Two years into youth ministry, I found myself exhausted and out of options when it came to teaching ideas and curriculum. I had done it all: stolen ideas from my youth pastors growing up, hijacked lessons from college professors and borrowed material from youth speakers I admired.
I also had successfully ransacked curriculum off the shelves at Christian bookstores. To put it lightly, I was tired of the curriculum chase. Is this how it was going to be for the rest of my ministry career?
Fortunately, no. The next place I turned is the place where I wish I had started: with a multi-year curriculum (MYC).
At this juncture, I suspect some readers will begin turning pages. That’s understandable. Multi-year curricula are not for the lazy or the lunkheads. Instead, creating a multi-year curriculum requires time, planning, perseverance, heart and some research—activities that are not universally embraced.
For youth workers who love teaching and want to be more effective, a quality multi-year curriculum is the most powerful and best-kept secret in youth work. Discover it, create it, live it and enjoy it for years to come.
Benefits of MYC
This is what I asked myself as I stumbled into what now serves as a three-year teaching plan for my junior high ministry. Why?
The first reason is because a quality and intentional curriculum produces ministry fruit. As I look back, I cringe that in the early years of youth ministry I left the discipleship of my students up to chance through a hit-or-miss concoction of fads, popular Christian books and attention-getting, flavor-of-the-month teaching.
Yuck! That is not why I got into ministry.
More than anything, I want to serve up a hearty plate of biblical and life-changing truth that will build a foundation of faith in Christ that lasts a lifetime. I highly doubt my whatever approach was going to make that happen (apart from the movement of the Holy Spirit).
Once I put in the time and heart needed for a multi-year curriculum, I began to see ministry fruit that was previously foreign to me. Lord, thank You for giving me the vision of a multi-year curriculum.
Another reason I love the approach of a custom, multi-year curriculum is that it is constructed with my students in mind. My days of walking out of a Christian bookstore with a tall stack of curriculum written by someone else for a different youth group in another community somewhere in the United States are done.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not anti-curriculum. When I find a good study for my students, I use it. However, now I use it as a part of my curriculum plan. Written curriculum is not the backbone of my teaching, but an option worth exploring if it serves the specific needs of my students.
If you are a youth worker charged by God to reach a group of students, you know them better than anyone. You know their needs. You know where they are in their journeys with God. You are God’s handpicked leader for this group during this season.
Go big or go home. Consider addressing the specific spiritual needs of your group with a well-thought-out, long-term teaching plan.
A huge bonus to those who are brave enough to develop a MYC is that once complete, a multi-year curriculum will allow you more time with students. To be honest, I loath Saturday nights and Wednesday mornings when I am scraping for creativity and correct theology for last-minute touches on a lesson. How about the weeks when we find ourselves consumed with lesson planning—so much so that it paralyzes our schedules and keeps us from face time with students?
AHHH! No more. Think through it, lock in a long-term plan and get back to hanging out with your students.
Lastly, I have found that a MYC scores big points with parents, volunteers, senior pastors and church leaders. A MYC shows I may be an oddball who loves to have fun, but I take my role in the lives of students seriously.
Every time I am able to hand parents a one-page layout of what I am teaching during the next year, a non-verbal, “Wow!” sweeps the room. Plus, I want them having spiritual conversations at home; and this helps them in a huge way.
Volunteers are able to define their roles as group leaders when I think and plan ahead.
My favorite? When my senior pastor and other church leaders are proud and impressed with how we handle ministry to students with intentionality and focus.
Don’t be fooled: This isn’t about ego. This is about kingdom investment, being a responsible steward of the students entrusted to your leadership, and grabbing hold of all the momentum you can for God’s greater good. One way I have learned to do that is through a carefully executed MYC.
Additionally, this is very helpful to others who lead ministries around yours. What a gift a curriculum plan would be to your children’s ministry point person or the individual in charge of adult ministry or small groups as they think about their own ideas of discipleship.
Begin with a season of listening and planning. I hope you have this type of season built in to your ministry year already. If not, get on it! Do you want to last? You need this!
Clear out a 60- to 90-day season in your calendar year when you run effective and simple weekly programs and eliminate most (if not all) of your special events. For my ministry, this is usually December to February, right after a busy summer and fall season. This allows me the time to dream, refresh, focus and plan for bigger elements of my ministry year—such as sketching out my teaching for the next season of ministry. Some youth workers also find time for planning during the summer season.
Next, gather your facts. In my opinion, this is the most important step of the whole process. Gather facts about the heartbeat of your church and the people you serve.
What biblical principles or core values are important?
What are things the leadership emphasizes and teaches regularly?
Does the DNA of your ministry setting lean toward biblical messages or topical ones?
Is the emphasis more outreach-driven or discipleship-focused? For non-Christians or mature believers?
What particular passions are important to you as a person in ministry?
What are key character issues that are important for the students you serve?
This is a lot to think about; but the more attention you give to gathering the facts, the better your MCY will be.
After gathering the facts at my church, I knew the MYC in my ministry had to take students through all the major themes of the Bible while training them in prayer, spiritual disciplines and serving the unreached nations of the world—no small task for a group of squirrelly junior high students.
However, I also needed to help students grasp a Christ-centered identity and healthy friendships while unloading my passion and love for the local church. Wow! I had my work cut out for me. That is why your time and commitment to this step is so important.
Building Your MYC
After you have gathered the facts, you can begin constructing the skeleton of your curriculum with dates and topics.
One important decision is to determine how long the curriculum will last before it is completed and needs to be repeated. I would recommend no less than two years but never more than four years for your MYC. If in doubt, start small and add to it later.
Once you know how long your curriculum will last, gather all the dates where you will be teaching and arrange your teaching in an order that makes sense to you or excites you. Use a calendar to make sure you address important holidays (i.e., Easter and Christmas) or special events at your church.
You will need to have a rough idea about the topic of your teaching nine to 12 months ahead. However, you will need to be more specific for the lessons scheduled for the next three to four months.
Jot down Scriptures, topics and maybe a brief summary as to the scope of your teaching. This may shift as time goes on, but you are laying the groundwork for a higher quality of teaching and positioning your volunteers to help you multiply your message.
More information to more people equals a multiplied and shared message that will stick with students. This means you are no longer the lone bearer of your teaching—a hard but healthy shift for any youth ministry.
As you lay out your plan, I also would encourage you to teach in a series of messages about almost every topic. For me, the normal teaching series is four to six weeks; but I take longer for a series that needs more time such as the Book of Revelation, the life of Jesus, etc. Spread similar themes and teaching flavors throughout all your programs, including small groups, service nights, mission trip devotions and more. In a long-term plan such as this, it is important to remember to go deep, not fast.
Lastly, sprinkle in some fun extras. One of the most common questions I receive from fellow youth workers is: “How do you keep the MCY fresh and relevant?” Great question!
I am certain my joke about Hanson’s “MmmBop” and my video illustration from “Saved by the Bell” won’t make any sense to my students as it did 10 years ago. For this reason, I intentionally build in certain themes that keep the curriculum fresh.
For example, I always kick off the school year with a music, movie or television series and what the Bible has to say about themes I see in these cultural mediums.
I also offer “Ask Anything” nights when key volunteers, student leaders and I help answer questions students have.
In addition, I think it is very important remain flexible in my layout. For instance, a year ago I became concerned about the lack of engagement my students were having during powerful worship times. I saw this as a great discipleship opportunity. I shelved a four-week series that was a part of our multi-year plan and filled it with a series that had a specific focus on defining worship and engaging with God.
From Short-Term to Long-Term
Does this seem to be a lot of work? In my experience, creating a MYC results in less work for the long haul. Instead of trying to come up with good lesson ideas every few weeks, I invest time initially creating a plan that will serve me for years.
I plead with you to start for your soul, for your students and to maximize your time—think long-term and begin your MYC. Pour out your passion, write your lessons, save your work, and watch God get to work. As you read this, I am beginning a new cycle of our multi-year teaching strategy. It takes great amount of heart and work, but you can do it. How do you cultivate a heart for God in your students? Honestly, you are unable to do this on your own. However, you can put a few elements in place for God to show up. So get to work! MYC’s are the best-kept secret of youth ministry. My hope is that it doesn’t stay that way.