Teaching In Youth Ministry

Image via DcJohn on flickr

I have a confession to make: Despite teaching students for 20 to 30 minutes every Wed. night and 45 minutes or so every Sunday morning, I haven’t used a youth ministry specific curriculum in a really long time. For that matter, outside of a 1 week curriculum that was provided at a conference (CIY Move) I haven’t used a pre-produced teaching curriculum of any kind for quite a while. It’s not that I’m a curriculum hater, or that there aren’t any good options (and there are TONS of options), but there are several ‘hangups’ I usually have (some of the problems are my own, some are not):

  1. The publishers and writers do not know my students. In writing lessons for an unknown audience, lesson writers are forced to keep things fairly vague and general. Sometimes so general that there just doesn’t seem to be much substance.
  2. I have a personal aversion to short-cuts. I can be guilty of re-inventing the wheel when it comes to teaching time, but I would rather wrestle with a tough passage and how to interpret it for my students than just parrot someone else’s thoughts. I don’t think I can really help my students effectively apply a lesson to their lives unless I’ve already applied it to my own – and often, a canned lesson offers a mechanism for trying to do just that.
  3. Often, there are better alternatives. One of the things that’s kind of prickly for me in the youth ministry world is the ‘youth edition’ of whatever the new thing is. Someone writes a great book, so let’s have someone else put together a replica that uses smaller words and video game illustrations and call it a youth ministry edition… Why not challenge our kids to struggle with the original if it’s something through which they’d grow? Are we really doing them any favors by ‘dumbing down’ what we really want them to know?

“So how do you know what to teach?” Without having a weekly topic decided for me, how do I decide what to teach? Thanks for asking…

As a rule of thumb, I teach what God is teaching me. At times, this may look a little haphazard, and it’s certainly a messy and difficult way of doing things. Every lesson is always “in process” and not quite finished – because I’m not quite finished. I’m ok with that because I don’t want my students to think I’ve got it all together and everything will someday be wrapped up in a nice little package for them like it seems to be for me (which is the impression sometimes left with pre-packed lesson plans). I want them to be engaging in a life-long pursuit of knowing God more fully.

There are some difficulties with doing things this way, though.

It’s too easy to wing it. If we’re working through a curriculum book and I’m not well prepared, it’s obvious. But after 12 years of ministry, I can stand in front of a room of students and buffalo my way through a lot of stuff if I have to. This is a dangerous place to be, because it lets me fake it if I don’t really have anything to say. Instead of winging it, I want to spend significant time in prayer begging God well ahead of time for something to deliver.

What if I’m not really learning anything or if what I’m learning isn’t really applicable to younger lives? This gets back to the last point a little bit; if I’m humbly asking God to use me, His grace is sufficient. He knows my students and knows my heart better than I do and wants them to know Him even more than I want them to know Him. I have to spend time seeking His heart for my life and my teaching. He’ll deliver. But if I’m not doing that, I won’t really have anything to say worth hearing.

I have to be vigilant to not get stuck on a few issues. All of us have pet issues that we like to pull out and pass on. Often, they are things that we are very passionate about and can be more easily taught that some other issues. These are ok, and we should teach about these things, but not exclusively. This is why, for the Sunday morning class that I teach, we have been walking through books of the Bible. The last 2 we’ve done have been Revelation and Acts. We go through verse by verse, week after week, talking about whatever those passages bring to light. Often, these issues are not things I would have naturally brought up myself, but are exactly what the class needs to hear. This approach also opens the door to talking about issues that are tough to bring up without seeming like I’m calling out specific individuals. Our rule is that if it’s in the text, we’ll talk about it.

There are some specific touch points that I seems to gravitate toward regularly in my teaching. These are foundational to everything else, and we can dig into that in another post. But for now, what are you teaching? More importantly, how do you decide what to teach?

3 Replies to “Teaching In Youth Ministry”

  1. Great post, Mike. There are times in my ministry where I know exactly what I should be preaching and teaching on. At those times this topic doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. But there are other times where I seem to get stuck in a rut and lack the inspiration to know exactly where to go with my ministry plan.

    To be honest, I do sometimes use published study material to help supplement the ministry that I am doing. I will take a book or series and use it as the inspiration to what I am teaching. I don’t ever preach from the book, rather, I read it to help inspire me to teach on some important issues. Currently I am using Andy Stanley’s “The Seven Checkpoints” as a guide for my teaching. It has seven topics that every student needs to have a good understanding and biblical view over it. These type of books usually help explain why it is important as well, which helps me understand how I can preach on these topics from my perspective and conviction. I have also used some Bible study material to help my volunteers teach on Sunday mornings. It is not my style of teaching, but it really helps them out. I always go through the material before hand and make sure it is up to par, but it can serve as a ministry tool for you and your volunteers.

    I have been convicted in the past that I am “cheating” by not using all original material when I teach. But I really am preaching from my own words, thoughts, experiences, etc. I just use things that I read for inspiration and leading when I need it. This isn’t always the case, but it has helped me when I feel the need for a little extra guidance. Maybe I should get away from it all together. I am sure it would push me even harder to develop as a minister of God’s grace and the Gospel.

  2. Stanley’s “Checkpoints” offer a really helpful concept. I use some modified points that I’ll consistently come back to, as well.

    Just for clarity’s sake, I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything inherently wrong or lazy with using someone else’s lesson plans – just that I haven’t had a lot of success doing so. (And it can be just as lazy to ‘wing it’ when I’m not prepared as it is to read from a lesson book.)

    By the way, it was great to see you last weekend. It’s always exciting to see what God’s doing in other youth ministries.

  3. It was great to see you too. I really don’t have any networking with other youth ministers down in my neck of the woods (because I’m the only one!) so it is great to be around other youth ministers when I have the chance. We had a good and refreshing weekend at TP and i am looking forward to seeing God use what he taught our students in the different areas in their lives.

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