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How can I know what to teach next?

What suggestions do you have for this fellow youth worker?

A Life In Student Ministry reader submitted this question:

“Sometimes when I’m praying about what to teach next to the youth I just come up blank. I have not been to seminary and maybe they teach you how know what to preach next. Sometimes messages just come, but sometimes I sit and fret about what is the next thing they need.”

I think this is a good question, worth thinking through and getting sufficient answers. I know this guy is not alone in this situation, so please leave your feedback here for him. Here’s my initial response:

1. Get your hands on a curriculum program and teach through it’s topics and issues. Just be careful not to teach straight from the curriculum. Personalize it and tailor it for your kids. If nothing else, this is a good way to get started with ideas.

2. Most of your topics and issues will come rather quickly after you’ve been more involved in kid’s lives. In an earlier comment on my blog, you said you’re only in your first week of full-time youth ministry. Give it some time and then you’ll start noticing issues that need to be addressed, such as foul language, purity, or gossip.

3. Let me encourage you not to only think about your curriculum topically, though. Teenagers need to have a solid foundation of theology, especially in Bibliology (how we got our Bible, why it’s trustworthy, etc.). It’s easy to give students the impression that the Bible should be limited to the self-help section of the bookstore. Scripture is so much deeper than that. God is so much bigger than that. If you teach practical theology, I believe the personal applications can hit a much wider range than just “don’t gossip” or “stay pure.” Besides, if you don’t challenge their theology, their future college professors will, except there will be almost no theology to challenge.

If you haven’t checked out YMExchange.com yet, register on their forums. It’s a pretty active community of youth workers. When I have questions, need input on something in my ministry or am looking for some ideas on something, I often post there. They’re a good group of people.


Posted on May 15, 2007

  • I agree with number 2. Whenever I don’t know what to talk about, it is usually because I haven’t spent enough time with the teens in the ministry and haven’t heard their problems enough. Not that their felt needs are the only thing that needs to be taught, but it is a place I go when I don’t already have an idea.

  • A Few Ideas:

    1) I think a lot of times your talks come out of your personal walk and devotion time with God and then try to come up with creative ways to share it with students. You’re only going to lead them where you’ve been.

    2) There are some cool curriculums out there such as: http://www.studentlifebiblestudy.com which gives a student a great overview of the Bible with all the major themes in 6 years. So this means a student that is a 7th grader will by the time he or she graduates gotten a balanced biblical diet.

    3) I also think it’s cool to plan out as much as you can for the year and maybe leave once a month open to topics that are more specific to your students.

    The main thing is to pray about it and ask your volunteers and students often about stuff they would like to hear.

  • Carol

    I have recently started in youth ministry and maybe it is just my kids but I have noticed a profound lack of bible basics. They all know the bible “stories” an have been preached at till their ears are full of what not to do but no foundation basics on who they are in Christ. How can they understand why they stay pure or why they don’t do the things of the world if they don’t understand who they are as Christians and the biblical foundation that gives them the strength and ability to stand strong. So God has me on a mission of teaching them the foundation basics of Christianity. They seem to like it and are asking lots of questions and we have had quite a few interesting discussions on what it means to be a Christian. Hang in there and I believe that you will see God point you in the direction that is most needed for your kids.

  • Tim

    Carol, I think you’re right. We teach a lot of self-help kinda stuff from the Bible, but not theology that applies to every area of life. What this unintentionally communicates to kids is that the Bible is here to tell you what to do and how to live your life rather than telling them that this is who God is and because of it, He deserves your love.

    I checked out the link Steve posted above. It looks like a pretty decent program. I’m gonna look into using it at my church.

  • Joy

    One thing that works really well for me is whenever i find myself thinking “hey i should talk about that sometime” i write it down on a slip of paper and put it an evelope labeled “lesson ideas.” then when it’s time to do the next lesson i’ll look through the envelope and usually something will jump out at me again. It could be anything from bible stories to the nature of God to daily life issues, but often these ideas come at times when i’m really thinking/praying/worrying/passionate about what’s going on or could be happening in the youth ministry, and those are often not the times i’m actually getting ready to prepare a lesson. So i save those moments of imspiriation for when i need them.

  • Tim

    That’s a great idea, Joy! I often do the same thing when it comes to blogging, actually. When something comes up that would be a good topic to write about here, I quickly login to my blog (I almost always have my Mac with me) and put down a couple thoughts as a draft. Then, I’ll come back and flesh them out later when I have more time to articulate it. Maybe that’s why I have like 30 drafts queued up right now. Haven’t really thought about doing the same thing with lesson ideas. Thanks, Joy!

  • Rob

    Along the same lines, has anyone ever planned a lesson, and then after giving it, felt like it didn’t really have any impact on the students? This is probably my biggest “worry” as a youth leader. I want to create excitement with my lessons, and cause them to re-think where they are at in their lives, but sometimes how I perceive my lesson going and how it is received by the students is drastically different.

    For any lesson planning, I always aim for creating “buzz” that causes life-change. I want my students to at least talk about what I said with their peers afterwards, and then be excited and changed enough to share that with their friends.

  • Tim

    @Rob: Yeah, I’ve felt that way before, but I don’t usually dwell on it. I know that if I shared the message God laid on my heart the best way I can and it’s straight from His Word, that’s as much as God holds me accountable for. How it’s received is totally a work of the Holy Spirit. I can do some tricks to create emotion, but that’s not life change nor is it the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, God is in control and I trust He does with my words whatever He sees fit as I teach the best way I know how.

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