptitude:
This video from Edutopia provides a succinct and helpful corrective for some common misconceptions about how arts and learning intersect. Those of us who grew up with a folk understanding of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences may have the mistaken notion that the most effective way to teach is to discover each kid's special way of learning and to deliver information solely using that learning method. So, artsy kids need to learn by doing art, external processors need to learn by talking, internal processors need to learn by sitting and thinking, and so on.
Unfortunately, most youth ministries provide students with a relatively small number of ways to process the complex biblical ideas that they are grappling with.
In reality, the most important part of teaching isn't discovering a special, innate "learning style" for each student and then delivering content along that pathway. Rather, regardless of what aptitudes a student may have, it is best if he or she processes content using a variety of means of engagement (e.g. listening, thinking, moving, viewing). Doing so is powerful because it creates more connections with the learner's brain, each of those connections increasing the likelihood that the information will be integrated and remembered. This is why, even a student who draws very poorly will benefit from being asked to draw a scene or idea from a biblical story - because it will get him or her to process that scene or idea from more angles and integrate it more deeply.
Unfortunately, most youth ministries provide students with a relatively small number of ways to process the complex biblical ideas that they are grappling with. Usually, it amounts to reading a text and talking about what it means. If, instead, youth ministries introduced more drawing or writing into their repertoire of student engagement, I expect that the quality of their discussions and the depth of learning would increase dramatically.
A few tips on how this could work:
If you're having a small group discussion, don't have kids respond immediately to the questions that you're discussing. Instead, provide them with a journal or sticky note and ask them to draw and/or write out their thoughts.
If you're looking at a biblical story, have students draw a key scene before exploring it together. This will help them slow down and process through the details of what's happening - and may also get them to empathize with the characters and understand their motivations and actions.
When you're trying to apply a principle to everyday life, ask students to imagine what it might be like and then draw or write a description of what they're picturing. This may help them think more concretely about the challenges they may face, so that you can process through those challenges together in advance.
Encourage students to incorporate illustrations and other forms of doodling into their sermon notes (if they take them). This can also prevent them from getting too overwhelmed by boredom if your church offers long sermons beyond the capacity of their attention spans.
Get your youth Illuminated Bible Journals or other resources that encourage creative engagement with Scripture.
More Posts on Youth Ministry and the Arts
Exploring the Chosen with Youth [Guides for Youth Leaders]
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara