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In this “How to Train” series, we describe practical ways in which believers worldwide use our tools to share the message of the gospel.
In this article, we present advice and practical tips gleaned from youth group leaders, ministry workers and Sunday school teachers who teach youth. They’ve provided teens with a solid Bible foundation and a clear understanding of the gospel message. We thank them for sharing their experiences with us.
We also invite you to share your own experiences with us to benefit others. You can write to us via our contact form.
Andrea and James sat among the Sunday teachers gathered for a meeting.
The discussion was on the curriculum and program for the coming year. As they reviewed what they had been doing, the superintendent asked for feedback. Comments came from all around the table, both positive and negative. Then Andrea spoke up. “Can I ask a question? In your class, how many of your Sunday school kids are saved? Do you know?”
In your class, how many of your Sunday school kids are saved?The discussion grounded to a halt. The teachers glanced at each other. Then one by one, they shrugged. “I’m not sure,” one teacher replied. “Many in my class have been to church their whole lives. But are they believers? I can’t tell you because I don’t know.”
Then James asked the follow-up question. “What can we do to ensure each of our students gets a good understanding of the gospel message so they can put their faith in Christ?”
Andrea and James’s experience in teaching Sunday school isn’t an isolated one. Many teachers and youth leaders are asking questions like:
The youth in question are not new to church. Rather, these teens have grown up in Sunday school. They know the Bible stories. They know the right answers. Yet, something seems to be missing in their understanding of the good news.
Sunday school and youth groups are crucial church ministries.
Teenagers are at the point in their lives where they begin to question the faith of their parents. They’re attempting to make sense of all they have learned about God, Jesus and the Bible. Youth ministry workers know this period of life presents a good opportunity for solid teaching, clarification and helping young people make their parents’ faith their own. But it is not without challenges.
Andrea and James have noted some key challenges in teaching youth.
Not enough Sunday school teaching time
Sunday mornings are often a race against time. Youth sessions usually run concurrently with service time. But after worship, prayer and introductions are done, teachers have less than an hour to delve into Scripture. Sometimes, they barely have 40 minutes. It’s a struggle to teach meaningful lessons.
Drop ins and drop outs
There are young people who don’t attend Sunday school regularly. They often drop out for weeks, then show up again. There are new youth who show up for the first time. How do teachers share a coherent gospel message with these teenagers?How do teachers share a coherent gospel message with teenagers?
Bible stories taught in isolation
James notes, “I’ve met many young people who know their Bible stories. They can recount David and Goliath, Gideon or Noah. They’ve heard these stories numerous times. But can they explain the spiritual significance? Oftentimes, they can’t. All they can give me is a moral lesson.” What James is articulating is that teens have been taught Bible stories in isolation, and lack the big picture of how everything ties together. They need to learn the overarching message of the Bible—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Little Bible teaching at home
There are parents who work hard at training their children in biblical truths. There are others who rely on Sunday school to teach their kids. But Sunday school is a supplement, not a substitute for a parent’s instruction. Andrea says, “We have one hour of teaching time at Sunday school. How much can we teach? Over a year, that gives us 30 hours. That’s barely more than one day out of the year.”
Andrea and James have observed two key consequences of youth not knowing the Bible well.
Andrea says that her heart aches for some of the teens she’s taught. “I see their lives unfold on Facebook. I watch them drift from the faith they grew up with. They make poor choices and shipwreck their lives. And I ask myself, ‘What happened?’ Why didn’t the years in church make any difference?” Andrea is discovering that when teens face life’s big questions or when opposing worldviews confront them at university or at the workplace, their shaky understanding of Scripture falls apart and they walk away from a faith that they never really understood.
They look like Christians... even 'smell' like Christians, but they aren't really believers.Cultural Christians
James adds, “I see a lot of cultural Christians among the youth in church. They look like Christians, act like Christians, use Christian vocabulary; they even ‘smell’ like Christians. But they aren’t really believers. Their years of Sunday school have taught them how to act like a believer but we rarely check if they have really put their trust in Christ.”
WHAT THEY WANTED FOR THE YOUTH
The couple took a long, hard look at what they were teaching their youth. “We asked ourselves how could we make the best use of the time and opportunity we had while navigating the challenges we were facing.”
Husband and wife sat down to make a list of goals:
With the permission of their Sunday school superintendent and the pastor in charge, Andrea and James ran an experiment. Andrea says, “We had already read The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus and had used it with adult small groups. We wanted to take the book’s content and teach it to our Sunday school youth.”
James says, “We broke up the book’s content into 27 lessons. We wanted to cover it in one academic year. We had to create a special program that met the challenges we faced.”
Here are the details of their program:
1. Longer classes
They sought permission from the parents to have longer classes. This gave them 90 minutes of teaching time. “This gave us time to go through the book cover to cover. It also allowed us to do reviews and answer questions,” says Andrea. “Each student had a copy of The Stranger so it was much easier for them to follow the teaching.”
2. Picture posters
Andrea made simple picture posters with Bible verses to summarize key points. As the lessons progressed, Andrea stuck the posters up on the classroom walls so she could point to them and say things like: “Remember this? What’s the significance of Isaac on the altar?” As they progressed through the book, a panoramic view of Scripture grew on the walls of the classroom.
The class sat rapt as James draped the cloaks over two students and explained justification.3. Visual aids
James purchased a copy of The Stranger Videobook and watched as John Cross taught with visual aids. Then the couple made their own. The visual aids were very engaging, like the small-scale door to illustrate what happened at the first Passover. James also bought the Tabernacle model. He recalled how all the students whipped out their phones to snap photos of it. But the most outstanding visual aid was the coloured cloaks. The class sat rapt as James draped the cloaks over two students and explained justification. That was an indelible lesson.
4. Question time
James took the workbook and ran question time like a game show. He would split the class into two teams and they rushed to the board to write answers. On other occasions, they had to sound a buzzer in order to answer. James says, “This added fun to the class. The youth were very engaged and we could tell from their answers that they were tracking along.”
5. Review, review, review
One of the most important ingredients of their program was review. They did this at the start of every lesson. James or Andrea would point at the posters in sequence and the class summarized the main points. This exercise also allowed students who had missed lessons to catch up. Listening to the class do the review helped the couple discover any gaps in the students’ understanding. “As the weeks progressed, we could see the class gain confidence in what they were learning. Familiar Bible stories now bore significance as they learned how the stories fit into the overall framework of the gospel.”
HOW THE LESSONS WENT
“The class was really engaged,” says Andrea. “They asked deep questions about the Bible and more importantly, they got answers. At the end of the study, we handed out a questionnaire and two girls professed faith for the first time despite attending church since they were young. One of the girls wrote, ‘Today, I became a Christian.’ It was really amazing to read her testimony.”
James adds, “We learned that the class did have an interest in God and spiritual matters. They did care where they would spend eternity. They did want to know how to be a disciple. One of them was so excited with his new understanding that he said he would become a missionary!”
Their kids came out of class raving about the lessons. They were bubbling with excitement.“But the best feedback came from the parents,” relates Andrea. “All the moms and dads had to wait up to 40 minutes after service to pick up their children because we had longer lessons. But they didn’t mind because they told us their kids came out of class raving about the lessons. They were bubbling with excitement, talking about what they had learned over lunch. The parents saw enthusiasm and understanding blossom in their kids.”
Andrea and James discovered that when the young people are presented with a thorough overview of Scripture, and when they are shown how the Old and New Testaments fit together as a coherent narrative, the gospel message makes simple but profound sense. The fog clears and the Bible’s message is something they can grasp. The stories go from being moral lessons to life truths. Andrea smiles as she says, “I’m glad we made the effort to give the youth a good grounding in the Bible. It sets up them for further Scripture learning as the gospel is the foundation of the Bible. Now every year, the pre-teen class in Sunday school goes through the program. In this way, the teachers ensure every teen goes through a thorough gospel presentation at least once during their Sunday school years.”
Andrea and James created their homemade curriculum based on The Stranger.
But now GoodSeed has developed the Worldview Rethink curricula. There are three versions based on the three main books: By This Name, The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus and All that the Prophets have Spoken. Each one focuses on teaching people from a different worldview.
By This Name
For people with an eastern worldview, e.g., people influenced by New Age, postmodern, agnostic and atheistic thinking. Such people often create their own ideas about God and how life works, based on what they glean from school, friends and media. Many youth in church today have unwittingly absorbed eastern worldview ideas and this curriculum helps answer questions they have.
The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus
For people with a Christianized worldview. Younger youth in church tend to have a Christianized worldview as they have not been as exposed to media as older teens. The Stranger curriculum is shorter than By This Name, requiring about 11 hours to complete.
All that the Prophets have Spoken
for people with an Islamic worldview. This curriculum answers questions that people from a Muslim background will have. Youth who were previously from such a background and have only been attending church for a short time will benefit from this curriculum.
Andrea and James had to devise their own lesson plans and make their own visual aids.
With Worldview Rethink, the task is easier with leader’s guides, workbooks, visual aids and video clips. The leader’s guide comes with self-teach instructions and provides guidance on how to lead a group. Do note that the curriculum is not specifically designed for a Sunday school setting. Teachers still need to add in elements to make it successful for their classes. Andrea and James put in their own object lessons and related games. And Andrea made picture posters. But Worldview Rethink makes it a whole lot easier by providing the core teaching material.
While the curriculum is suited to many different situations, the Sunday school environment needs special consideration as there are several things to watch out for.
Imagine watching a movie in short sections. Once you miss segments, the movie's ending doesn't make sense. It's the same with the gospel.The gospel is told as a story
Worldview Rethink tells the gospel as a story, and as such, it’s vital the youth don’t miss sessions or there will be gaps in their understanding. Imagine watching a movie in short sections. Once you miss segments, the movie’s ending doesn’t make sense. It’s the same with the gospel. Teachers need to work out how to a) encourage the youth to attend each session and b) how to help those who miss sessions to catch up.
Since each student had a copy of the book, whenever they missed a lesson, James instructed them to catch up by reading the relevant sections. He also did reviews at the start of every session.
Have enough teaching time each session
Work out how to have a decent amount of teaching time each week. One hour is good. Ninety minutes is better. Start with reviews, then teach a good portion of the book and end with question time. When lesson time is restricted to 30–40 minutes, the gospel story gets fractured.
Andrea relates one incident. “We had a friend who taught a class of teenaged boys. But the sessions were short and the pace slow. By the end of the first year, he had only reached Abraham and the students were losing interest! We encouraged him to have longer sessions and pick up the pace.” We concur with Andrea. We like to advise leaders to “go as fast as you can, but as slow as you must.”
Don't go down rabbit trails
Answer pertinent questions now and save the rest for later. Every question is important, but it’s not critical to answer every one immediately. Some questions will naturally get answered through the course of the study. Others are best collected and addressed once the main lessons are done. Taking rabbit trails disrupts the gospel presentation and takes up more time. The leader’s guide introduces a clothes basket idea where questions not directly related to the course are put into a basket to be answered later. This keeps the lessons on track and laser-focused on the main message of the Bible. But be sure to go back to those questions. Students appreciate when teachers take their questions seriously and respond with biblical answers. The leader’s guides have an entire section of notes that can help with these questions.
SO HOW DO YOU USE THE CURRICULUM?
Train the trainers
A Sunday school superintendent sent us an email: “Is it necessary for the teachers to have finished the whole book before starting to teach the class?” We would answer, “Yes, it’s very important.” Teachers need to know how the study flows from beginning to end. Otherwise, they may scupper the lessons by taking rabbit trails or jumping ahead to teach content that the book covers later. It would be a confusing experience.
Teachers need to know how the study flows from beginning to end. Otherwise, they may scupper the lessons.An effective way to get teachers ready is with a training camp or retreat. Get all the teachers to commit to a two- or three-day period when you can teach them in the same manner that they will teach their classes. Once they are trained, you have three methods for teaching the curriculum to the youth.
METHOD 1: A camp, retreat or saturation weekend
Just like with teachers, the most effective method with youth is to set aside a special time like a camp, retreat or saturation weekend. When the group carves out time to study the Word together for a short but intense period, the benefits are many. The group has uninterrupted time to study the Bible, and they have opportunity for fellowship and bonding.
One church elder, Evan, describes using Worldview Rethink at a training weekend with a mixed group of adults and teens.
“I and another team leader (who was also a good reader) each had a leader’s guide which shows some text in grey and some in white. I read the sections in white, and she read the sections in grey. This worked really well. The other thing we did, right from the beginning, was have our 15 team members read the Scripture verses when they came up. We did this by just going ‘around the circle’ so the next person to the left knew they were up for the next Scripture verse. This also worked really well.”
This interactive method was a big success. Evan goes on to say, “Even though we had a mixed bag of youth and adults, everybody got to participate. Especially the first night, it was so powerful reading all those scripture verses about how glorious, wonderful and powerful God is.
“The feedback we got from our mission team participants was phenomenal. I would go so far as to say it was a life-changing experience for many.”
The impact was great for both young and old. Take Vicky for example. She said, “I thought that, as a youth, I might not get that much out of this weekend and it would be more the adults who get the most out of it. Well, I have got so much out of it and I really understand the Bible’s message now.”
METHOD 2: A special semester just to teach Worldview Rethink
A second way is to set up a special time of 13 weeks to go through the curriculum. Teaching time for the curriculum content alone is 16 hours. Then add in review and question time. We would recommend no less than 90 minutes of teaching per session. If you can make special arrangements for one semester, you’ll be able to go through the whole curriculum without rushing. (The questions that don’t get answered during this time can form the basis of next semester’s lessons. This way, you know you are addressing questions the youth have!)
To make this special semester work, you’ll need to work with the church and the parents to allow for longer sessions of Sunday school or small group.
METHOD 3: Regular Sunday school time
This method is possible, but is the least preferred approach. With limited time each week, the study may stretch over a whole year. We have heard from teachers that when this happens, the gospel’s narrative gets disjointed. Students start to forget what they learned at the start of the study and this is made worse when they miss sessions. Additionally, when the pace is slow, ennui settles in and the students do not learn as effectively.
However, If this is only viable option for you then remember these points:
What about new youth who join midway?
If new youth join the group, we recommend they don’t join the study midway. Because they haven’t followed the progression of the story, they’ll be prone to getting lost. It’s better if another trained teacher takes them for one-on-one lessons. Andrea and James had extra teachers on stand-by who could jump in and teach individuals at a moment’s notice. If the class started not too long ago, this one-on-one teaching can help the new student catch up to where the group is and then they can join in. Or if the class is near the end, then simply continue with the one-on-one sessions till the curriculum is done. Alternatively, use a shorter book like The Story that Matters to give a concise overview of the gospel message before the new student joins the rest of the group.
Here are some more stories of how GoodSeed tools have been used to good effect among youth.
BOOKS & RESOURCES
The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus
All that the Prophets have Spoken
What are Christmas & Easter All About?
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