Why you shouldn't finish your sermon in Youth Ministry

If you’re like me, when you prepare a lesson for youth group, Sunday School, small group, or any other of your youth meetings, you like to have it be as clear and understandable as possible. We never want our students to go home more confused than when they arrived – that would just make us look bad! After all, we’re the person (paid or unpaid) the church is relying on to help students answer their questions about Jesus and about life. People just might start questioning what the heck we’re doing if students are leaving with not only their questions not being answered, but leaving with more questions.

But what if I said, “they should be leaving with more questions” or “we should not give them answers they’ll understand” – would that put an uneasy feeling in your stomach? Would that cause you and your senior pastor to spend some “quality” time together? We want students to feel comfortable and confident that if they come to us with questions that we’ll give them the right answer and send them on their way with a little more of a bounce in their step. How would it make us look if they went away confused and scratching their head?   It might make us look a little more like Jesus than you think.

In Matthew 9, the Pharisees asked Jesus why his disciples didn’t fast and he answered them by talking about a wedding, patching old clothes and putting wine into wineskins…what? In John 6 Jesus says his followers needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood…excuse me? I’m sure as the people walked away from these and other teachings from Jesus; they were a bit more confused than when it started. But I also think it did something we might not be doing with our teaching…it caused people to talk to others about it and work through the answers together. The conversations on the way home after hearing Jesus teach probably all started with the same question – “what do you think he meant by that?”

Are we giving our students all the answers or are we creating opportunities for them to work through the answers together? Are they learning our faith or engaging in their own? Jesus created opportunities for discussion in and through his teachings. Should we be doing the same? Maybe the next time a student asks one of those great life questions we should answer them in a way that helps them work through the confusion with others. How can you create in your group an environment that fosters a “talk it through” mentality?


 

This post was submitted by Nate Eckert, a member of our YouthMin Community. Nate is the Youth Pastor at Flora UMC in Flora, IN, where he lives with his wife and their two daughters.

Teaching to Everyone in the Room

After reading an article by Thom Schultz called Why Church Doesn’t Fit Most People, which was a pretty good read, I decided to write an entry about one of the statistics he used. Thom states that research suggests that only 30% or less of people are Auditory learners, meaning that they way they learn is primarily through listening. As a former education major, I had to learn a lot about all sorts of learning styles because as a teacher, you should have an awareness. But, sometimes as a youth minister, I get the feeling that we as religious educators don’t always take the same approach, which doesn’t make any sense. We are educating, are we not? So, if the words Auditory, Kinesthetic, Intrapersonal or Tactual learners seem like I possibly made them up, this post should be super enlightening.

Understanding that there are several different types of learning styles in your youth group, as well as understanding what those styles are, will help you to tailor your educational experience to them and, hopefully, help students learn and retain more information. The first thing we should discuss is the 4 learning types:

Auditory. Like I said earlier, these students learn best by hearing the information and then speaking it out loud. These students are probably some of your favorites, because they want to answer questions and they are able to repeat what you just said back to you, which we often incorrectly attribute to paying attention. You are probably already teaching to these youth, because some of the things they would respond well to is reading aloud, listening to sermons or lectures, and answer questions out loud. Some struggles auditory learners have are written directions and staying quiet for long periods of time.

Visual. These students learn best by absorbing formation be seeing it and storing the images in their brain. These students are also pretty commonly taught toward as a secondary, though are probably not your favorites in the class because they struggle with verbal directions and are easily distracted by noise. But, on the plus side, they respond well to the white-board scribblings we sometimes accompany our lessons with, video lessons and they often maintain fierce eye contact, which we again often misattribute to paying attention. Color coding, providing handouts and writing down key points are all things you can do the help the visual learners in your group.

Kinesthetic. These students learn best by doing something, like moving around or experimenting. They are physical people generally, and will usually be coordinated and action-oriented. They are less comfortable in one place, and that’s okay – let them switch chairs when needed or change positions or couches. These are the students in your group that may be misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD, because sitting still is not something that comes easily. They can struggle with reading and spelling, too. But, never fear, there are some great ways to engage these students, too. Have these students take notes, the act of writing or drawing what they are hearing can help focus them. If possible, incorporate a game or action into the lesson, like tossing a ball to one another while reciting a verse or learning names. Be aware that physical games as part of your meeting will help calm and focus this student, and plan occasional breaks in the lesson.

Tactual. These students learn two ways: touching or holding objects and relating to other people. As we don’t often teach on the tangible, the latter is where these students will shine. These are the students you may find to be fidgety or drive you crazy ripping up cups or drawing on everything in front of them. Anything with fine motor skills will be a good match for them, though not many youth groups have people typing on their computers or dictating on their phones. The other positive course for tactual learners is group work. So much so that working alone can be incredibly difficult for these students. So, to accommodate, work some partner or group work into lessons. Give these learners a place to interact and learn together. As a follow up, use your social media to give these learners the opportunity to type responses and communicate socially about the lesson.

All together now. Okay, I know this seems like a lot. 4 styles to follow…I can only juggle 3 balls at a time, and even then only for a short period of time. The good news is that this is easier than it sounds and becomes easier and easier with practice. And, it will help a lot in the long run, because students will retain information longer and you will have to re-teach things less often. So, I am going to write out a sample lesson idea below and how I would suggest approaching things so that you cover as many styles as possible. Check it out:

Lesson: The Ten Commandments

Before you begin: Prepare a handout with the commandments written down with space between them for notes.

Begin by having the youth open to Exodus 20 and ask for volunteers to read aloud (Auditory learner). While the reader is reading, write the 10 on a white board, chalk board, giant pad of paper or on the wall with permanent marker (Visual Learner). Then hand out the handout you made earlier and have the youth group up with those around them to discuss what they think the commandments mean (Tactual Learner). Call the group back together and discuss what they talked about, having one of the group members share one or two of their ideas (Auditory Learner) while the other group members pantomime the commandment (Kinesthetic Learner). Then teach what each means verbally (Auditory) while writing down bullet points on your board/pad/wall (Visual). Then have the groups meet again (Tactual) briefly to discuss new, enlightened examples and to write them down on the handout (Visual). As a wrap-up, divide the group into groups of 10, assigning each of them a specific commandment. Then play a game of Steal The Bacon, but instead of calling out numbers, call out commandments (Auditory) and the specific person from each team who’s commandment is called must run to the center (Kinesthetic) and grab a ball/prize/puppy/wet sponge.

So, here are my parting thoughts. First, if a student doesn’t appear to be paying attention, remember that different learners use different senses to learn. Second, if a student is struggling to understand a concept, teach it in another way. Lastly, we were all created differently, so even if this is difficult for you to do, remember that God intended these students to learn the way they do, and part of our calling as youth religious educators is to facilitate all of God’s children.


 

This guest post was submitted by Kellen Roggenbuck, a member of our YouthMin community. He regularly blogs at handydandyyouthministry.com and has been a full time youth minister since the summer of 2004.

Why I write my own Youth Ministry Curriculum

We’ve been going through a bit of transition with YouthMin.org the last two months as some of the most active contributors have moved to new ministries, had babies, etc. etc. But we’ve also been going through a time of reflecting on what we hope this site does, why it continues to exist, and one of the things we’ve tried to do is figure out our main foundational purposes, things we believe to be fundamentally true about Youth Ministry that we want to champion. One of those things is Biblical Preaching/Teaching.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, it seems like the last few months have brought about a stream of posts along the lines of “It’s ok to buy curriculum.” And we agree, there is nothing wrong with that. When we were a younger site, and younger/dumber Youth Pastors, I know I personally used to be super vocal that a Full Time Youth Pastor shouldn’t buy curriculum.

But I disagree with the reasoning being given. What it often boils down to is the idea that you have limited time, you should be spending it with students, not at a desk. Some have even brought back the line that if you’re spending more than 10 hours a week in the office, you’re doing it wrong.

I still don’t understand where some Youth Pastors live that their students are never in school, maybe I’m just that terrible of a Youth Pastor that I don’t understand how its possible to only spend 10 hours in an office. But I think that fundamentally, this viewpoint of the role of a Youth Pastor is flawed. This way of looking at our roles places nearly the entirety of ministry on our shoulders, which don’t get me wrong, especially in churches where we are the only paid youth staff, we should have a full plate. But I believe our role has to be one in which we are cultivating leaders and enabling them to do ministry in a more profound way.

We would all agree that our role is to minister to teenagers, but we alone can only do so much. I believe that Jesus laid out a model for ministry with his choosing of the 12 disciples, and thats echoed in Exodus with Jethro’s advice to Moses, to establish the leaders of tens, and the leaders of hundreds, and so on and so on. How easy is it to think “none of my volunteers have time to minister, have the training to minister, they can’t do it the way I can do it.” But ultimately, I believe thats what we’re called to do.

So I write my own curriculum. I’ve bought plenty in the past, I still look at whats out there, but I write my own, not just because I think I can do a better job (because I know its not always the best lesson ever) but because it helps cultivate a greater ministry to teens. Here’s what I mean:

My students don’t need a best friend Youth Pastor

When did Youth Ministry get this idea? Yes, students need to be around adults more, students need Youth workers who care about them, show up at their games, invest in them both relationally and spiritually. But I also spent a significant amount of time recruiting adults who would pour into students, and they are just as capable of pouring into students as I am. I heard this statement once and I’ve owned it in our ministry since, that when a student brings a friend to Youth Group for the first time, I know we have a healthy ministry if they can’t wait to introduce their small group leader to their friend rather than to introduce them to me.

As a quick side note, no Youth Pastor ever accepts a ministry position knowing he is leaving soon, but there is still truth that the average Youth Pastor tenure is 18 months. This idea that we need to be spending all of our time with our students is, in my mind, devastating for those youth ministries that lose their pastor after 18 months, because more often than not you’ve gotten students more connected to you than to the church.

It’s not what we expect of Sr. Pastor’s

When us Youth Pastors think we have it tough, we fail to remember all that the Sr. Pastor does in the church to keep it moving forward. A Sr. Pastor has just as much expectation to be relationally investing in his congregation as a Youth Pastor, but we’ve somehow got this idea that in Youth Ministry that makes it ok to just plug in curriculum. Again, curriculum can be extremely valuable. But would you have anything to do with a church if you found out the Sr. Pastor was just preaching sermons he bought online? Think about this honestly for a second, if the Sr. Pastor’s primary focus was on spending time with members of the congregation, would that be a healthy church? I honestly don’t think it would be, there has to be time for elders meeting, for the administration, for the planning, for the vision, for again, cultivating leaders who do ministry. If it wouldn’t provide a healthy Church, why do we think it would provide a healthy Youth Ministry?

It keeps me wrestling with the word of God

Now I’m not saying that if you buy curriculum you don’t wrestle with the word of God, and I’m also not saying that you should only teach what you read and learn during your personal quiet time. What I do mean is that when I prepare my sermons, my small groups, it forces me to really think through how to teach it to a middle schooler, how to process the passage abstractly and concretely, whether its pure application or how it changes our thinking. I grow in my understanding of God and my understanding of teenagers every week from writing my own curriculum. This in turn helps me minister to students better through a number of outlets, namely the relational time I spend with them, as well as in how we train and equip our leaders.

I could continue to go on and on, because I do believe there are a plethora of benefits to writing your own curriculum, but this post is double the length I try to aim for. So here’s the bottom line:

Buying curriculum is not wrong.

Writing curriculum does not make you arrogant.

Operating in youth ministry that you have to do it all yourself is dangerous.

 

Changing the Standard of Youth Ministry

One of the things that drives the site managers and contributors at YouthMin.Org is the idea that the standard of ministry that many youth workers hold to needs to change.  And we know we are not alone: There are countless articles out there talking about nixing youth ministry as a whole; their arguments include but are not limited to: youth ministry isn’t fitting the needs of our culture anymore, it isn’t growing students up but extending adolescence, and it’s just plain lame.

We are just as tired of the current status quo of youth ministry:

  • Youth workers who wait until the day before to start preparing a lesson.
  • Youth workers who use curriculum without reworking it to fit the needs of their students.
  • Youth workers who plan events just to have them, without having any real impact on the spiritual lives of their students.
  • Youth workers who don’t take the time to understand the culture in which their students live in.
  • Youth workers who don’t proofread what they send out to parents and students.
  • Youth workers who still use clip art.
  • Youth workers who complain all the time about how dumb parents are.
  • Youth workers who complain about how useless their volunteers are.
  • Youth workers who don’t take the time to invest into their students outside of meeting times.
  • Youth workers who don’t keep Jesus the center, and instead focus their times on jokes/silly stories/needless games.
  • Youth workers who are teaching about sexuality in a way that shames their students and drives them away.
  • Youth workers who dress like fools and aren’t taken seriously.
  • Youth workers who talk bad about their senior pastor and other staff members (even Children’s workers!).
  • Youth workers who fit a “mold” that is so 90s and (can I keep it real for a minute?) exclusive to gender.

But, how do we change this standard?

Sometimes us contributors feel like jerks when we challenge others to up the ante; but let’s face it: Unless we say something, nothing is going to change. One of my personal mottos is “Don’t complain about something unless you are actively working to change it.”

Well, readers: This is me complaining and demanding a change.

Start with yourself–how can you start making some changes? Here is an example that will be close to your heart: We all complain that we aren’t taken seriously. Now, here comes the challenge: Look at the way you dress. Look at your youth meetings. Look at the type of activities and events your youth group does. Look at the way you lead and your relationships with other staff.  Now, do you still not understand why you’re not taken seriously? Begin this change in yourself.

Once you have gotten your plank out, help other youth workers with their specks. Challenge your youth worker friends to quit complaining about their staff and start exhorting them. Stand up for the Gospel and demand that we keep it the center. Let someone know that no one wants to come to their event because they are still using Comic Sans on their flyer… in love, of course.

Talk to us in the comments…
What annoys you about the current “standard” for youth ministry?
What are you doing to change said standard?

Changing the Standard of Youth Ministry

One of the things that drives the site managers and contributors at YouthMin.Org is the idea that the standard of ministry that many youth workers hold to needs to change.  And we know we are not alone: There are countless articles out there talking about nixing youth ministry as a whole; their arguments include but are not limited to: youth ministry isn’t fitting the needs of our culture anymore, it isn’t growing students up but extending adolescence, and it’s just plain lame.

We are just as tired of the current status quo of youth ministry:

  • Youth workers who wait until the day before to start preparing a lesson.
  • Youth workers who use curriculum without reworking it to fit the needs of their students.
  • Youth workers who plan events just to have them, without having any real impact on the spiritual lives of their students.
  • Youth workers who don’t take the time to understand the culture in which their students live in.
  • Youth workers who don’t proofread what they send out to parents and students.
  • Youth workers who still use clip art.
  • Youth workers who complain all the time about how dumb parents are.
  • Youth workers who complain about how useless their volunteers are.
  • Youth workers who don’t take the time to invest into their students outside of meeting times.
  • Youth workers who don’t keep Jesus the center, and instead focus their times on jokes/silly stories/needless games.
  • Youth workers who are teaching about sexuality in a way that shames their students and drives them away.
  • Youth workers who dress like fools and aren’t taken seriously.
  • Youth workers who talk bad about their senior pastor and other staff members (even Children’s workers!).
  • Youth workers who fit a “mold” that is so 90s and (can I keep it real for a minute?) exclusive to gender.

But, how do we change this standard?

Sometimes us contributors feel like jerks when we challenge others to up the ante; but let’s face it: Unless we say something, nothing is going to change. One of my personal mottos is “Don’t complain about something unless you are actively working to change it.”

Well, readers: This is me complaining and demanding a change.

Start with yourself–how can you start making some changes? Here is an example that will be close to your heart: We all complain that we aren’t taken seriously. Now, here comes the challenge: Look at the way you dress. Look at your youth meetings. Look at the type of activities and events your youth group does. Look at the way you lead and your relationships with other staff.  Now, do you still not understand why you’re not taken seriously? Begin this change in yourself.

Once you have gotten your plank out, help other youth workers with their specks. Challenge your youth worker friends to quit complaining about their staff and start exhorting them. Stand up for the Gospel and demand that we keep it the center. Let someone know that no one wants to come to their event because they are still using Comic Sans on their flyer… in love, of course.

Talk to us in the comments…
What annoys you about the current “standard” for youth ministry?
What are you doing to change said standard?

Five Things To Think About When You Preach a Terrible Message

We have all been there. You walk off the platform and you just want to get under a rock and pray that everyone will just forget about what you said. You feel embarrassed, stressed, and you hope your Senior Pastor doesn’t hear about it because you think you might get fired if he heard it. No matter what your wife or anyone says, you feel terrible and you just want next week to come so you can “redeem” yourself.

However, if I can comfort you in anyway, take a deep breath and consider the following:

1. Your students won’t remember it.

No matter who I talk to, when I ask them what they remember the most about their time in youth ministry they never mention a specific message their youth pastor preached, but the time they spent with them and the trips they went on. You love the preaching of the word. I do it! I hold it in as high regard as anyone. I do my best to hone my skills to be the best preacher ever. However, your students won’t graduate from your ministry with fond memories of the sermons they sat in, but the memories they spent with you.

Your message was terrible last week? That’s okay. Get back in the word and do better next week, but don’t forget to make those memories with the students. Those matter way more.

2. Your students won’t care.

You had one kid asleep and one kid texting the whole time. You figure those kids made out better than the ones actually listening. Remember that your students haven’t sat in a preaching class in Bible College. They don’t know the difference between expository preaching vs. topical preaching or if you are using the “Me. We. God. You. We.” way of preaching by Andy Stanley. To the students, you are preaching a message to them, and if it is bad or good is really contingent to how you feel about the message.

3. Your students will still learn from it.

I don’t know where I heard it but I heard this quote once, “The mature worshiper is easily edified.” Obviously students range from different levels of maturity, however your most mature kids will find something that will edify them even if your sermon was miserable.

As for the less mature students, you would be surprised by what they pick up. You may walk away thinking you made the worst sermon ever, yet your students found a nugget of truth that will get them through that week. Don’t be discouraged; students can still learn from your bad week.

4. Learn from your mistakes.

If you really felt your message was bad, then grab a paper and pen and write down what you think you did that was so bad. Was it your presentation? Your interpretation of the text? A couple too many analogies that bombed? Your message went 20 minutes too long? Your message was too short? You were factually incorrect?

I said there were ten tribes of Israel (there are twelve) and quoted a passage that I thought was in Proverbs (it was just a Christian saying that isn’t even in the Scriptures) all in one sermon. I made those dumb mistakes because I didn’t give enough time to my study. I walked up to the pulpit arrogant and ill-prepared. I learned to spend a couple more hours in study and a couple more hours in prayer. God allows you to have terrible sermons so you can learn from them and to humble you. You are not Matt Chandler, Mark Dever, and James MacDonald, you need to prepare and pray before every message. (P.S. Matt Chandler, Mark Dever, and James MacDonald would tell you that they have bombed, too.)

5. God uses imperfect people to do his work

You are imperfect. It is going to happen. Take a sigh of relief. There is grace. There is freedom in the fact that you don’t have to be perfect. Don’t let that cause you to be lazy in your sermon prep. Study hard, Pray hard, and let God use you mightily!


 

If you ever need ideas, tips, bounce off your analogies to see if they work, or prayer, join our Facebook group of over 1500 youth pastors from across the country!  Let’s help each other out to become the best youth pastors our churches can have.