Taught VS. Caught: Saying More, Speaking Less
“What are you teaching, this week?”
It is the question that students, parents and others ask us so very often. We study, plan and prepare to get ready for that moment when we stand up in front of our students and begin to speak. We are paid to communicate the greatest truths imaginable. We have the privilege as well as the responsibility to teach students, but what are we REALLY teaching our students? Very little of our teaching and communication is actually what comes out of our mouth. What we are really teaching is taught more through our body, tone and what we choose not to say then through our actual words.
We live in an increasingly non-verbal world, where the medium is the message. More and more of personal and interpersonal communications are actually spoken, while the church continues to hold to a spoken, lecture model of communicating. However, this is not to say that we should give up on this week’s youth group lesson, and instead text out our notes and Instagram our slides. We just need to be more aware that 55% of what is being taught is through our body, 38% of what we are communicating is through the tone of voice, while the remain 7% is the actual spoken word.
In addition to the usual traditional ideas about gestures and posture, there are two more things related to our body to remember that will communicate before and throughout what we are teaching.
Dress, for the crowd you are speaking to. Be aware of the demographic, culture and setting. Dress in ways that will connect and not distract from what you are trying to teach.
Distance, from your listeners will determine whether you are heard. It is not about sound, it is about being with and talking to students. An old teacher of mine told me two things that have stuck with me over the year: 1.) “Be a guide on the side and not a sage on the stage.” 2.) “Get off your seat and stay on your feet.” If you are seeking to teach not just speak, you must be willing to move to your students. Be more than a “talking head” upfront, but a “walking friend” alongside throughout a lesson.
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It is not a personality thing or style issue; it is awareness. Think about speaking TO students, not speaking AT them. While you may be passionate and excited, both are great things, make sure you are not coming off angry or upset. Both will turn off a listener and stop your message before it hits a student’s ear.
Secondly, be aware of your humor and what things you make light of. Often when we are talking about uncomfortable topics, the default setting is to try to remove the tension by joking. These topics often are the ones that are the most difficult to speak on in your groups but are the ones that we need to speak most honestly about. Making these topics cute or funny communicates that these topics are not to be taken as serious, which become a lesson all its own.
It is not what you say, as much as what you don’t say that will become the second lesson. In academic teaching terms, it is called the “null curriculum”. It is the idea that the things we don’t or won’t teach on still communicate about that topic. Similar to the above idea of lightening up a setting on a tough topic, often we completely avoid speaking at all on a topic. Whether it is because of our personal reasons or an organizational philosophy, not saying anything often speaks louder than what we are saying. It is best to actually speak on and to a topic directly than to not say anything at all.
Another term used in academic teaching settings is the “implicit curriculum”. The term refers to the implied expectations and values of a setting, speaker or church. Once again the unspoken words often communicate louder than actual words. Especially in youth ministry settings with new students coming to our ministry or even students who have been around a while getting comfortable with our group and us. It’s okay to articulate expectations and even core values, making everyone aware of what is expected and what is important.
Think back at the things you have learned and how you have learned them. Remember those people who taught you the most and changed your life. While we can all think back about a few great lesson or sermons, the things we learn and which shaped us are more often caught than taught.
So as you prepare this week to teach and speak, ask yourself the question that everyone else asks you, what ARE you teaching this week? It may be much more than you thought.
DAN ISTVANIK is the 5th to 8th-grade pastor at Victory Church in Lancaster, PA. He has been working in youth ministry for over 20 years serving churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. Besides serving in the local church setting he is also the youth ministry content writer for Parent Ministry.Net, along with being a contributor to a variety of other great youth ministry resources like Youthworker Journal, Group Magazine, Download Youth Ministry, and more. Additional he shares daily Jr. high/middle school ministry specific resources, and hints on his own blog “The Middle Years” at: WWW.MIDDLEYEARSMINISTRY.COM
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.