After I looked at our vision statement, I had to decide where we were going to take students. By that I mean, what were we, the Cedar Run Youth Leaders, going to teach them. What knowledge, information and experiences did we want a 6th grader, just entering our program, leave with when he/she graduates high school? Up until this point, I had never formed a complete plan. I had some things in my head, but with all things, until you write it down, nothing is final.
The strategy I came up with has 2 parts to it – curriculum and experiences.
Have you ever had a parent or member of your church come up to you and say, “You have to read this book. This will help you so much”? This has happened to me a variety of times and my response has always been, “Ok, great. I will have to check that out”. However, rarely did I look into it.
That changed about 2 ½ years ago when I had a parent come up and ask me to read a particular book. This time, instead of responding the way I typically did, I said to her, “Ok, I will read this book if you read it with me”. I was tired of having parents tell me to read this book and think that their job was done. I thought that if this person really wanted me to read this book and benefit from it, they would take the time to read it with me and process it so that we could apply it to our ministry, if needed. She gladly accepted and we agreed to read a chapter a week and meet to process. The book she recommended was “The Seven Checkpoints” by Andy Stanley.
The Seven Checkpoints is about curriculum. It talks about what and how we present material to students. Up until I read this book, I cannot say that I never had a clear strategy for curriculum. But, I never intentionally looked at what I wanted to communicate to the youth over the course of the year or more. I never had an official long-term plan. That all changed when I read this book.
This book was exactly what I needed and helped me in a variety of ways. For starters, it provided me with 7 primary topics that I could and should teach from. As the book points out, these are not the only 7 topics you can teach on, but they are the core topics. The topics are broad enough that you can get more specific from week to week.
Secondly, it helped me plan more in advance. Usually, when thinking through what we would cover from week to week or month to month, I examined where our students were personally and spiritually. Then, I would process through and plan topics that would go with that evaluation. Not that this is a bad thing to do, but, by doing this, I was failing to plan strategically for the long-term. For example, one of Andy’s checkpoints is “spiritual disciplines”. According to Richard Foster, there are at least 12 them. Normally, when I would talk about spiritual disciplines, I would try to cram all of them into a neat 2-3 week series. But, why try to cram all the spiritual disciplines into a short time when you can specifically focus on each one and have at least 12 weeks worth of talks. Now, I am not advocating, nor is Andy Stanley, that you do a 12 continuous week series on spiritual disciplines, but at least you have a some topics to strategically place in your curriculum plan.
Thinking strategically and intentionally about what you want to communicate to your youth will help your stress level go down and your effectiveness in speaking the truth of Christ to your youth go up. But, speaking the truth is just one way that you can and should communicate to your youth.
The second way to communicate is through experiences. As my friend Rick Beckwith has encouraged me so many times, we teach our youth in so many ways other than just verbal communication. When you give them experiences, you can reinforce what they were learning and give them an opportunity to put them into practice.
For example, Mike Miller from Young Life and I just finished a day long discipleship focused day with our students called Next Step. During the day, we had worship and offered some great teaching. But, we didn’t limit their learning to just verbal teaching. We gave them an opportunity to learn through experiencing. One of our teachings included us going out into the neighborhood to pick up trash. Once we finished picking up the trash, we met at the Church dumpster. At that time, Mike led the youth in a time of examining their own lives and the potential garbage they put into it that might prohibit Christ from making an impact in it. He had them write the garbage down on a piece of paper, give it over to God through prayer and then throw it away in the dumpster. It was a powerful time that words cannot describe.
By giving your students experiences, they have an opportunity to remember what you taught for a longer period of time. Do you think the students at Next Step were impacted more by the trash pick up and self examination or if we had just verbally communicated that garbage in equals garbage out? The more experiences you can give your students, the greater likelihood that they will remember it and be impacted longer.
Youth Pastors and Ministers are responsible for so much. However, planning curriculum and experiences often seems to be put on the back burner when it comes to priorities. I have found that too often Youth Pastors and Ministers are either planning talks at the last minute or rely on recycled talks over and over again. The problem with this is that you are not allowing God to speak to and move you as you process what you need to communicate to the youth. In addition, you fail to bring out your creative juices that will help you communicate more effectively. If Mike Miller and I had we planned our service project just an hour or two before Next Step, we would have had to rush to get all the supplies needed and may not have been able to pull it off. But, since we processed and planned this activity 2 weeks before the event, we were able to get the necessary material to make the experience awesome.
Be strategic! Don’t wait to the last minute to plan and organize your curriculum and experiences for your students. Plan ahead and allow God to speak to and guide what you share with the students. Student will learn better as we are providing them with our best.
TAKE A MINUTE and…
- Examine where are you taking your students? What are you communicating to your students and how are you doing it?
- Are your offering experiences to reinforce your teachings? What are some experiences you can offer that will aid your students’ learning and reinforce the teaching points?
- Andy Stanley, “The Seven Checkpoints”
- Richard Foster, “The Celebration of Discipline”