Over the past four years of youth ministry I have stayed away from most published curriculum. In most cases, I have tended to take books that I think are provocative, theologically sound and worthwhile and use them to structure my lessons. So, when I taught on Colossians I used Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, or when I taught on the Psalms I used A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson. I use the books for their scriptural and theological insights and add in the necessary illustrations, object lessons, discussion questions, and activities to try and make a decent lesson out of it all.
I was thinking: Wouldn’t it be great to have a fairly comprehensive list of topics and corresponding books that could be used as a foundational text for teaching? That way, if your group was going to examine Revelation or spiritual disciplines or evangelism there was a list you could go to in order to find a quality book on the subject.
For this to happen, we would need to do it in two phases: first of all, a comprehensive list of topics, which would include different books or sections of the Bible, needs to be compiled. If you have a scope and sequence type chart that you use for planning your ministry over the long term, would you consider sharing it with me? A few of these put together and we could get a pretty exhaustive list of topics.
Then I would need help figuring out which books are the best for being foundational texts for the various topics. I would think a few parameters would apply:
- You need to have actually read the book. If you have actually used it as a foundational teaching text, even better.
- It needs to be understood by a typical layperson. If you have an adult volunteer teaching or helping create curriculum, they should be able to read it without an M.Div.
- It needs to be short enough to make it possible for someone to actually read it and use it for teaching. If you are planning a study on the resurrection, it is likely that reading N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God (700 pages) is a bit ambitious. For example, when I was teaching on the Psalms, Eugene Peterson’s book covered one Psalm in each chapter that was around 10-15 pages long. Each week I read a chapter and crafted my lesson. It was a manageable amount of reading, taking no longer than 30 minutes at a leisurely pace.
- It needs to be a good book. One that made you think and one that will make those you are teaching think. Now, I know that with different theological persuasions the definition of a good book is fluid, but I think we could make it work. Heck, maybe we could have categories of books for the different theological streams.
What do you think? Would a list like this be helpful? Would you see yourself using it? Or do you think it’s too much work? Or is it not on the right level for teaching teens?
Let me know. If there is enough interest, then maybe I’ll take on this project (probably in some wiki-style form).
Reggie McNeal, a Baptist, in his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church says this about the Bible in North America:
The current dilemma with how we use the Bible is twofold. One is that in the last gasps of the modern church, we have made Bible study in itself a mark of spiritual maturity, clearly missing the major evidences of what God looks for in his search for spiritual maturity–our relationship to him and to people. The Pharisees studied the Scripture and knew it better than any other group, but Jesus chided them for missing the point. (He was the point!) If our Bible study does not show up in a life that looks increasingly like Jesus’ (captured by his heart for people), it is merely a head trip, a point of pride, and an idolatrous substitute for genuine spirituality. Second, in a pluralistic religious environment, we need to remember that it is not essential to convert people to the Bible; it is imperative that they meet Jesus and begin to develop a relationship with him. When a person loves Jesus, that person will want to know everything Jesus did and said. The hunger to know more will naturally lead people to the Bible. People do not need to agree with our definition of the truth to come to the Truth. (114, emphasis original)
I said something similar in my post The Narcissism of Christian Education.
Yesterday on the Youth Min Blog Doug posted a good article about how to approach success in youth ministry. He focused in on the personal aspect of youth ministry success, saying, “I believe one of the most important ways we evaluate the effectiveness of our ministry begins with us and our faithfulness,” and I totally agree. Too often we think that if we can change other things, people, or programs that the youth ministry will become more successful. In reality, much research and study on leadership tells that the character and integrity of the leader is the most important factor in organizational success.
In order to help us evaluate success on this level in youth ministry, he offered some questions to ask about our own faithfulness. Are we personally faithful…
- at spending time in God’s word for myself (not for a Bible study or small group)?
- in spending time with God in prayer (and not just for youth in the ministry)?
- in taking a full day off, using all my vacation days, getting exercise, eating properly, getting enough sleep, etc?
- in letting my ministry be Christ’s ministry?
- in modeling all the above to my leaders/youth and empowering them to do the same?
These are some good markers, but I want to address one specifically. His first question is a common one in ministry circles. There is a difference between studying the Bible for personal growth and studying the Bible for teaching and preaching, they say. If all you ever do is study for teaching and preaching, then you are not spending personal time with God studying the Bible. I want to ask, Why is that?
I think it is completely possible to study the Bible for personal growth and for teaching at the same time. In fact, I might go so far as to say that unless we are studying scripture for ourselves then we should not be teaching or preaching on it. The old admonition to separate out personal scripture study from preparation for teaching simply creates a dichotomy where one doesn’t need to exist. I’m not sure I want someone to be studying one passage of scripture for themselves and then teaching me out of another section because he or she thinks I really need to know about it.
If we taught out of the lessons we have learned from scripture we will be better, more authentic teachers. If a passage or lesson is worth teaching others about, it is worth studying personally. So study it personally first, and then prepare your lesson or sermon. There is really no need to separate it out. Obviously, there may be times when you need to personally study outside of passages that you are preparing to teach on, but I don’t think it is healthy to think that when we are studying scripture to teach that it somehow doesn’t “count” towards our own personal growth. It is possible to do it in such a way that will both grow ourselves and make us better teachers.