“Show your work.”

Didn’t you hate it when your math teacher would say that when you were a kid? In every math class growing up, my teachers would always tell me to show my work. And I hated it. Why show my work? As long as I come up with the right answer, who cares how I get there?

Of course, looking back it all makes more sense. A good teacher knows that answering a math problem is less about the answer itself and more about the process of thinking through the problem. That’s why over and over math teachers walk students through the process of finding the solution to a question.

Think how absurd it would be if math teachers didn’t teach students the process, and only taught answers. I think this sounds hilarious, so let’s try it. What’s 338 divided by 13? The answer is 26. Do you understand why? No? Okay, let’s try another. What’s 576 divided by 9? It’s 64. There. That should do it. Now you know long division.

As silly as that sounds, this is sometimes how small group goes on Sunday morning. We ask our group a question and instead of walking them through the process of finding the answer, we just answer the question for them.

If your small group conversations sound the way many of mine have, it probably goes something like this:

“What are some ways we can have a consistent, growing relationship with God?”

(Insert seven seconds of blank stares.)

And then I answer, “By spending time with God through reading, praying, and investing in a small group community.”

And then I dismiss my small group and wonder why these kids aren’t getting it.

When students aren’t “getting it,” it’s usually because we’re not taking the time to walk them through the thought process – we’re not showing our work. We’re just giving them the answer.

Since we already know the answers, it’s easy to subconsciously assume that they know, too. However, when you get that blank stare from your small group, it’s crucial to resist the urge to simply give them the answer. That’s like giving someone an address if they’re driving without a GPS. They don’t need an address in that moment; they need turn-by-turn, step-by-step guidance.

So let’s go back to the question I asked my guys, “What are some ways we can have a consistent, growing relationship with God?” When my students respond with blank stares, it’s time for me to show my work. It’s time to walk my few through the thought process and lead them to the answer, one step at a time. “Well, what are some ways you grow in your friendships at school? Do you spend time with your friends at school? Do you ask them questions? Do they help you get through tough times? So how might that be similar to the way you grow in your relationship with God?”

When it comes to faith and a relationship with God, it’s not enough to simply know the right answers. Students need to know the how’s and why’s behind the answers. They need to learn the process that guides them to the right conclusions. And a small group environment is the best place to learn what that process looks like.

The best math teachers are the ones that focus on the process, not just the right answers. The same is true of the best small group leaders. When your students get stuck, don’t just give them the answer. Instead, show your work.

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CJ Palmer

CJ is the Managing Editor for XP3 High School at Orange and one of the hosts and producers of Rethinking Youth Ministry, a podcast raising the bar for student leaders everywhere. CJ has been leading small groups for middle school students at North Point Community Church since 2007, which means he's probably spent more time talking to middle schoolers than adults in his life. He also placed 5th in his 8th grade class field day fun run. CJ and his wife, Teri, live in Alpharetta, Georgia, with their robot vacuum named Barbara.

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