Once in my ministry I had the joy of teaching a group of 80-something year old women. I discovered that want a ‘word-driven’ Bible study that ‘begins, returns to, and ends with God’s word’; one that doesn’t waste time but uses the full hour for Bible study. I also discovered that they still enjoyed learning in creative ways and that transformation has no age limit. Paul wrote in his letters that transformation comes by the “renewing of your minds”. This renewing work of God’s Spirit is a life-long activity. Senior adults continue to be transformed into the likeness of Christ by God through the renewing of their minds and attitudes. We do not change the way we learn as we get older. Our learning style doesn’t shift so much as does our reticence to change. If we have been used to learning only by lecture, then this is the way we expect to learn when we come to Bible study. It may not meet our primary learning style, but it’s the way “we’ve always done it.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that senior adults don’t enjoy learning in creative ways. Simply check out the programs that are offered at senior centers and YMCAs, and you’ll discover that senior adults are some of the most involved, creative people around. Why should Bible
study be different? Church is often the only place that senior adults are asked to come sit, soak, and sour. This should not be!
Andragogy is the art and science of adult learning, and it assumes that adults come with experiences to share; and if they do not share, then little or no learning takes place. Senior adults have had years of biblical study and many wonderful experiences. The leader can set up an environment in which the members can feel safe and unthreatened to share what they know or some of their stories. Remember, the statement, “Where there is no involvement, there is no learning” was written by Gaines Dobbins when he was in his eighties! As a senior adult educator he recognized the benefit of involving people.
When you begin to prepare your senior adult Bible study, ask the question, “How can I get my members involved?” Don’t be afraid to ask senior adults to take responsibility for their own Christian education and to get involved in their Bible study. Leaders do not need to begin with some “wildly creative methods”. Simple methods that get them involved will be a good start. Here are a few I used with my senior adults:
- Introduce the Bible study, and then ask the members to turn to a partner and discuss one question and/or to share their opinion about an issue.
- Use a brainstorming method: Ask the members to share what they know about an issue or a biblical character. As they share out loud their responses, write them on a sheet of paper on the wall or on the white/black board. Do not respond until all have shared, then ask the group to look at the entire list and draw conclusions.
- Divide the members into smaller groups and ask them to find the answer to questions about the biblical passage and to share their own thoughts based on their experiences.
- Always use written assignments for group work.*
- As members get used to involvement, some more creative methods can be used. Encourage members to use their imagination and creativity. Make Bible study fun and exciting. It’s the most exciting book for the most exciting part of life!
Remember this principle: The teacher’s task is to set up experiences so that learners can discover for themselves biblical truths that can transform their lives. This principle works for adults of all ages, even our senior adults.
*Sample written assignment for senior adults:
Read in your Bible: Romans 1:16-17
Research: Corresponding section in Learner’s Guide, pg. __
Discover: a. What did Paul claim for the Gospel?
- For whom did Paul say that the Gospel was given?
- Share an experience when you demonstrated that you were “not ashamed of the gospel”.
Create: Write the answers to these questions on a large sheet of paper and be prepared to help the group understand these verses based on your research, your own Bible knowledge, and your own personal experiences as Christians.
Creative Option: Create an interview with Paul. Have fun talking with Paul and letting him explain the answers to the Discover questions
Present: You have 15 minutes to prepare a 1-3 minute presentation to the group.