Be Careful How You Teach

Is your youth group getting what you're teaching?
Is your youth group getting what you're teaching? (Lightstock)

I recently looked through some really excellent small-group curriculum. I loved the way it dug in to lead students in going deeper with their relationship with Christ.

However, it also held one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to prewritten curriculum:

It was really written for an adult, not a student.

The subject matter is excellent. However, the way it is written asks questions in a way that an adult who is a fully devoted follower of Christ would understand. Since this has annoyed me for years, I went through a period of time where I wrote my own stuff.

In my pride, I went back and looked to see if my stuff was any better. Truth is, I did the same thing.

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We think adding in engagement, activities and perhaps a video or two solves the problem of drawing in teens. This isn’t it, either. If you merely hand off any curriculum to your team, they think the point is to get from the beginning to the end of the lesson. Therefore, they stop ask these “grown-up” questions, get blank stares they think is boredom, and move on.

If there are unchurched students in your group, these concepts are totally foreign to them. When students have grown up in the church they have been “told” but often are not “taught.” Just because they have heard about concepts doesn’t mean anyone has stopped and asked,  ”Do you know what any of it means?”

Recently, I was probing my own three middle-school-age kids as to what grace really is. The idea that it is Christ’s “free gift” that we “don’t deserve” and what that means eluded them. These are three kids who have grown up in Christian school, in youth group, in church, in Christian programming, with two believing parents who talk to them, and still they couldn’t explain this simple concept.

I don’t think the answer is writing our own stuff or adding any more hands-on games. The answer is in the way we teach and in teaching our teachers to teach. Connecting students to the truth is not intuitive for everyone. Knowing how to strategically pull apart a lesson and get to the heart of the issue does not make sense to all of us. We don’t always know how to keep bringing it all back to Jesus. It’s not about the lesson at all. It’s about asking, “How will this deepen their relationship with the Lord?”

So, stop!

As you go through your curriculum and look at questions, think before you ask, and spend the time training your team to do the same.

Look at the lesson with the following questions in mind:

1. If you think about it, can you easily understand and articulate every concept in front of you? Chances are if you have to think more than a moment or are pondering, “I know I just am not sure how to say it,” the teens in your group have no clue at all. They need you to let them ask more questions about the questions.

2. Could someone who doesn’t speak your language understand all of the words? A Dutch friend of mine pointed this idea out. If you were trying to teach this lesson to a person who had just entered the country, how would you break it down? You would use easy concepts and small words. Do the same with your teens.

3. Are you stopping along the way? Don’t go from start to finish of the curriculum just to get through. Go through it line by line. Make absolutely zero assumptions that they all get it. Our unchurched students are sometimes vulnerable enough to say, “I don’t know.”

Many times, though, they think everyone else knows when they don’t. Our “churched” kids think they are supposed to know this stuff. They aren’t going to stop you and say, “So, listen, I’ve heard about this armor of God thing a lot. As a matter of fact, when I was little, I even owned the play set from the Christian bookstore. I think I understand that armor is protective, but can you give me a clue as to why wearing my salvation like a hat really is helpful? And you know what? Salvation is also explained as something I only have to do once, so really I am not getting this. While we’re at it, can we talk about how we wear shoes of peace or what righteousness has to do with living my life today? Did I mention I have no clue what righteousness really is and how on earth to wear it like a breastplate? I mean, practically speaking. Can you tell me how this has anything to do with following Jesus?”

The discussion question read, “How can your helmet of salvation protect your thoughts?” Line by line, ask them, “Do you get this?” and “Does that make sense?”

Personally, I think maybe teens should be writing curriculum for other teens. Therefore, we are left with the adults trying to think like an adolescent. Maybe instead we need to ask, “If I’m honest, do I know what walking with Jesus means at all?”

How are you teaching your students? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Leneita Fix is the director of ministry development for Aslan Youth Ministries, a family-focused urban ministry serving Monmouth County in New Jersey and Haiti. She has been working in some form of youth and family ministry for almost 22 years.

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