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Be Careful How You Teach

 —  March 20, 2014 — 2 Comments

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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?”

So STOP!

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

Leneita Fix

Leneita Fix

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Leneita Fix is the Director of Ministry Development for Aslan Youth Ministries, a family focused urban ministry serving Monmouth County New Jersey and Haiti. She has been working in some form of youth and family ministry for almost 22 years. In addition she has launched the coaching and resource organization, Front Line Urban Resources with Jeffrey Wallace serving those who work with families living in survival mode. The early years were spent in camp ministry, suburban and rural youth groups. With the Lord’s moving the last 17 of those years have been spent ministering in three different urban areas to primarily unchurched families (New Jersey, Virginia, Florida back to New Jersey). Her responsibilities have included Bible based program direction for children ages 5-18, curriculum writing, staff training and recruiting, discipleship, resource creation and speaking to national audiences. Her passion is to raise up workers in practical, relationship-driven methods while remaining in the trenches with the youth and families she loves. Her goal is to help others understand every student living in a survival mindset can and will be transformed in Christ. One of her greatest joys is serving in ministry as a family with her husband three wonderful children, and her niece. Simply she resides among her friends in the city just living life as a family that loves being there. You can contact her at leneitafix@aslanyouth.org.

2 responses to Be Careful How You Teach

  1. I’ve been teaching in children’s/ youth ministry 15+ years and have heard my share of crickets! I currently have a group of junior high girls who run the spectrum in Christian walks, social skills and openness. You are spot on about the curriculum…and I do think we have pretty good curriculum. But I try to look at the end result first – what do we want them to walk away understanding today? Our journey to that destination most likely looks very different from other classes in our youth group. Or at least it should, as the dynamics of each class vary greatly. I need to know my girls…their hopes, their struggles, their home life, their understanding of who Jesus is, and how they learn. And they need to know I care – truly care – and am invested in them. Girls need to talk, and be heard, and find ways to relate to each other, so we spend the first part of class “getting the girl out” by talking about our week. That time gives the chatty girls an outlet and helps the quieter girls open up. I take mental notes to draw in their experiences to the lesson as we go through. I am very much a line-by-line teacher and am constantly checking for understanding. We can give them lots of information – valuable information – but if they can’t relate to it or understand practical ways to apply it in their own lives, it’s useless to them.
    I appreciate your writing on this subject and reminding me to view each detail and question from their perspective!

  2. Leneita, May I congratulate you on sharing your mind, and the minds of many of us, about the contention between faith being “told” and “taught”. As an experienced Primary (Elementary) school teacher I can say the same thing about the transference of knowledge and understanding of any form – which is mostly written from an adult (or even a purely academic) mind-set and world-view. As a Children’s pastor I have found the same challenge with material produced for children’s church and Sunday school – and I say this after a month-long quest to review and select new curriculum. I’m on the cusp of making a decision from my shortlist and am greatly refreshed and encouraged by this challenging article – that regardless of the material we use, training the team to engage children relationally is paramount. Otherwise we certainly risk throwing pearls to swine. May the precious seeds of faith be planted in hearts with care and not cast recklessly towards an audience to be eaten or trampled into the mud of confusion. Blessings from Australia for your Kingdom goals. Luke – Director of Children’s Ministry, DaySpring Church, Sydney Australia

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