Learning from Teachers
If you’ve read how I got my start in youth ministry, you probably noticed that it was pretty unconventional. (If you haven’t read it, click here!)
Unlike many of the youth pastors I have met, I didn’t attend a Christian college, nor did I go to seminary. Instead, I found myself studying Elementary Education for almost five years. While I never ended up becoming a teacher, my training in education was not a waste. There were several things that I learned during that time that I have carried over into youth ministry. Today, I’d like to share some of those things with you!
1. Think About Your Environment.
*Disclaimer: Before you read, please understand that I am in no way saying that the way your youth space looks will determine the spiritual growth of your students. The Holy Spirit can work in all environments! I am stating, however, that it's important to be intentional about creating a space that is not only pleasing to the eye, but beneficial to your students' learning experience as well!
If there’s one thing I remember from my education courses, it was my professors stressing the importance of what would hang on the walls, how the seats were set up, and strategically placing things inside your room that didn’t just look good, but that aided in learning as well. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my ministry’s youth space, those three things are crucial to keep in mind. I promise I’m not saying that the way your youth room looks should be your main focus—because it shouldn’t. But what I am saying is that it won’t hurt to create an inviting environment for you and your group.
Take a moment to think about the space that your students meet in weekly: Are there posters on the wall that have been there since 1999? What about that huge fake potted plant that has been nothing but everyone’s trash can for the past three years? Oh, and let’s not forget about that couch that definitely belongs in an alley. I have seen countless youth rooms that look this way. I’m not saying that you need to create a space that belongs on MTV Cribs (especially since it doesn’t come on anymore), but there’s nothing wrong with putting a little extra love into what you’ve got. Take down those posters of kids in acid wash jeans and put up some scripture graphics that will encourage your students as they walk in. (Canva is an awesome site that allows you to create images, flyers, and posters for FREE. YASSS.) Toss the plant that holds everyone’s gum wrappers and look for creative ways to display pictures of your students. If you’re able to, get rid of that sofa that looks like Moses sat on it. If not, take a few hours to clean it up and toss some throw pillows on it. Also take time to think about your seating set up. If you have had the same seating arrangement for years, consider shaking things up. Rather than rows, try tables. Got a small group? Create a circle of seats that are perfect for discussions. Take some time to create a space that is appealing, fun, and most importantly, helpful to your ministry.
2. Think of the Different Leaners in Your Group:
We all have different ways that we learn. Some are auditory and must hear the way something should be done, while others are visual and don’t catch onto a skill unless it is demonstrated. In addition, there are individuals that learn by doing, and individuals that learn by racking their brain problem solving. When I would create practice lesson plans in college, I was always instructed to remember to create something that was not for one specific learning style, but to keep all learning styles in mind. Wouldn’t you say that’s true about the students in your ministry? Sure, you’ve got students that respond well to the traditional method of youth ministry—sitting for 30 minutes while listening to the youth pastor speak. However, what about the student that absorbs information better when he has the opportunity to watch a video about it? Or the girl who remembers all of your sermons that involved a hands-on activity because that’s what made the connection in her mind? Whether you have 5 students or 500, I can assure you there are more than one type of learning styles in your group. When you are planning your programming, remember to spice things up every once in a while in order to cater to each learning style. Throw in a YouTube video, a song, a prop, or a game to help different students learn in their own unique way.
3. Application, application, application!
In the elementary education department at the university I attended there was a professor that I had for FOUR different courses. In every single one of those courses, it never failed: with every lesson plan that we created she made sure that we included some type of real world application. If we created a lesson plan on fractions, we had to add an activity that showcased how fractions are used in the real world. If we were working on teaching the scientific method, points would most likely be taken off if we forgot to add how it could be applied to our every day lives.
I completely forgot about this principle until a high school student in my youth group said, “Can we talk about stuff [in church] that applies to what we’re going through?” I was shocked. But I came to the realization that I had been teaching them about the Lord and His Word but taking very little time to help them see how it would help them in their own lives. I would talk about the importance of having faith in the “hard times” yet would not elaborate on what “hard times” might look like for them. My Sunday morning lesson on finding joy in the Lord alone was incredible…until I recalled that I didn’t explain how that applied to them as teenagers. Take a moment to ask yourself if you’ve done this. I’m sure we all have. When it comes to guiding our students and leading them spiritually, it’s important to know what their facing. When we do this, we can assure them that what they’re learning in church isn’t in vain, but instead, something that they can apply in their lives.
I promise you these aren’t the only things I’ve carried over from my education days. They are, however, three of the most helpful in my youth group. The world of education is an interesting one and there is so much to be learned from it that can be beneficial in ministry. I encourage you to take some time to chat with a teacher and see what you can borrow from them! I can assure you, they’ve got some great ideas that have the potential to take your student ministry to the next level!