Teachers have been tweeting, texting, messaging, and emailing me about ways to teach Discovered in their classrooms. For a teacher who suffers from occasional classroom withdrawal, this engagement with fellow educators is downright thrilling! I love knowing that some of your students across the nation will be using my new novel to learn about their world and their God, who created it.
Especially exciting for me is to hear from so many kinds of teachers. It’s a novel, so literature teachers and book club leaders are in. It’s Christian, so youth leaders are using their creativity to engage the teens they serve. But the list doesn’t stop there. A friend of mine made my day when he started brainstorming ways he could use it in his high school theology classroom. Woohoo! I imagine there may be a few collaborative teachers who are elbowing their colleagues and discussing ways to integrate the book across disciplines in a team-teaching scenario. If so, I’d love to hear what you’re up to! In the meantime, here are a few ways to get started if you plan to teach The Messengers: Discovered in your religion classroom.
Getting started . . . at the end. If you’ve been following me on social media or reading the previous blog posts, you already know that there are questions at the end of the novel (two questions per chapter). In the classroom, these can serve well as comprehension assessments or discussion starters. If you tackle several chapters each class, feel free to let your students pick which questions to discuss. Of course, you can plan ahead and pick your favorites. Need some ideas? Here’s a brief list of questions I would probably ask if I were in your classroom:
- Chapter 5, Question 1 will get students thinking, if they haven’t already started to wonder about this mysterious narrator. Guide students to look at the clues we already know about the speaker. Don’t feel obligated to give a certain answer yet; this voice will return every five chapters to give more information.
- Chapter 6, Question 2 sounds a little poetic. In a religion class?! This can be a great time to talk about poetry and imagery in the Bible. Encourage students to highlight portions of the novel that point out biblical imagery and symbolism. As students read through the book, you can especially explore John 1 and the imagery of light and darkness used there.
- Chapter 11, Question 1 brings in themes of ecclesiastical art. (You might want to point out that it’s underground where Simon finally sees art. Let’s explore this more later in the blog post.) If students don’t catch the connection to the stoic heavenly figure and the garden serpent, you may want to point them to Genesis 3; Isaiah 14:12–15; Luke 10:17–18; and Jude 6.
- Chapter 16, Question 2 is a risky question that has potential for some deep thinking. You may want to ask students to write an answer quietly at first. Simon’s own story can shed some light for students on those who don’t seem to respond to God’s Word. It may help teens who are concerned for others. It may convict teens whose story is similar to Simon’s. Gauge the climate of the classroom to discern if this is a great opportunity or a topic to approach lightly at first.
- Chapter 19, Question 1 approaches the subject of earthly authority, the two-kingdom theology, the Fourth Commandment, persecution, and the like. (“Civil disobedience” also comes to mind, but I’m saving that for the next post.) Have at it! What topics apply best to your particular class and your unit objectives?
I usually stop my list of questions here, but I’m going to keep going. . . .
- Chapter 21, Question 2 could turn into an all-out Bible study. Crack open Romans 10:10–17 and talk about the amazing power of the Gospel. If you want to go deeper still, continue through the rest of chapter 10 and talk about the fact that some of God’s people have shunned the Word. This could provide a powerful application to how we see the Word as well.
- Chapter 22, Question 2 touches on a moment that brings Simon to his knees. Martyrdom has sometimes been ignored by our generation, but that certainly is less and less the case. Choose whether you want to touch on the subject or turn it into a larger project. (See below for more ideas.)
- Chapter 23, Question 2 points to Simon after he realizes he’s made a huge mistake. First of all, what was it? Simon’s dream brings him to a point in his life that he regrets—not because of the action against him but because of his reaction to it. Help students understand that Simon’s trust in himself marks a tragic time. Talk this part through. But here comes the Gospel. Jonathan brings in sinner/saint doctrine as well as the beautiful identity we have in Baptism. Here is where teens might appreciate more than ever the certainty we have in God’s promise in this Sacrament.
- Chapter 25, Question 2 points out an important reminder: Hey, look, friends. This Confession and Absolution stuff is real. It’s powerful. It’s a beautiful gift that we sometimes take for granted simply because we receive it regularly. (Or do we? Perhaps a talk about the gifts of worship can be a discussion as well.)
- Chapter 30, Question 2 questions the motives and choices of Simon as well as those of the government. Let students give their opinions of the novel’s outcome. Want to dig deep into this one? See below!
The Christian as Artist. Help teens realize that art is a huge gift the Church has given to the world. This could turn into a full project where students study ecclesiastical art throughout the ages. They could study mosaics, murals, tapestries, stained glass, the list goes on. Students could present a particular masterpiece and share it—and its Bible story—to the class. Students could work with the art teacher to reproduce or create a work of their own. Maybe your project handout will feature Charity’s own handiwork or advice.
The Christian as Martyr. This could be a project that shows impact for a lifetime. Martyrdom may have seemed an abstract concept a while ago, but no longer. Even since the publishing of Discovered—a few months ago—news reports have depicted terrible examples. You may decide to present this as more of a current events discussion, using discernment to teach about recent examples of martyrdom. You may decide to look more to the past, providing a list of martyrs throughout the ages that students could research. (Look for the freebie!) Be sure to help students see that this project isn’t meant to be “depressing” but can serve as encouragement by thanking God for those who have “fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7).
The Christian as Poet. Speaking of martyrs, there are terrific hymns that thank God for preserving His people and that ask for strength in our own lives. Examples abound, but a few include “By All Your Saints in Warfare,” “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “Fight the Good Fight,” and “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word.” More recent options include “In Christ Alone,” “O Church Arise,” and “We Believe.” Especially if you spent time talking about light/darkness imagery in John (above), you could go downright ancient and open the Book of Psalms. You may want to bring in a guest speaker to talk about poetry in general or poetry of the faith. (Psst, encourage the students to try their hand at poetry or hymnody! Trust me.)
The Christian as . . . a Christian. Let’s get back to chapter 30 again. This could turn into an all-out debate. If students have not read chapter 1 of Concealed yet (at the back of the book), it would be fun to hear the students go back and forth as to the pros and cons of Simon’s decisions before reading the first chapter of the next book together in class. Dig into the motives of the leaders as well. I personally would love to add the question about whether Simon was let off too easily. And then? Turn to the Bible! I would bring in passages from Acts such as Acts 4:1–31; 5:17–42; and 9:19–31. Compare to some more stark incidents in the Book of Acts. Reread one of Jonathan’s last lines: “No, Simon. It’s only beginning. And it starts with school tomorrow” (316). The Bible. The Early Church. The Church today. The connections are inevitable and essential as we consider our own callings in the Body of Christ.