Thinking Outside the Box – Part 3
A while back I came into my office and found a leader’s guide to some ancient looking youth ministry curriculum with a note from my pastor on it telling me that he was requiring me to use it from now on. Now, if you know my pastor, you would know that this was very much a joke. The cover featured three teenagers (all of mixed ethnicities of course) who sported 70′s haircuts. The guys were wearing shorts that might not have passed most youth ministries dress codes today, and all wore the most cheesy, over-the-top smiles. I felt as if they were almost mocking me saying, “Hahaha. You have to use this awful, dated material!”
Again, I can’t say how thankful I am that it was a joke and not a real command, but unfortunately there are plenty of student ministry leaders out there using curriculum that is woefully dated and at best, mostly irrelevant. My goal today is to help leaders think outside the box and adapt YOUR curriculum to YOUR needs, or better yet, create your own.
The Danger of Irrelevancy
When I say a curriculum is irrelevant I’m not necessarily making a statement about core values. I will agree with the argument that lust is lust, so a small group discussion written in the 70′s about lust will still have its core be relevant to today; however, when we engage students, we use more than just a core argument. Every curriculum uses examples, language, and attempts on some level to engage the imagination of the listener. A curriculum becomes irrelevant, in my opinion, when the language that it uses and the examples it provides are no longer relevant to an adolescent’s context. This makes it tremendously difficult for a student to be be able to relate what they are hearing to their lives. Let me give you an example:
You are using a curriculum to help students see the importance of carving out some time to read the Word. Below is an excerpt from a fake curriculum from the late 90′s that I created for this example.
Do you have time for God? Do you feel like there are not enough hours in the day to read God’s Word and pray? The truth is we all have time, we just use it in other ways. Let me ask you some more questions. How much time to do you spend playing Sega or Super Nintendo? How much time to do waste waiting for your computer’s modem to connect to the world wide web? Isn’t it true that you could be using that time to connect to Jesus instead?
Ok, what do you think will be going through your students minds as you are reading this? What is Sega? What is a modem? What is the world wide web? They will completely miss the timeless truth of carving time for God because they are distracted by the hot mess of irrelevant terms and settings.
I know that many youth ministry leaders are working multiple jobs and feel like they have no time for things like curriculum writing. What follows are few tips to make this easier than it seems.
Using outside curriculum
- Adapt what you have
The curriculum I illustrated above would have taken about two minutes to make relevant. Drop “Sega” and “Nintendo” and add “PS3″ and “xBox 360″ and you are now relevant. Take out the dated internet references and replace them with “Facebook” and “your iPhone” and yours students can relate. If you are willing to take the time, even the most dated curriculum can be updated.
- Screen everything before “showtime”
What I mean by this is make sure that you always take the time to read and ingest any curriculum that you are going to use before you actually present it to the students. Search through it carefully to make sure it actually fits with your students’ context. Remember, even though you may not feel like it, you are the expert when it comes to your students and their concepts. Though some curriculum writers may not like this, I am actually encouraging you to act as editor of their content. It may be wonderfully written and God-inspired, but odds are it will still need to be tweaked for your specific ministry.
Writing your own
- Share what God is revealing in your own personal journey
The easiest first step for curriculum writing is to share what God is showing you in your personal journey. What books are you reading? What scripture passages have you been wrestling with? Use this as your starting point. The key here though, is remembering that your target audience is an adolescent not a ___________ (fill in the blank with your age group). Make sure you relate what you are writing to their struggles, joys, successes, and failures.
- Collaborate with other ministry leaders in your area
I am a huge fan of collaborative ministry efforts. Think about it. If there are other student ministry leaders in your area they are working in the same mission field and culture that you are. That means that you both are dealing with the same issues. Work together. Collaboration often leads to tremendous creative overflow. I think that Paul really knew what he was talking about when he said that thing about all the members of the Body needing each other…
- Follow ministry blogs
Just because something is stamped as “curriculum” doesn’t mean that it can’t be used as one. I can’t tell you how many times I have read something on ministry blogs and turned it into fascinating discussions with my students. The wonderful world of blogging has led to a tremendous outpouring of free resources. Take advantage of it.
If you are stuck in the rut of using old curriculum, don’t let this post intimidate you. Believe me, I know how discouraging it can be to feel like you are out of touch. My best advice is to keep using what you have while simultaneously working towards change. Set a target date a couple of months down the road and work towards accomplishing your goal. Summer is great for these times of transition in my experience. Don’t let the prospect of work and change keep your message stuck in irrelevance. Think outside the box.
Questions? Comments? Do you use curriculum? How do you adapt it for your needs?
previous posts in this series:
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