Teaching Youth—You Can Do It!

November 24th, 2013

You’ve agreed to teach the youth. You have a heart for young people, and you have hopes for your experience together. You want to:

  • connect them with God
  • help them grow spiritually
  • empower them to live faithfully in the world today

But, HOW do you do all that?

There is no recipe, but there are some basic ingredients. Out of them, with the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit, you can create your own unique spiritual dishes to feed the souls of your youth. You can do it!

Know Youth

Someone with wisdom has said, “Youth don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Begin your teaching with a commitment to know each young person. That takes time; it won’t happen quickly. But if you intentionally build your understanding of each individual and develop a relationship with each, you will find your teaching to be more effective.

Learn more about youth in general and their world today. The world that shapes young people today is not the same as it was for you.


The stories and the research are there.


TV, movies, games, social media, the mall provides insights.


Ask other adults who work with youth—parents, teachers, youth workers in church or community—to talk to you about what they see affecting their youth.

As you learn more about their world, you will be clearer about the deep hungers that drive your own youth. Then in your teaching (both in the classroom and in your relationships), you will be better able to provide what they need.

Younger youth and older youth are different. You knew that! But what do those differences mean for your teaching? Knowing these key differences, you will have more realistic expectations for your class sessions. (These factors inform the development of successful study resources as well.)

Know Youth Ministry

Your teaching fits into a larger picture of ministry with youth. In that big picture are factors that you can affect, ones you can influence, and a number that you have to leave to someone else—even God!

You can affect

  • you as a teacher can affect directly the experiences (both learning and living),
  • your perspective (how you see and treat youth)
  • the ethos (the feel and identity of the group)

You can influence

  • youth-parent dialog
  • your congregation
  • your community
  • you can use newsletters and other resources to facilitate family conversation

You can advocate within the congregation for youth ministry and for expanding adult-youth relationships (prayer sponsors, perhaps). You can urge creating new opportunities and options for connecting youth through Structure. You can encourage youth to serve, to witness, and to be “light” in the community beyond the church.

You have an important role, but yours is not the only one. A lack or a negative in another area will have impact upon your realizing the hopes (your vision) for your youth.

That fact is both an argument for urging others to see and claim their role in youth ministry and for recognizing that you can do only so much. The ethos of the congregation, the quality of the worship service, other people, what’s intentionally taught (and what’s intentionally not taught!) are all factors. The good word is that God continues working both through us and despite us.

Knowing Teaching

Teaching youth is a challenge. It’s also fun! You get to be a:

  • planner—You make choices about what to teach. You can involve the youth in the planning also. That’s a good way to get to know them better.
  • guide—Think of the delight of the a-ha moments! You see it on their faces; and you get the joy of knowing you helped lead them there.
  • model—Sometimes this seems overwhelming: Youth are learning from what you do—not just what you plan or say! On the other hand, relax. Be who you are: A real person trusting God and living faithfully as best you can at this moment with the assurance that you too will learn and grow—and, yes, mess up but find forgiveness and new beginnings in God’s steadfast love. What better lesson could youth have?
  • supporter—All of us benefit from having someone who believes in us, thinks we’re worth spending time on, will be there when we struggle! Encouraging youth is your role. To encourage means to help them have the courage they need.
  • co-learner—Who learns the most in the class? It’s the teacher, of course. You’ll learn from the resources as you prepare; you’ll also learn from your youth. You needn’t be an expert; you simply need to be open to continuing to learn—even from your most “difficult” student!

Know the Resources

Much learning happens in all ways outlined above. But in a study group or class, much learning also results from the use of good materials. Good materials must: provide youth connection to God, youth opportunities to grow spiritually, and live faithfully. Good materials must also be:

  • biblically, theologically, educationally sound which means they are
  • grounded in knowledge of youth, gained from research and experience
  • easily adaptable to fit particular situations
  • and part of an overall plan to provide for the needs of youth

In addition, the materials and resources you use should encourage your own growth as a teacher—and as a Christian.

Teaching skills and spiritual preparation are integral.

Teaching youth is a tall order! But think for a moment what you know about God.

God is with you. God does not give you more than you can bear. God strengthens and guides you. God loves you and gives second (and third and fourth . . .) chances. God knows your hopes. God loves these young people. God continues to work in their lives even when we see no “progress.” God hears your heart-prayers.

With God’s help, you can do it!

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