Should youth ministers consider themselves teachers?  The short answer is ‘Yes’.  Spiritual Education is exactly that – education. 

I have yet to meet a youth worker in which some form of spiritual education wasn’t expected as part of their position, so I guess the better question is: Do most youth ministers receive formal training on how to educate their youth?

I find it interesting that many people that graduate from seminary do so without taking a single education class, even though most ministerial positions have some form of education component.

I myself am required to further my education as part of the terms of my position, though most opportunities available to me seem to always on the ministerial side  – seminars on Ministering To At-Risk Teens and that sort of thing.  So, if it weren’t for my music education background and all the education courses I took in college, I would still have no formal training in education.  And I am guessing I am not alone in this.

Even though we deal in the spiritual and emotional, education is a big part of what we do.  Whether it’s Bible stories, understanding grace or how to build a wall on a mission trip, education is part of what I do.

Youth ministry is often a balance of relational interactions and upfront teaching. Instead of being in a classroom, we do our teaching while eating cheap pizza in a smelly youth room.

Yes, youth group should be a time for fellowship, fun, food and games, but education and spiritual development are just as important.  Relationships are the foundation of a successful ministry, but a solid Biblical and spiritual education is the foundation of a successful disciple.

As a right-brained, creative type (which I know doesn’t always come across in my writing), the organizational and preparatory side of my job is often tougher for me. And for other ministers like me, lesson plans, vision statements, taking education classes and strategic learning plans are just enough to make your eyes glaze over and mouth hang loosely open.  Or perhaps busy schedules or lack of financial resources are preventing educational classes and training.  College courses are expensive, time-consuming and are not always available locally.  There are plenty or reasons that furthering education is hard and impractical.  However, as those who are called to youth ministry, we owe it to our youth to do the very best we can for them, and helping them to learn all the things we can about faith, God and the Bible is a solid example of exactly that.

So, here are a few non-class tips to start off, for the youth ministry teacher that wants to be better on a budget or with a busy schedule.

Learn about Developmental Psychology

Whether you are able to take a class or not, do some reading on developmental psychology.  Knowing how teens’ brains work will be helpful, as well as knowing what they will likely struggle with due to their development.

Most education degrees require classes like Developmental Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Early Childhood Development, etc. If nothing else, it can help to understand some of the truly strange things most teens do, because even if you are new to ministry, you have likely already experienced a teen being a big ol’ weirdo.

Shadow Someone

In college, even before we student taught, we were required to spend time in classrooms observing teachers teaching. We were required to see teachers in all age groups and teaching different subject areas to observe the universal qualities of education as well as the specifics that come with different ages and subjects.

I encourage the same for any youth worker. If  they have the ability or opportunity to observe a teacher in a class room, they should take it!  Whether it;s Advanced Chemistry or Physical Education, there is a lot to learn from seasoned educators working in their element.  Even simpler, take the time to observe other youth workers leading and teaching.  Find someone in the same region who is a strong educator and learn to do what they do and how they do it. Then start to figure out how to replicate it in a way that will work for you and your ministry, because every youth ministry is unique.

Plan it out

Lesson plans don’t have to be a chore, and there isn’t any formula or outline to follow to develop one. It’s one of the benefits of working for a church and not a school – there aren’t any standards or templates to follow, so start simple.

Begin with what you are planning on talking about and formulate an outline. I’ve found that for me, outlines are better, but some people are a great read-outlouders, so they can write out their entire lesson like a script.  Look up the verses ahead of time, write down the discussion questions, get it all out on paper/screen.  I can’t tell you how many times in the middle of a lesson I thought of something and wished I had had the foresight to look it up beforehand to include in the lesson.  Planning out my lessons in detail beforehand makes my lessons better.

This is a great way for me to look at my lesson and ask myself whether or not I am engaging all the unique learning styles, whether I am teaching inline with our vision statement, and other stuff.  And, if a youth worker thinks they need a template or example lesson plan to work from, they can ask a teacher friend to see one of their lesson plans, or check out some online resources.  There is no shortage of free examples available online.

Read the Blogs

In addition to great youth ministry blogs (like this one!) there are lots of education blogs with helpful tips on how to engage your youth during lessons, how to maintain relevance, how to deal with youth who are acting out or with learning disabilities, and so many more important lessons to learn and put into practice.  Just because they use the word ‘Classroom’ instead of ‘Youth Room’ or ‘Church’ doesn’t mean the information isn’t incredibly helpful and applicable to ministry settings.  Be sure to follow youth ministry blogs, but also seek out blogs on education, psychology, religion and teenage culture.  Each makes a youth worker stronger at what they do.

Learning to teach is a process and something that is never finished, so better to start small and start today.  Read a single article about learning styles.  Subscribe to a newsletter about new educational standards.  Take a teacher to lunch and listen to everything they have to say without interjecting.  A strong Christian education will help your youth begin to ask the important questions in their faith and to believe with their heads as much as their hearts.  A strong youth worker is also a faithful teacher.


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About The Author

Kellen is the Youth Minister at Community UMC of Elm Grove and has been serving churches and the community for 10 years, serving the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), the United Church of Christ (UCC) and is currently working with the United Methodist Church (UMC). He majored in Music Education but was called to serve in youth ministry after volunteering to teach Sunday School at his home church. Now Kellen also does youth ministry coaching, speaking and ministry consulting with the AMC Group. In his free time, Kellen enjoys playing ukulele, writing and doing a mediocre job fixing up his house.

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