What to Teach

By Duffy Robbins

As I confessed in the last issue of Good News, somewhere around the 10 year point in my own youth ministry experience, I began to realize that I was teaching on some of the same topics over and over again, and there was really no plan guiding me. Looking over the messages I had delivered over the previous three years, I discovered that we spent almost six times as much time in the New Testament as we did in the Old Testament; that we spent more time studying general topics than we spent studying specific biblical texts; and that our teaching curriculum was more a reflection of my training and biases than it was a reflection of the whole counsel of God.

I took my concerns to our volunteers and we began with the basic premise that we might have a student in our ministry for three years. On the basis of that assumption, and with input from our pastor and some members of our Youth Advisory Team, we developed a curriculum plan of topics and texts that we wanted our teenagers to be exposed to prior to graduation.  For students who were in our youth group from grades 7-12, we decided there was no harm in their repeating the cycle a second time as long as we used different lesson plans.

We intentionally covered some topics (sex and dating) more than once in a three year period, using different curricula, and perhaps, coming at it from a different angle. We kept in mind that good communication and solid biblical education requires some repetition.

We broke all the topics/texts into three broad categories that represented a healthy balance: The three categories were Bible, Life, and Body.

1. Bible – these were topics that were anchored in and suggested by the biblical texts;

2. Life – these were essentially lifestyle issues, a topical way of addressing how to apply what we had heard and studied in the Word;

3. Body–these were some of the core issues that related to “being the Body of Christ,” and living out Kingdom values as a Christian community both locally and globally.

Obviously, we understood that the whole counsel of God is not so easily separated into these neat, tidy and simplistic three categories. But this approach helped us think strategically about what we wanted our teenagers to know and live out. Once we identified the topics and texts, we could plan for them and around them—this became an important foundation as we tried to build a healthy youth ministry.

That process produced the following curriculum plan.

For our 7th and 10th graders, we studied The Gospels, Who is Jesus?, What is a Christian?, the book of Genesis, the life of David, the life of Paul, and How to Study the Bible. These grades also discussed peer pressure, dealing with temptation, friendships, self-image, as well as What is the Church?, Body Life, and our Call to Service.

The 8th and 11th graders studied the Letters of John, Romans, Who is God?, a study of Jeremiah, a study of Exodus, a study of James, and prayer. They also discussed Making Wise Choices, Stewardship and Money, Drugs and Alcohol, Family, Worship, Caring for Others, and Church Membership.

Finally, our 9th and 12th graders studied the Book of Acts, The Holy Spirit, a study of Nehemiah, a study of Jonah, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and the parables of Jesus. They also tackled issues such as Knowing God’s Will, Sex and Dating, Lifestyle Evangelism, the Christian View of Marriage, Spiritual Gifts, Mission, and Counseling Friends.

If you choose to develop a potential curriculum like this, you might want to get input from a wide range of sources: the students, the parents, the leadership who oversees your ministry, the co-workers (paid or volunteer), the peers in youth ministry and others who have walked with God for many years. But, when you gather multiple opinions, don’t feel the pressure to cover every topic that is suggested. It is wise to let people know their ideas are heard and appreciated. And, of course, if you ignore the felt needs of the students and only teach them what you think they should know about Bible, doctrine and theology, you’ll find yourself teaching to an empty room (and, actually, that makes prep and planning a lot easier).

The advantage of this kind of long-range approach to topic planning is that it helps us to avoid three common mistakes in speaking: 1. Teaching on our pet topics over and over again, 2. Teaching on some topic just because we have a cool new media resource, and 3. Trying to determine your lesson week-to-week.

A plan like this (even if it’s held “loosely”) helps us make sure our teaching is guided by long-term objectives and not just short-term whims, current trends or a regurgitation of the last devotion you read.

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