This post is an outgrowth of an email exchange I recently had with someone who was just getting started teaching youth in their church. They asked a couple of questions about getting started in youth ministry. After three months working with the youth they had observed that their youth didn’t know how to pray, and didn’t have a good working knowledge of Scripture. This one question summed up the help they were seeking.
Any advice on a starting point to incorporate bible teaching and prayer?
Here’s my response to this question.
First, quietly model the lifestyle you wish your teens to adopt. What I mean is, if you want them to be reading their Bible and spending time in prayer, make sure you are. Don’t trumpet it, just do it. Get up early and spend time reading, studying, and praying. Practicing these disciplines will bear fruit in ministry.
Secondly, I would suggest you start with one of the Gospels. There is no more interesting and riveting story told in Scripture than the biography of our Savior. I started with John, and have also done Mark. They are all interesting, but different in perspective and intended audience. In some ways Mark is great for American youth. It was written specifically for a Roman audience and focuses largely on the power of Jesus as God. It’s also the shortest Gospel. I did notice that when I started teaching expositionally, some of the kids seemed to lose interest when we stayed a long time in one book. We spent 14 days in John (during a mission trip), but when we started through Mark we spent about 4 months. They started getting board. But I found that the more I taught this way, the longer their attention spans became. I regularly teach for 1.5 hours on Wednesday nights now. We spent 6 months in Nehemiah and no one got board with it. It took us 8 weeks to get through the first chapter of Colossians, and now they are excited when we spend an hour on one or two verses and really pull some deep truth and application out of them.
So I would suggest you start with a Gospel, maybe Mark because it’s so short (16 chapters). I would suggest reading it multiple times yourself before you ever start teaching. Then plan to cover one-two chapters at each meeting. It will take 8-16 weeks to get through the book that way. At the beginning of each teaching time, I would review the last chapter(s) to refresh their memory, then have them take turns reading this week’s chapter(s) aloud. I usually divide it up (by paragraph, not a certain number of verses) and have several of them read while the rest follow along. They might be uncomfortable with this at first, but work hard to create an environment where they don’t laugh at each other for mispronunciations or difficulty reading. It will really help them in so many ways to read Scripture aloud.
Paul instructed Timothy (1 Timothy 4:13-15) to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture. There is something extremely exciting when God’s people read his Word aloud to one another. Paul also instructed Timothy to devote himself to exhortation and teaching, and to keep a guard on his life and doctrine. By doing so, Paul promises that it will benefit (to salvation) both Timothy and his hearers.
After you’ve read it aloud, PRAY!
Either draw some general truth out of the story of the chapter, or just focus on a few verses and apply them. Either way works.
Look for ways to include some active responses from them, such as worksheets asking them to write out how they would have responded in that situation, or ideas on how this applies to them, etc.
I don’t do games. After the teaching is done, we pray again to end our meeting. Then we play pool, or frisbee, or football, or whatever. But that’s after teaching and prayer. And this all takes time. I spend 2 hours every morning preparing lessons, several hours on Saturday, an hour to an hour and half teaching, and then an additional hour just hanging out and playing ultimate frisbee (the current game of choice) with them. And we try to do a purely fun activity once every couple weeks. A movie night, or game night with no teaching, but that’s usually on a Friday night.
It’s a lot of time invested, but it’s a worthwhile investment.
That’s just advice on how to get started teaching the Bible to youth. I still teach this way, but I’ve grown as a teacher and my teens have grown as Christians, so it looks a little different. Each week we usually cover somewhere between 1-8 verses. I use fewer worksheets now than I did at the beginning. We have more discussion where I’m asking questions to make them think and engage with the text. I can’t tell you how to do that though because it’s specific to the group I shepherd. I know them, and they know me. I have the freedom to ask them pointed questions, to call them out when I think they’re hedging on something, etc. That is something that takes time.
At this point I’ve been working with this since they were in middle school, and now I’m facing a tough decision as half the group graduated this year and is headed to college this fall. More about that in a later post.
If anybody else has advice to offer to someone just getting started as a youth pastor, let us know in the comments.