To truly make the most of your lesson time in youth ministry, we suggest you develop some “staples” that you lean into as you prepare each week.
The Staple of Truth.
God’s word is chock-full of life-changing truth! It’s sharper than any two-edged sword! Be willing to confidently proclaim what you know to be the truth. Teenagers are navigating some of the most turbulent waters of their entire life; give them a compass. Teach the “whole” of scripture, avoid the temptation to cherry-pick verses to back up a point you want to make, avoid overt conjecture.
The Staple of Encouragement.
In every lesson I prepare I ask myself, “Is this encouraging?” There is a place for Spirit-led guilt and conviction, but I’m not the Holy Spirit so I don’t trust my ability to pile on conviction in a healthy way. I believe that my role is to speak God’s truth (even the tough truth) in an encouraging way and trust the Holy Spirit to provide the correction and conviction where needed. Your room is full of teenagers, many of whom feel attacked from every side and discouraged in every way. Let your lesson time be a place they find the encouragement they so desperately need. When you present convicting and challenging truths, look for ways to do so in an encouraging manner.
The Staple of Application.
I honestly can’t wrap my head around why some people reject application-based teaching. We are told in scriptures to “be doers of the word, not just hearers” which means we need to put into action, or apply, what we learn from scripture. Sure, we can leave it up to the audience to decide for themselves what this looks like, and there are certainly arenas for that approach, but in your ongoing, weekly lesson time I think it makes sense to help teenagers make sense of the lesson and walk away with some sort of game plan to put into practice in their life.
The Staple of Clarity.
If your lesson is too long, it’s probably not clear because there’s too much content. If your lesson is too clever, it’s possible the clarity got lost in the creativity. If your lesson is too “deep” it runs the risk of leaving your audience scratching their heads. I hope you teach because you want teenagers to clearly grasp the things of God’s Word. If you teach because you want to wow people with your depth, theological perspective and wonderful ponderings, then you need to be a theology professor or write a 500-page book that only your mom will read.
Three things I do to help me keep things clear:
- I “KISS” my lesson (keep it simple, stupid!).
- I start with the end in mind and make sure my lesson gets there.
- I end every single lesson with a “Thought For The Week” that provides my group with a simple summary of the lesson (which also helps clarify anything I’ve made overly complicated along the way!)
The Staple of Humor.
If music is the universal language, humor is a very close second. I’ve never met a teenager who doesn’t like to laugh…although some of them haven’t told their face that truth yet. You don’t (in fact, please don’t try) need to be a stand-up comedian, and your lessons don’t need to be full of knee-slapping hilarity. But sprinkling a little bit of lightheartedness and humor along the way will reap massive rewards. Be careful, because humor can easily be used to ridicule, to get a laugh at the expense of somebody else and to make a passive aggressive point you wouldn’t normally feel comfortable making. Use humor wisely….but use it!
The Staple of Empathy.
It has been said that teenagers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. You haven’t experienced everything represented by the young lives sitting before you each week, but you HAVE been a teenager yourself….you have walked in their shoes. Do yourself and your teenagers a favor by remembering the journey you were once on. What were your fears? What were your insecurities? What were your daily struggles? A teenager doesn’t want to learn from an over-confident, perfect, know-it-all adult. But they will happily learn from an adult who can empathize with their journey in an honest way.
The Staple of Awareness.
Tunnel vision will kill a communicator! Tunnel vision happens when you latch onto an idea for a lesson, or a theme for the year, or a certain mindset that you bring into the teaching time. Tunnel vision at its worst is when the teacher disregards the needs and wants of the audience. Your audience varies all the time…even when it’s the exact same audience! Let me explain. If fifteen students show up for the mid-week outreach night, they are a different audience than if the EXACT SAME fifteen students show up for the Sunday morning discipleship class. Why? Because they have different expectations for the gathering. You need to be aware of that and plan accordingly. If your group is 80% high schoolers and 20% junior highers, you need to be aware of that fact because your lessons will need to be different than if your group is 80/20 the other way around. You need to be aware of what’s happening in your community and, to a lesser degree, the world stage and how these things are effecting your students…because this should inform your lesson time. Teaching teenagers is almost never about what you want to teach, it’s almost always about what your audience wants (and needs) to hear! Abraham Lincoln once said, “When I prepare to give a speech, I spend 25% of my time thinking about what I want to say, and 75% of my time thinking about what my audience wants to hear.”
Is there a communicating with teenagers “Staple” you would add to this list?