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Twelve Things I Want My Teens to Know

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September 17th, 2009

In the fall of 1995 I was seated at a special family conference at our church. The speaker was Jerry Jenkins, a prolific Christian writer. At the beginning of his message, he told us about a book he had written, Twelve Things I Want My Kids to Remember Forever.

The title of his book resonated in my thoughts. I asked myself, “What do I want the students in our youth group to know when they leave our group?”

As Jerry spoke, I thought of a lot of areas that are burdens my wife Sheri and I have for the kids in our youth group. A long list of timely and important topics came to mind. During my 17 years of full-time youth ministry, I had covered the majority of these areas-but without a strategy or plan. The passages and topics I covered were determined by the youth program and Sunday school curricula I used.

But was I covering all I needed to? Were there areas on which I was putting too much emphasis and others that I was not covering enough? These questions and others bothered me. I was reminded of the quote, “If you aim at nothing, you’re sure to hit it.” It was clear that I was not aiming at anything. I began to pray, search Scripture, talk to other youth workers, and look for books and articles that addressed my questions.

A few years previously, God had impacted me as I studied Ephesians 4:11-13:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.It was [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

It became clear to me that this passage outlined my role as a pastor and teacher: to prepare youth to do the work of the ministry in and through the local church. And according to our church mission statement, “Bethesda Baptist Church exists for the purpose of magnifying Christ through worship and the Word, making Christ known to our neighbors and the nation and moving believers toward maturity and ministry.”

To equip our youth properly for ministry in and through Bethesda Baptist Church, I needed to put into writing a comprehensive long-term teaching plan. This plan should attempt to dovetail our youth group meetings, Sunday school, and any other setting in which we teach teens through our youth ministry. It should also include teaching methods and learning simulations to make sure that the teaching is remembered.

Why a teaching plan?

Why develop a teaching plan? In order to avoid haphazardness. At one time or another we’ve all resorted to winging it, last-minute indecision, or trying to think up a topic the week of its delivery. Have you ever invited a guest speaker who has asked you what to speak about, and you say, “Whatever you want to”?

But our kids need us to have a focus, a battle plan, a coaching strategy. We are not talking about simple classroom learning, but spiritual coaching. Why is it that we coach kids for baseball, basketball, speech, music, and many other things…but we never consider the necessity of spiritual coaching?

God has promised to bless serious planning. Proverbs 16:3 admonishes us, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” We should be reminded of the statement, “If we fail to plan, we plan to fail.” Very few things are ever accomplished without proper planning and without bathing the effort with huge doses of prayer.

What should a teaching plan look like? Let me say that it is not essential that anybody’s plan look like my plan for Bethesda Baptist Church. Your plan needs to fit your church and should work with your people and programs.

But there are some key ingredients that your plan should include.

Action statements

The first ingredient is action statements. The plan that we developed here at Bethesda is called “Twelve Things God Wants You to Know.” We started by surveyed our teens, parents, pastoral staff, church members, and past graduates, then listed key topics and Biblical principles that we felt had application to teens. As we fashioned this list, it became evident that some areas fit together. We named these major categories, and we developed an action statement for each one.

The action statement is there for the sake of memory and repetition, and any topic we teach has to support or relate to a particular action statement.

What’s more, each action statement has to be clearly based in and supported by scripture. Here’s a sample action statement: “God wants you to be saved and growing spiritually.” This one is supported by two scriptures:

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:3-4

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

Twelve Action Statements

Here are the Twelve Action Statements that we have developed at Bethesda.

  1. God wants you to be saved and growing spiritually.
  2. God wants you to be increasing in your knowledge of His Word.
  3. God wants you to have a transformed mind.
  4. God wants you to develop Christ-like character.
  5. God wants you to establish firm Bible-based convictions.
  6. God wants you to be a wise steward.
  7. God wants you to follow His unique plan for your life.
  8. God wants your relationships to be characterized by selfless love.
  9. God wants you to be actively involved in your church.
  10. God wants you to show compassion to those in need.
  11. God wants you to respond Biblically to the difficult issues you encounter.
  12. God wants you to be a spiritual leader.

At Bethesda we try to emphasize all twelve action statements each year in youth group, Sunday school and/or special events.

Action applications

The next part of our plan is action applications. Action applications include teaching simulations-putting kids into situations so that they experience the emotions and ultimately learn in a way they will not forget.

Action applications help you to evaluate whether your teaching is having the effect you want. The story is told of a church that called a new pastor. On his first Sunday he preached a message on the importance of tithing. The next week he gave exactly the same message. After four weeks of this, one of the deacons came to him and asked if he had any other messages. He responded that when he sensed that they started practicing as he was preaching, then he would move on to another topic or text.

In youth ministry we can’t get away with giving the same message over and over again in exactly the same way, of course. But we need to remember that we are spiritual coaches. It’s been said, “Coaches who can outline plays on a blackboard are a dime a dozen. The ones who can win get inside their players and motivate.” Action applications help us get inside our teens and motivate. They also help the teens practice.

For example, an action application that we use to teach the importance of salvation is each teen writing down a response to the question, “What do you believe the Bible teaches about how you get to go to heaven?” This gets your kids to verbalize what they believe, and tells you if they can practice what you’ve been preaching.

Action plan

The written action plan is where your theories meet with reality. One of the realities is that deliberate repetition can be very valuable. During their four years of high school, some of your teens are with you all four years, some join your group in the middle of high school, and others move away or leave before the four years are up. For this reason, it is good to plan a two-year format that you repeat. Make a chart that shows the subject matter for each week over a two-year time period. Write in the topics and passages your youth program and/or Sunday school covers. This should leave holes where you can plug in areas that need to be covered.

If teaching the same topics and scriptural principles again threatens to get stale, you can give variety by using different teachers and resource materials. And if you combine junior highers and senior highers, you may want to consider a three-year rotation.

Whichever schedule you choose, the next step is to chart out on a calendar what you plan to teach week by week, considering specific topics to cover and supplementary materials to use. Find out as far ahead as possible what will be covered in your church’s Sunday school curriculum and try to coordinate with that. This approach works equally well with curricula that take one book of the Bible at a time and curricula that operate verse by verse.

There are a lot of tools available today to help you flesh out your plan. Several publishers are producing materials and resources to use at your church. Finding the right materials or film for the right session can be difficult. With this in mind, I have produced the Topical guides to select material, films and use the TalkSheets. Additionally, you should structure your filing system to locate articles and illustrations you come across. Your action statements can become the skeleton for your filing system. Create a separate divider for each action statement and then a folder for each topic to be covered.

Having a plan like this in place eliminates a lot of floundering and guesswork. It gives a framework on which you will have time for the Holy Spirit to add a greater depth to your teaching.

Additional resources

Davis, Ken (1991). Secrets of Dynamic Communication, Preparing & Delivering Powerful Speeches. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

De Vries , Mark (1994). Family-Based Youth Ministry . Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Barna, George. Generation NEXT . Ventura, CA: Regal Books.

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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.

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