Youth Ministry Essentials: Tips for Preparing Great Lessons
Since 2003, I have had the awesome privilege of waking up every day tasked with creating Bible Study for teenagers. I did it for almost 7 years at Student Life. Now, God has called us to launch youthministry360, where I am once again leading the creation of new lines of Bible Study resources. It's fulfilling beyond words, and helps me live out the calling God has put on my life.
BUT, I am also a teacher. I've been a volunteer teacher with youth and young adults for years and years. Seeing Bible Study from both sides, both the creation and the execution, has given me great perspective on the entire process. One of the things I've learned over the years is the value of preparation. How do you prepare to teach a lesson? Is your process effective? Does it serve you in the classroom?
While each individual prepares differently, here's a few key points worth considering:
Prayer Is Foundational—When we incorporate prayer as a part of our preparation, we align ourselves with God's agenda. We open ourselves up to the leading of the Spirit and what He desires to accomplish in our students. Also, I find prayer helps me realize that for the lesson to be effective, it needs to be about the Lord and not about me.
Your Curriculum Is Just A Starting Point—The best curriculum is nothing but a stepping stone to a good lesson. Like buying a suit off the rack of a department store, for it to work, it must be tailored. You know your students better than the men and/or women who wrote the particular lesson you are using. To be effective, you'll need to tailor each lesson to your group.
Good Study Helps Are Key—Good commentaries and Study Bibles are extremely important to your prep. If you're a teacher, you owe it to your students to invest in some of these resources. I've been doing this for a long time and have amassed a pretty impressive collection of resources. HOWEVER, the best single volume study resource I have seen is the ESV Study Bible. It's simply a wealth of information. (It also comes with a free online version.) It has become the first step in my preparation. It's that good. I could not recommend it highly enough.
Keep It Simple—It's rarely ever a good idea to teach more than one key point in a lesson. Prepare to teach one essential truth from any passage. Doing otherwise works against helping students apply the truth.
Organize, Organize, Organize—Whether you use a lesson plan pretty much "as is," or your like me and basically start each lesson from scratch, organization is key. Have a general outline that works for you. Mine looks like this:
- Introduction--This is where any sort of ice-breakers or thematic introductions happen.
- Passage Introduction--Placing the passage in context of the overall Book, and the Book in the overall story of Scripture.
- Passage Study--This is broken down into two subsections: original cultural context and the main theological truth of the passage.
- Application--This is the take away, how the main truth affects our life.
I have this outline in mind as I prepare, and as I look at a curriculum lesson for the first time. I know when I start that I am going to organize around this outline.
Be Intentional About Interaction—If you do not plan for interaction, it probably won't happen. While we have to make room for spontaneity, we also have to carve out the space for good discussion to take place. Good questions are vital. But so is knowing where you are going and what you want to accomplish in a discussion. Be intentional. Have a goal. Create space for interaction.
Have A Routine—Study in the same place, at the same time week after week. If you have a favorite chair in your den, study there every time. If you need to go to Starbucks, do it. The goal is to develop a habit, a routine, that subconsciously tells your mind and spirit that it's time to buckle down and prepare your lesson.
Minimize Distractions—I know my lovely children aren't conducive to my lesson prep. So, I often study in the evenings when they have gone to bed. Maybe you are your biggest distraction. I have found that if I keep a note pad with me, when a thought comes up that needs attention later, I write it in the pad. That way, I am free to keep preparing without worrying about forgetting whatever it is that has come to my mind.
These are just a few ways to improve your preparation. Here's what I know to be true: the better I prepare, the better I am in the classroom. And being a good teacher equates to being a good vessel of the Spirit. So, I take preparation seriously. I challenge you to do the same.
- What practices help you prepare? Share your tips to help your fellow youth workers prepare more effectively.