“So, what are you teaching tonight?”
“I don’t know. I’ll figure it out later.”
When I heard this response from a fellow student pastor, his answer floored me. He was teaching in just a few hours! Sadly, this wasn’t the last time I’d hear this sentiment from a fellow youth worker.
Often leaders throw together their teaching for youth groups. A short talk with some Bible verses tacked on for good measure. The best of these lessons might have a main point. And if the teacher is a skilled communicator who has been discipled theologically, thrown-together teaching can go well . . . for a while.
There are heavy weeks (and even seasons) in ministry where a strong teacher will find himself relying on past study. But if a student minister falls into a pattern of last-minute preparation, he’ll soon hear this critique from students and parents: “That’s all you ever talk about. Every lesson sounds the same!”
The trouble is this youth minister’s teaching isn’t connected to an overall plan or goal. Perhaps modern student ministry has so valued building community that we’ve devalued teaching. Perhaps we’ve forgotten the purpose and reason of Christian community—to know Jesus and become like him.
How can we recover stronger teaching in student ministry? We can begin by thinking through a plan. While a one-off lesson may be appropriate occasionally, it won’t help your students grow their knowledge of Scripture as a targeted, well-thought-out teaching schedule will. Here are five tips for planning your teaching.
While a one-off lesson may be appropriate occasionally, it won’t help your students grow their knowledge of Scripture like a targeted, well-thought-out teaching schedule will.
1. Ask for help.
If you don’t feel equipped to write a sermon or Bible lesson, you may need more discipleship yourself. Ask your senior pastor or another church leader for help. Find someone who teaches well (like a seasoned and well-respected adult Sunday school teacher) and ask them to mentor you. Find student ministry leaders you admire (I look up to the folks who regularly speak and write for Rooted Ministry, Youth Pastor Theologian, and Reformed Youth Ministries), and then reach out to them to ask for advice. If you haven’t pursued theological education, consider that as an option to get equipped as well. Let your church know about your desire to grow. Don’t be afraid to ask. More often than not, the believers around you want you to succeed!
2. Teach through books of the Bible.
The easiest teaching plan involves preaching sequentially through a book of the Bible. Pick a book and read the introduction to that book in your favorite study Bible. Then, use a good commentary to help you study. You can use outlines provided in one of these resources to map out the weeks it will take to teach through the book. This approach eliminates the stress of figuring out what students “need” from your subjective point of view, and it lets God set the agenda for application. Week to week, you’ll teach what’s next instead of what’s on your mind.
3. Rotate Testaments and types of literature.
When teaching through books of the Bible, avoid the temptation of staying in your comfort zone. If you love Paul’s letters, you may want to spend your time in Romans and Ephesians. Instead, rotate through different types of literature, different genres. And alternate between Old and New Testament books for each series.
You might teach through a Gospel followed by a historical book from the Old Testament. Next, move on to one of the General Epistles then a wisdom book like Proverbs. When you do this, you’re exposing the youth in your care to the whole counsel of God, not merely what you feel comfortable with. Moreover, you’ll grow as a teacher.
4. Coordinate with your pastor.
Consider teaching through books that complement the preaching on Sunday morning. Our senior pastor will soon start a series on Revelation. We’ll kick off a series in Daniel with the students that runs concurrently with that series. Both books are in the apocalyptic genre and are heavy on matters of eschatology. Students who are studying both will learn these subjects with added reinforcement and depth. They’ll also get a sense for how our teaching is connected across the whole church. My prayer is that, in this way, the student service fuels interest in Sunday morning worship instead of driving a wedge between the two.
4. Take advantage of multiple teaching venues.
Many student ministries offer more than one teaching venue each week. In our church, there are three: Sunday school, a Sunday night small group, and a Wednesday night worship gathering. In Sunday school we use a curriculum focused on theological formation that helps youth see the big picture of Scripture. On Sunday night, we focus on spiritual disciplines or apologetics. These venues help our students connect the dots between expositional teaching (like Revelation and Daniel on Sunday morning and Wednesday night) and our big-picture theology and practical Christian living.
My prayer is that the student service fuels interest in Sunday morning worship instead of driving a wedge between the two.
If your ministry has multiple teaching venues, use them to expand your teaching plan with other learning goals. This will help your students fill in areas of Bible, theology, and Christian living you may be tempted to gloss over otherwise.
Every student ministry context is different. Some student pastors have great teachers around them, a large budget, and support. Others are bi-vocational or volunteer leaders. They’re simply doing their best in the few hours they have each week.
There’s no one-size-fits-all teaching plan, but that doesn’t make having a plan less important. Whatever your church size or context, you can think ahead about teaching. You can put a teaching plan in place today that will give your students a robust understanding of the whole counsel of God.