A long time ago I read The 7 Checkpoints by Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall. In this book Stanley and Hall outline the need to teach students the absolute essentials for their faith development. At the time I remembered agreeing with the premise that we only have so many hours per year of teaching time with our students. Therefore, the question we must ask is: What do we absolutely want them to know and understand by the time they graduate? Stanley asserts that the Bible is full of truth, but not all of it is applicable to teenagers. We can’t give them everything, so must consider what gets ditched and what do we keep and teach?
For me recently, I have been evaluating my teaching and programs and I am concluding that some of our teaching isn’t essential. It’s good yes, but essential, no. Given that my total teaching time with my high school students will be around about 50-60 hours per year, I must be ruthless in getting rid of teaching that could be good, but not essential when all is said and done. I am must work equally hard in adding material that is essential to the specific group of students I am working with. Here’s what I can do to ensure that I am hitting the most important and applicable areas:
1) ESSENTIAL AREAS OF TEACHING: Write down the top ten areas that every student in your program needs to know by the time they graduate or “move up”. Look at what you teach in a 3-5 year period and make sure these top-ten areas are included first. This process should take a few months to come up with as you prayerfully consider these areas.
2) ESSENTIAL BIBLE BOOKS: Write down the most essential books of the Bible that you need to cover in a 3-5 year period and map out a provisional a plan. Be sure to have a balance in Old Testament / New Testament material.
3) BALANCED PROGRAMS: Create a clear balance of programs that “fire fight” the issues students are facing as well as environments that help students to “fire prevent” by teaching foundational theology and doctrine. For us, we have two weekly meetings. One is topical and mostly issue related (I call this “fire fighting”), while the other is clearly foundational faith building (I call this “fire preventing”).
4) ASK STUDENTS: Every few months, ask them what issues they and their friends are facing and create a “moving plan” that will hit the felt needs of the students. When we hit their issues and felt needs, they usually will learn more. These messages are presented in our midweek program that tackles topical issues in students lives. I survey my students once a year and I ask them every few months what areas / issues / topics they need to learn about.
5) ASK YOURSELF: Are you simply following a curriculum plan that someone else created for you, or whether you are giving your students the essentials that is specific to your group of students?
6) INVOLVE OTHERS: As noted above, I ask students continuously, but it’s essential to gain the insight and opinions of other youth workers in your ministry. Ask God to speak through the people who are working with your specific group of students and evaluate what you need to change and tweak. It’s imperative that we realize that we need to create a custom program for our specific group of students and not rely on someone else’s research that worked for their ministry in a different context. Too often we rely on curriculum and a scope and sequence that worked somewhere else, but maybe not for us. With all this said, I do you use curriculum regularly, but I tend to pick and choose what I feel we need for my group and dismiss what is not needed…
A hard question I must ask you today is this: Are you simply going through the motions of using a canned curriculum, or are you really seeking to create a custom program that is best for your specific context, environment, and students God has called you to minister to?
Finally, feel free to share any ideas as to how you create a balanced program with essential teaching?