Culture | Leadership | Small Groups

Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

So much of junior high ministry revolves around things like dodge ball, TPing the senior pastor’s house, finding out if “fire proof” items really are, and begging kids not to drink the “mystery juice” at camp. (You know what I’m talking about…when an attention-starved 7th-grader dumps every possible liquid from around the dining table into his water cup and asks, “How much will you pay me to drink this?”) And yet, we do actually try to communicate the powerful truths of God’s word to these same students on a fairly regular basis. And by “fairly regular” I mean that teaching a lesson of some sort is probably the single aspect of our ministry that we do (or try to do) on the most consistent basis. It’s also the area of junior high ministry that can be the most frustrating. Here are a few of my favorite tips, tricks, and tid-bits when it comes to teaching young teens.

The first minute is the most important minute. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. In the first 60 seconds of your lesson you will either hook your audience or lose them. They will decide right away if they are “all in” or “checked out.” No matter what the subject matter of your lesson, take extra time to prepare an engaging introduction. Start with a compelling story, question, or activity and use that as a launching pad to the rest of your lesson time.

Teach in a linear fashion. On this point, many of my junior-high-ministry colleagues disagree with me. And on this point, many of my junior-high-ministry colleagues are wrong! For the most part, junior highers are still in the very early stages of developing their abstract-thinking skills, and while helping them in this area IS an important part of our role, it’s wise to recognize that a more obvious, linear approach to learning is still the most effective for the majority of young teenagers. This doesn’t mean we need to be boring, lack creativity, and treat our Bible lessons like a math class. It just means we need to recognize that junior highers still need help “connecting the dots” in ways that older teens don’t.

Boring lessons suck. There! I said it. The gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News, not a Good Snooze! Yet you wouldn’t know that based on some of the excruciatingly dull lessons we expect our junior highers to tolerate! Here are some simple ways to liven up your next lesson on Deuteronomy.

  • Tell stories. (Personal stories are good. Personal failure stories are better.)
  • Insert humor. (Laughter helps the medicine go down.)
  • Allow interaction. (Studies have shown most people learn best through active learning situations.)
  • Provide practical application steps. Help them think through some ways to realistically be “doers of the word”.

What are your top teaching tips? Share them in the comments!

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