What Do I Teach In Youth Ministry?

Image via DcJohn on flickr

I recently posted some thoughts about Teaching In Youth Ministry. I talked about personally not having good results using pre-packaged curriculum and summed up by saying that I basically try to pass on to my students what God is teaching me. That post wasn’t meant as a knock on curriculum writers. I don’t want to be arrogant and think that all my lessons are better than all of theirs. In fact, for the most part, I think they are providing valuable resources for those who are trying to teach youth in the church today. My approach is not the one that every youth leader should take. To raise the level of transparency a bit, I’ll say that my own questioning of whether it is even the way I should be doing things is part of what precipitated that post.

So, having said that, I want to share a framework I’ve used to answer the question, “What should I be teaching in my youth ministry?” I don’t offer this as a definitive scaffolding for other youth leaders to build on, but as a glimpse into my own heart and mind when it comes to teaching.

First and foremost, I consistently reinforce that it is not me and my teaching that students need. It is God – so the primary task I have when it comes to teaching is to answer the question, “Who is God?” Our spiritual development process starts with “revealing God to students”. He is the one who makes the transformation in their lives and mine. I often use the metaphor of Wind & Water to capture this concept. Wind and Water both shape the landscape around us, sometimes subtly over the course of many years, sometimes drastically and suddenly. My teaching needs to depend on His Spirit to blow away the layers of sediment already building up in young lives and on His life-giving Son to cause growth.

With that aim clear (to reveal God), there are 5 characteristics that I want my students to carry into life that I teach toward:

1. A permanent attitude of worship. Worship is not what we do a couple times a week when we’re with all our church friends – it’s the life we live. I want to teach my students to offer every moment and act of living to their Creator. I want to teach them to make Him their ‘magnificent obsession’ for all of life.

2. A kingdom view of the church and the world. As globally connected as we are, we can have a pretty narrow view of what’s going on in the church. I want to teach my students to look beyond our own front doors and labels to see what God is doing in His church all over this planet.

3. A passion for revealing God to people who don’t see Him. Just as I am not the change agent for my students, they are not the change agent for their friends, either. Their responsibility in evangelism is to let their friends see what God is doing in their lives. I want to teach them to notice His work and be able to point it out to people who don’t notice.

4. A commitment to local service as the church. It’s been too long that youth group was some side-light ministry of ‘big church’. We’ve mirrored our culture that pushes kids aside as the adult world busies itself with its own stuff, then wonders why they’re not ready for ‘the real world’ when they hit 18. In the church, we wonder why kids leave when they hit college. Often, they never really were connected to the church in the first place – only to the youth group. I teach my kids that if they’re disciples of Jesus, they are the church. Now. Are they complete? Mature? Fully formed? No, not yet. But then again… am I? Are you? I want my kids to know that all of us who have allied ourselves to Jesus and are living our lives in service to His mission are the church, young and old. They need to know they have a job to do now, and they need guidance in figuring out just what that is. The local church is a great context for doing that.

5. A desire for depth in their relationship with God. I don’t want my students’ relationship with God to depend on them getting a fresh dose of Scripture and some good worship music out of me once or twice a week. I want them to develop a hunger for His Word that’s only filled when they dig into it themselves. (I’ve found some of my most significant teaching moments have come as a direct result of my students poring over their Bibles, then coming together with questions that come up from what they’re reading.) I don’t just want to tell them to read their Bibles, but I need to help them understand what they’re reading, and even how to read it for the highest impact.

I know these 5 characteristics are a better representation of the intended outcomes of what I’m teaching than the actual content that I teach. But that’s kind of the point. When I find a passage or resource that can effectively move my students toward adopting one or more of these characteristics, that’s the content I’ll use.
As a youth pastor, I’d think this would be self-evident, but I’m not new at this… I know someone will question it, so let me just say that throughout my teaching toward all of these characteristics, the primary source of teaching material is the Bible (just as it is for any good Bible curriculum writer).

Question: What are you teaching toward? How do you decide what to teach?

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