Be Careful How You Teach

Leneita Fix —  March 20, 2014 — 1 Comment



Today I was looking through some really excellent small group curriculum. I loved the way it dug into lead students in going deeper with their relationship with Christ.  However, it also held one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to pre-written curriculum:

It was really written for an adult, not a student.

The subject matter is excellent. However, the way it is written asks questions in a way that an adult who is a fully devoted follower of Christ would understand. Since this has annoyed me for years, I went through a period of time where I wrote my own stuff. In my pride, I went and looked if my stuff was any better. Truth is I did the same thing.

We think adding in engagement, activities and perhaps a video or two solves the  problem of drawing in teens. This isn’t it either. If you merely hand off any curriculum to your team they think the point is to get from the beginning to the end of the lesson. Therefore, they stop ask these “grown-up” questions, get blank stares they think is boredom, and move on.

If there are unchurched students in your group, these concepts are totally foreign to them. When students have grown up in the church they have been “told” but often are not “taught.” Just because they have heard about concepts doesn’t mean anyone has stopped and asked,  ”Do you know what any of it means?”

Recently, I was probing my own three Middle School age kids as to what Grace really is. The idea that it is Christ’s “free gift” that we “don’t deserve” and what that means eluded them. These are three kids who have grown up in Christian school, in youth group, in church, in Christian programming, with two believing parents who talk to them, and still they couldn’t explain this simple concept.

I don’t think the answer is writing our own stuff, or adding any more hands on games. The answer is in the way we teach, and teaching our teachers to teach. Connecting students to the truth is NOT intuitive for everyone. Knowing how to strategically pull apart a lesson and get to the heart of the issue does not make sense to all of us. We don’t always know how to keep bringing it all back to Jesus. It’s not about the lesson at all, it’s about asking, “How will this deepen their relationship with the Lord?”


As you go through your curriculum and look at questions, think before you ask, and spend the time training your team to do the same.

Look at the lesson:

If you think about it, can you easily understand and articulate every concept in front of you?

Chances are if you have to think more than a moment or are pondering, “I know I just am not sure how to say it,” the teens in your group have no clue at all. They need you to let them ask more questions- about the questions.

Could someone who doesn’t speak your language understand all of the words?

A Dutch friend of mine pointed this idea out.  If you were trying to teach this lesson to a person who had just entered the country,  how would you break it down? You would use easy concepts and small words.  Do the same with your teens.

Are you stopping along the way?

Don’t go from start to finish of the curriculum just to get through. Go through it line by line. Make absolutely zero assumptions that they ALL get it. Our unchurched students are sometimes vulnerable enough to say, “I don’t know.”  Many times though they think everyone else knows when they don’t. Our “churched” kids think they are supposed to know this stuff.  They aren’t going to stop you and say,  ”So listen I’ve heard about this Armor of God thing a lot. As a matter of fact, when I was little I even owned the play set from the Christian book store. I think I understand that armor is protective, but can you give me a clue as to why wearing my salvation like a hat really is helpful, and you know what Salvation is also explained as something I only have to do once, so really I am not getting this. While we’re at it can we talk about how we wear shoes of peace or what righteousness has to do with living my life today?  Did I mention I have no clue what righteousness really is and how on earth to wear it like a breastplate, I mean practically speaking. Can you tell me how this has anything to do with following Jesus?”  The discussion question read, “How can your “helmet of Salvation” protect your thoughts?”  Line by line ask them,  ”DO YOU GET THIS?” and “DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?”

Personally I think maybe teens should be writing curriculum for other teens. Therefore, we are left with the adults trying to think like an adolescent. Maybe instead we need to ask, “If I’m honest, do I know what walking with Jesus means at all?”

How are you teaching your students?

Would love to hear your thoughts,

Leneita / @leneitafix

Screen shot 2013-10-29 at 3.59.07 PMWhen we think about discipleship we all think of different things.

Different methods.

Different books.

Different curriculum.

In each of our contexts we all attach connotations to the term, but the bottom line is whatever we do or whatever resources we use, it all requires our most precious commodity – our time.  And here is where we come face to face with the mountain we have to climb whenever we ask someone to “disciple” those in our ministry.  We are asking for their time.

So, I thought I would give you a few thoughts on how to overcome this challenge.  These are not bullet proof, but ideas I still embrace because they have proven to be effective in my ministry:

  1. Don’t ask people to serve.  I know, that sounds wrong.  But the truth is I don’t ask people to serve in a ministry.  Why?  Well, because the first question they ask is, “How much time is required?”  I never want that question to come across their mind.  Instead, I simply ask people how they are being authentic to their identity as a disciple, themselves.  As followers of Jesus we are all called to disciple, it’s part of who we are.  It’s inauthentic to not disciple.  When we bring it back to our identity, time is the last issue that crosses the mind of the person we are talking with.  Their motivation now is obedience to Jesus, not guilt with us.  Big difference.
  2. Show the value of relationship.  I wrote a lot about this in College Ministry From Scratch, but we ought to always encourage people with how they are impacting others.  This is far more effective than making them feel guilty for how they are not.  People will invest both their time and resources into what they find valuable.  We just need to show them the value of their relational investment.



book and pen

My final thoughts on curriculum are in regards to the actual small group lesson. Most lessons include a video clip or short scripture with a couple of questions. This is often the point at which we think our students will tell us, “They know it all.”  If they are mostly unchurched, then we expect that the lesson “will be over their heads.”

Many times, it is simply the approach to the lesson that matters.

More and more students are not growing up in church or a Christian home. Either that, or they simply have not been paying attention when it comes to church.  Therefore, we must start at the beginning when talking Bible and Biblical concepts and even ensure we are constantly reengaging the basics of the faith.

“Run from temptation just like Joseph ran from Potipher’s wife.”  Was a statement made in a DVD series I watched recently.  I had to stop. Who in the room knew who Joseph or the wife were?  The story at all?  Do they know what it means to run from temptation in this way?  I think that we don’t “dumb it down.”  We don’t take a “they won’t know anyway” attitude.

Here is how I break it down and re-approach it for students:

I NEVER watch a video straight through.

None of us really enjoy being talked at for a long period of time without input.  We want to be heard & have the opportunity to wrestle with the deeper ideas.

So a concept is introduced.  Stop the video.

What’s the Point:  That we should run away from temptation before it becomes a sin.

The point is the application we want them to take home.  However, they may not know or understand the context.

What’s the story:  Joseph, a slave in the house of Potipher, was pursued by his wife.

Ask: Students to give you the basics of the story. This includes your students who may know.  It also really lets you know WHAT students actually remember.

TELL:  Take a few minutes and re-tell the story as an overview.  Instead of just reading the scripture,  give them the overall story from the start of Joseph’s life. It isn’t about them understanding the reason why the Israelites were in Egypt in the first place or the history of Israel.  We are looking to help them see the bigger picture as a whole so they can learn how to apply it to their lives.

Too often we get hung up on the details, or we are afraid we will get it “wrong.”  When you stop and tell the background story that explains a scripture, it puts everything in perspective. This is a way you can put it in terms they will understand. Even a student who has “heard” a million times gain new insight when we stop and tell the story.

Want to get some ideas on HOW to do this?  Michael Novelli of Echo the Story is amazing at it.  Check out his ideas HERE.

The bottom line of curriculum is to see it as a catalyst not an end game.

It’s about looking at your time, context and students.  One size does not fit all, but you can taylor it to fit your needs.  It just takes planning and creativity.

What are you doing to make curriculum your own?



You open the package and begin to look at the new curriculum you purchased.   You have read the questions and changed some of the wording and questions. You are ready to start when you look at the games, or the intro video. Bleck. It won’t work.  You know your students won’t respond well. Perhaps, it’s a complicated game that you can’t pull off. Maybe you don’t have the working technology to show a video.

What do you do?

Let’s say the video included shows a guy holding an inflated and deflated basketball, and telling a story to explain the book of James.  I watch it.  I decide I can’t use the video for whatever reason.  However, I would then break it down like this, making it into an object lesson:

Materials Needed:  An inflated basket ball and a deflated basket ball.  (You can use the video as a reference to guide you in this.)

Show the students the deflated flat basketball.

Explain:  This is a basketball right?

Ask:  Is it useful right now?  I mean could you play a game of basketball with it right now?

Ask:  So is it useless for playing a game of basketball? What would make it useful?

Show them the basketball filled with air.

Explain:   This basketball can do what  it supposed to do right?  Can we use this one for a game of basketball?

Then I would explain the point this way:

Just like a basketball filled with air is able to play the game, the way it is supposed to, as a Follower of Christ we are supposed to do those things that Christ followers do. The world around us should know clearly who we are and what we are made for.  James is a book of the Bible that is all about letting us know that we should not just be about “believing in God,”  but we need to show the world through our actions, that we are living for him. That is why this book also talks so much about sin.  It really is a big deal.  Sin is actually the thing that keeps us from really living for Christ.  But if we are really a follower of Christ, ignoring our sin,  not doing anything about it,  is not an option.  Those who want to really follow Christ,  deal with their sin.  Just like a basketball is made to be filled to play the game,  we need to do those things that Christ followers do.

The point?  Never be afraid to look at the deeper meaning of the game or illustration and re-work it in a manner that relates to YOUR group of students.


I admit it. I am not a game person. Therefore, anytime I try to play a game for “silliness” it doesn’t work for me.  I am never going to be the “coolest” youth person in the room.  However,  if there is an opening game, I would try to tie the meaning of the lesson to come into the story.  I make it relational, and I prepare my students for the game.

Taking the same concept from above I might watch the video and then decide we are going to have a game that passes out deflated beach balls (small ones).

Create two teams.

Each team must pick a captain and a timer.

When you say “GO.”  The captain must inflate the beach ball.

Once inflated, the timer starts their job, and the rest of the team must form a circle and keep the ball in the air without letting it hit the ground for 2 full minutes.

Any time the ball hits the ground they must start the time over.

Wrapping up, I would explain the same from above, but then also talk about how other people’s mistakes affect us.

Curriculum doesn’t have to be complicated.  We just need to be willing to take the time separate it out and make it all our own.

 How do you change games and videos to fit your needs?

Tomorrow is our final installment: How to tell the story!

Thanks for all you do,




curriculum 2

We have our curriculum in hand.  We have asked our students what they want.  Now HOW do we teach curriculum so we don’t really lose anyone in the room.

For the next couple of days, I would like to provide you with some practical ideas.


Sometimes curriculum is cumbersome because the context of a student’s life is assumed. It is written from the perspective that MOST of our students have 2 parents, no questions and a great home life.  Yet, do we know this is true?  What’s going on below the surface of a life?

        For example:

You might hear a statement like: “You live in a materialistic society, in the richest nation in the world,” in a curriculum. HOWEVER, if we say this to a  student who may not have enough food or feels neglected, it is a statement that is hurtful. When we barrel in this way, it actually closes our students off.

         TRY THIS: 

 Instead, we take out assumptions based on what we SEE in our group. We must remember that the students don’t always give us the whole story.   Fathers may be missing physically or emotionally from a child’s life. A student’s perspective is their reality. So try switching the lesson so they can see from their point of view:  Talk about how there is hunger in this nation, but that doesn’t give us a right to become victim. Then talk about what is going on in the rest of the world.  Help them connect with how they feel with how others might feel in other areas of the world.


Change Phrasing:

 Sometimes in an effort to make things “teen friendly” curriculum doesn’t make sense to the actual teen. It’s obviously written by a well meaning adult who doesn’t actually interact with teens.

        For example:

I read this statement in a recent MS curriculum. They were making the point that we need to understand we are all children of God.  So it made the statement: “Prepare yourself to receive the sonship today. “

What?! I don’t even know what that means! How can I expect a 7th grader to interpret that, even one who has grown up in church. How do you receive “sonship?” Do you need to do something special for this “preparation?”


Change the phrasing in a way that allows students to feel included in the conversation.  As you look at the way things are written, think to yourself, “If I had just started coming to church, or didn’t really “know” my Bible would this statement make sense to me?”

 We have to take the time to ask students if they know what we are talking about.  What is a child of God?  How do we become one?  What are the  implications of being that?  The original phrase makes it sound downright scary.  What about asking students instead, “Is everyone a child of God? Why?”  Then take a look at the scripture and break it down.

 Remember students,  even ones who have grown up in the church, may not know how to take statements to heart and truly apply them.  They may have heard words like faith, temptation, sonship, and even trusting God. Yet, they may not have any clue what that really means to them.

Look for cues in your students’ demeanor. Usually when students act bored or indifferent, there is a reason we have lost their interest. The question becomes are they being challenged to REALLY understand what it will take to make this a part of their every day lives?

In part 3, we will finish up with some creative concepts to hold make curriculum your own.

Change your phrasing!




curriculum 1


“What are you doing in your youth group?” I inquired, really just wanting the basic ideas of what this youth guy was trying with his students.   His answer was surprising.  “Well, like all young youth pastors, you know I tried writing all of my own curriculum and programming.”   My eyebrows raised, he went on.

“Then I realized I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. There is some great stuff out there. I just have to tweak it to fit my needs.”

This is a conversation that so many of us in youth ministry have had with ourselves. I used to believe there was “no” curriculum that fit the particular needs of my “unchurched” students.  Then my group became more complicated.  I had students who were growing up in church, those who had never attended and others who only attended on a sporadic basis. This meant each were coming through the door with a different worldview.

Who did I teach to? 

The tendency was to teach to one extreme or the other.  If I acted as if everyone was “unchurched” then my students who knew the Bible were bored.  On the other hand I could steam roll students and assume they were all spiritually mature. So to include EVERYONE in the room, how did I approach curriculum?

First Steps:

Start With the Basics (No Matter What):

I have found that just because a student as heard the “good news” (even most of their lives) doesn’t mean they have taken it to heart or even understand it for that matter. When working with an integrated group of students start at the beginning of each idea: Scripture, Story, History, and Application.  If you have students who tell you, “Oh, I know it all,”  find out exactly what they know. Use them as leaders. If they know the facts, how is affecting their lives?  Remind them we are always growing in our relationship with the Lord, whether a “new” or “old” believer.


It’s so easy to assume what students need or want to focus on.   We find something we think is awesome and then wonder why they aren’t engaging.  Just the other day an 8th grader told me, “I hate those lessons when I have to watch a video of someone lecturing me on something.”

Assess your group.  What are they questioning?  What topics do they want to talk about?  In what ways do they learn? Then teach accordingly.


Just because the world is telling you that your students “should” like videos or technology or this or that, doesn’t mean that they will.  You know your students and what they respond to.  Do some research on what is out there for curriculum.

Before you tell me what you can’t afford, have you asked if there is a discount?  Call the companies and talk to salespeople, asking specific questions.

Mix & Match:

One curriculum may not hold all that you need. Don’t be afraid to try integrate a couple of options to best fit your scenario.  For example, LIVE Urban by Simply Youth Ministry touches on some basics of needing to know who you are in Christ. Elements by Youth Ministry 360 touches on the foundational keys to growing in our faith.  I know several ministries that will follow a unit of LIVE curriculum with Elements and so on.


What are the first questions you ask with curriculum?  Are you looking at who is in the room and constantly changing to meet students where they are at?

Stay tuned for the next 3 days. We are going to pull apart what it takes to transform curriculum to fit the needs of YOUR students.

Thanks for being committed youth workers,



LIVECollegeWell, it’s true…Simply Youth Ministry is giving away 72 weeks of the College LIVE curriculum for FREE.  Sheesh, that is amazing.  Before I say how this giveaway works, let me just briefly share a few things I love about this resource:

  1. It walks through books of the bible and gives your students a great understanding of the flow of each book.  
  2. Every teaching point in this curriculum points to God.  The goal here is to put the focus where it belongs.  In other words, as the content walks through the scriptures we learn about God’s reign (Kingdom), desires and intentions for our lives.
  3. It’s simple and clear, but there is a massive amount of content.  So, whether you use it for mentorship or as a small group resource, this can be a fantastic resource for teaching in larger contexts as well.  So those of you who do a large group gathering as well as small groups, you will be extra thankful!
  4. It’s written by people who work closely with college age people.  You will quickly notice how practical all this is for the issues college age people face on a daily basis.

If you’d like to take a closer look at this, you can get details as well as a free sample here.

Okay, so here is how the giveaway will work.  In the comment box below, tell me your craziest or favorite college ministry story this summer.  Winner will be announced on Wednesday.  It’s that simple.

Okay, go…..

I think it is safe to say that we all have patterns in Ministry. Whether it is how you schedule your week to how you run events and services.

Patterns give us reliability and ways to get in a groove and get things done, the only thing is sometimes these patterns quickly wear into ruts.

And these 3 patterns will wear into ruts and kill your ministry:

Using Curriculum: Now don’t get me wrong, I use curriculum and the stuff that is available is only getting better. I also buy it because I don’t have the time or resources to always be coming up with new stuff. The problem is that if we only rely on using things from other people, we dull our creativity. Our creativity is like any other tool we need to use it or it will break down.

My practical advice is that you don’t need to come up with new curriculum all the time. Maybe you have some seasons or the majority of the time when you need to rely on material you can purchase. Don’t worry, you don’t have to make up your stuff every week. Take some time and work on it slowly. Start planning 2-6 months ahead, slowly work on it so it will be ready for when you want to use it.

Don’t have an awesome graphic designer or trendy names, it doesn’t matter. Give your best to God and I know He will bless the work you have put out.

Running service the same way every time: In church we like to get comfortable. We like the familiarity of things. The problem is this teaches people in your ministry this is the way things should be done. The thing with the most time is the most important. For our church that might look like our Worship. We do it really well and give half of our service to it. But the fact of the matter is, that pray is just important, as is hearing the message. So maybe once in a while we could mix up our service and put more emphasis on something else.

Dull Spiritual life: It should go without saying, but if the people in charge have dull spiritual lives why would the members of their ministry be any different? We all will have ups and downs. We all will struggle connecting with God, but if we become complacent and don’t try different things to spice up our spiritual lives we will get stuck in a pattern that may wear into a rut. As a leader in church ministry you are held to a higher standard, so meet the challenge.

What are some patterns you see the need to tear down? What are some ruts you have overcome?

Kyle Corbin has been serving as a volunteer or youth pastor for over 10 years. He is currently the youth pastor at the Bridge Church in North Vancouver B.C. You can follow his blog at: or Twitter: @CorbinKyle.