3 Thoughts on Creating a Teaching Calendar

Matthew McNutt
July 6th, 2021

Years ago, I wasted far too much time winging it on what I taught. I don’t mean I didn’t prepare well – although, that has definitely been a reality at times. I mean I would decide the day of what I was going to teach that night, or what series I would launch. Here’s the thing, in some ways, I got away with it. I never was questioned about what I was teaching and whether it was worthwhile. 

But I was dissatisfied. And a bit convicted.

I became increasingly aware that when I made last minute decisions about teaching materials and topics, I tended to gravitate to the same themes. I realized, when I looked back over the previous year or so, it wasn’t a balanced collection of messages addressing a range of student’s present and future needs. It did highlight what I could tackle well or loved to talk about, but that’s not what it’s about. Is it?

So, I began mapping out our teaching schedule a year in advance. This typically means spending about half a day praying, dreaming, and sketching out a balanced plan. In my earlier years it took a full day. But as I’ve made this a regular practice, it has become more natural to do. The process for me is based on three critical thoughts:

Identify Core Teachings

What are core teachings? In our student ministry these are the lessons that are critical enough to warrant addressing every year. In other words, if kids remember nothing else from our teaching times, I hope we beat these drums often and loud enough that they at least remember them! In our context, that is two series. One is a series on spiritual disciplines.  The second is a series on the purposes for why we gather. I don’t teach the same lesson every year – I have a collection of resources to address these core teachings in creative ways. My favorite part? We’ve done it for so many years now that I frequently have our older high school students teach those weeks! They know the material! It is so incredibly satisfying to stand in the back of the room and watch a seventeen-year-old teach their peers, or middle school students, about the importance and practice of quiet time, worship, or evangelism!

Get Into the Bible

Our American culture is increasingly Biblically illiterate. It is not unusual to have young people who have no idea how to navigate the Bible or understand the different types of books and letters that comprise it. I intentionally spend parts of our year working through Old and New Testament books. Obviously, when we spend three or four weeks diving into a book of the Bible, we can’t address all of it.  However, we can give them a taste of its message, model asking appropriate questions about context, culture, and writing style, and show them how to connect it to their lives today. In other words, the goal of getting them into the Bible is that they would then feel confident enough to get into the Bible on their own as well. As teachers, if we put the time into prepping that allows for creativity, or find strong curriculum resources, we can open young peoples’ eyes to just how exciting and fascinating studying the Bible can be!

Identify Felt Needs

My group spends about a third of the year diving into topical series.  These can vary significantly year to year. When I decide on these portions of our teaching calendar, I ask myself a handful of questions: What topics are kids asking about? What is happening in culture that needs to be addressed? What issues are relevant in our group and area? What is God putting on my heart? And, of course, sex. Somehow that topic is always on the list. This is also the part of the annual teaching calendar that provides for the most flexibility.

Once I’ve mapped out the year, then I begin finding the resources to meet the need, or make a plan to create lessons myself. I use a mix of curriculum from Download Youth Ministry, Youth Specialties, and Group’s LIVE curriculum, to fill out the calendar. Here’s the thing: the calendar is not king. At some point we make tweaks to the calendar.  We adjust timing, drop a series, and/or replace it with something else. At the end of the day, weighing these three thoughts and being intentional with what we teach on a big picture scale sends a strong message of intentionality to parents, provides a balanced foundation to students, and gives me confidence in what we are teaching.   

Matthew McNutt

Youth pastor, coach, author, speaker, and Star Trek nerd. Matthew and his wife Heather have four sons and have been in full time student ministry for 20 years.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.