Every year (in my small youth ministry) I like to reflect about my systemic theological and topical approach in how and why I teach what I teach to the teens showing up to my mid-week programs.
Our 21st century existential students desire to not only know but to understand and to experience what they are being taught. Our teachings are more of a cognitive and affective experience. No this doesn’t mean the youth communicator can only rely on emotion to move (manipulate) their teens.
Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall wrote an excellent book: The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders that attempted to pin down the 7 essential themes youth need to hear about. These 7 themes are: Authentic Faith, Spiritual Disciplines, Moral Boundaries (this section deals primarily with issues of sexual purity and dating) , Healthy Friendships , Wise Choices, Ultimate Authority, and Others First.
Though these 7 points are great topical points for a teenager, I am arguing there needs to be a new improved and updated ambitious list of what teens need to hear about.
Teaching to teenagers is not an easy task. If you go too deep, you will lose them. If you go too topical, they will complain your teaching was not deep enough. So essentially we are in a lose-lose situation.
According to me (the small town youth pastor) who ministers in an out of the ordinary context (Laguna Beach)here is what I believe 21st century existential students need to hear about. Here are a few teaching topics for teens:
1. Decision making. Every choice they make matters. Every choices determines the quality and direction of their life.
2. Educating them with a solid theological worldview. It is our job as their youth pastor to give them a basic theological foundation. Give them a brief systematic course. Familiarize them with key theological themes.
3. Teaching them how to defend their faith. Apologetics is a great thing. A kid must start asking the questions so they at least know how to answer the questions. Dale Fincher has a great book: Living with Questions.
4. The insane importance of prayer. Prayer is everything. If a kid can pray, they are locked in. Prayer is one of the biggest connecting points to God. Great things happen, when kids start praying.
5. How to read the Bible for everything it is worth. The Bible is one of the easiest books to read, but it has some complexities to it. Teach the students how to read the Torah, Prophets (major/minor), Writings, Gospels, Paul’s writings, and Revelation.
6. Maintaining healthy friendships. Who they hang around matters. Friends have the biggest influence on each other.
7. Identity. Teach student to ask the questions of: Who I am? Where do I fit in this world? Why do I matter? Basically be confident that you are the beloved child of God. Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t.
8. Comprehend the Problem of Evil. Students should have a framework how to answer the question of: Why do bad things happen to good (Christian) people?
9. Be the Kingdom to others. Love, serve, bless, forgive, and care for others. Kids need to realize their entire life is a mission field. The goal is to show others what Jesus showed others.
10. How to do the teachings of Jesus. We talk a lot about the teachings of Jesus, but very rarely will we talk about how to do the teachings of Jesus. If the students are wanting change, they are going to have to step out of their boat and decide if they actually want to change.
I don’t think youth ministries department need to ONLY focus on being a place of behavior modification. The teachings of Jesus are pretty deep and require more than NOT just drinking and having sex. If we (youth pastors) can nail down the identity part, students will start to love who they are becoming and will not feel tempted to have sex or to drink. Generally the sinful acts for a teenager are linked to them wanting to be accepted and valued. So if we can convinced them they are already accepted and valued, than they will not need condoms and a bottle of captain Morgan.
My point: Teach with consistency and with a balance of theological and topical concepts. Allow the students to wrestle and struggle with what they were taught and more importantly always find environments where the students can experience what they just heard.