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How to Prioritize What to Teach Kids and Teenagers at your Church

I will never forget the first time I was asked to speak to middle school and high school students. First, I was shocked that they asked. And second, I had no idea what to teach. How do you decide what to talk about? How do you decide what to teach? How do you put everything you want a kid or teenager to know about God, about faith, about Jesus, about the Bible into one talk. I was pretty sure I was going to only get asked this one time. So I wanted to get it all in there. Looking back I’m pretty sure I owe anybody who was in the room that night, some kind of refund to their free event, because it was pretty bad.


But, have you ever asked that question?
How do you decide what to teach?
It’s a pretty big question to ask.


Let’s think about it for just a minute. The average kid or teenager in your ministry probably only comes 50% of the time, which means when you start factoring out the time that’s spent getting into the room saying hi to friends, playing games saying goodbye. You probably only end up with about 20 hours in a given year of teaching time and interaction to help a kid or a teenager understand what you really want them to understand about God.


So, to put that in context think about this:
This year the average teenager will spend…
about 200 hours doing math,
300 hours watching movies or TV or Netflix,
And about 600 hours just on their smartphones.


You get maybe 40 hours to help them under understand everything you want them to understand about God, about Jesus, about faith, about grace, about forgiveness, about life, about eternity. So, what’s the plan? How are you going to influence the spiritual direction of a kid or teenager? Maybe you could try adding some extra hours by building a Christian school, showing up for dinner once a week at a family’s house, or maybe having a 6:00 AM Bible study before school.


Or, you could decide to be more strategic with the time that you have.


Think about it. Churches usually have an organization to the content that they teach, and it usually falls in one of three different directions.


Maybe you arrange it chronologically through the Bible.
Maybe you arrange stories so they can emphasize the gospel or Jesus every time.
Maybe you arrange stories so that they can reinforce what it looks like to follow Jesus every day.


All of those methods are fine and there’s nothing that’s right or wrong about any method. But regardless of how you organize your content, you’re going to have, have to ask the question,


“How can you be more strategic and more relational with your messages?”


So, we think there’s three questions you have to ask and answer when it comes to content.


  1. What is the one thing you want every kid or teenager to grow up and never forget.
  2. What other core insights do you want them to understand related to that one thing?
  3. What’s your plan to recycle those insights so that a kid or teenager will remember them.


So, let’s start with the first one. What’s the one thing you want to make sure every kid or teenager grows up and never forgets? We think the answer is found with Jesus. Jesus answered it for us when the Pharisees approached Jesus and they asked him the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”


It’s interesting that Jesus, didn’t say, “Guys, guys, guys, guys, they’re all important. You really need to understand every law and understand the application of every law so that everybody can apply all the laws all the time. And that’s why we wrote the laws to begin with.”


No, Jesus said there is a greatest commandment and it’s simply, “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mine, and strength.” Then Jesus added another commandment to that commandment as kind of a surprise twist, right? He said, “And love your neighbor as yourself.”


Jesus summed it all up.
He said the one thing you don’t want kid or teenager to walk away and miss is love.
Love is the most important idea.
Isn’t love the message of the gospel.
Jesus lived to show us what love looks like.


Jesus died to prove that He loves us and Jesus rose again, to empower us so that we could love others. Love is actually the mark of the church. That’s why all of the disciples referred to Jesus’s commandment to love as the royal law. Love is the idea that separates us from the rest of creation and defines us as Christians. So, if love is the main priority, then that takes us to question number two.


What other core insights do you want kids to understand related to this idea of love?


It’s actually found in the great commandment, Jesus organized everything around three basic relationships. He said to love God and love others as you love yourself. So we think there are three relationships that really matter when it comes to helping kids understand what it looks like to follow Jesus. At Orange, we use the words, wonder, discovery, and passion to summarize these three relationships.


That’s kind of a sense of wonder at how big God is.
God is greater than our imagination.


We use the word discovery to kind of mean love life. Love yourself.
See yourself the way that Jesus taught you to and the way that the Bible teaches you to see yourself.


Passion is what it means to love others.


The three categories or relational motives help us understand everything theologically that we want kids and teenagers to learn. So, we’ve identified nine theological insights that we think fall under each one of these three words.


Wonder basically gets to the idea of who is God.
We think every kid, every teenager, every person should ask the question, “Who is God?”


So, they’ll always grow up with a sense of wonder for their creator. Wonder, simply means we understand that we were created to pursue an authentic relationship with our creator.


Three theological truths fall in this category:
What I see around me reveals a creator I cannot see.
I am made in the image of a perfect Heavenly Father who has an unending love for me.
I live in pursuit of an infinite God who desires an eternal relationship with me.


The idea of wonder is just the question, “Who is God?” It’s a question all of us should answer more than once, because it appeals to the wonder and the awe of who God is that God is really bigger than we could ever imagine. We want a kid to get that early on so they’ll understand that they are created to pursue an authentic relationship with their Creator.


Discovery asks the question, “Who am I?” It’s the question of identity, as kids are growing up as, as they go through adolescence, everybody wants to know who am I. The thing we want every kid and teenager to understand about discovery is this that they can define who they are by what Jesus says and what Jesus did.


There are three of the theological insights in the discovery category.
I believe in Jesus and will continue to trust Him even when life doesn’t make sense.
God’s spirit is transforming my unique and imperfect life into the character of Jesus.
My response to God’s Word shapes, how I see God’s story of redemption in me and around me.


The last category is simply passion. Passion really represents the question, “Why am I here?” We all wonder that. We all ask that. We just want every kid and every teenager to grow up and understand that we exist every day as a demonstration of God’s love to a broken world.


Three insights fall in this category.
God designed me to participate with him in restoring a broken world.
My faith in Christ is revealed by my compassion and care for others.
I choose to live in the complexity of family and community because God values them.


Whether you agree or disagree with those insights, whether you would edit some, take some out, or add a whole bunch more that’s okay. The point is just this: you have to know what theological insights and what core insights you want to instill in the hearts and minds of the kids and teenagers you influence. Then once you have your answer to the second question, you have to answer the third question.


How will you recycle those truths in a kid’s life so kids and teenagers will remember them?


When I was a teacher, we used to talk about having a scope and sequence, which was just this idea that your scope was everything you wanted a kid to know. Then your sequence was how you were going to teach it over time so that each concept would build when it comes to faith. We don’t think there’s a scope and sequence because sequentially learning faith would mean that you had to learn, say forgiveness, and then master forgiveness before you could move on to hope, but faith doesn’t work like that. Faith is a cyclical learning. It’s something we come back to again and again and again. I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned some of the same lessons over and over and over.


When you’re influencing kids and teenagers and they’re changing at every phase, you have to remember when they are introduced to a concept as a two-year-old, and then you reintroduce it to them at four, they may understand it completely differently. So, it’s not just about your scope, which is your comprehensive plan that prioritizes what you teach. It’s also about how you will recycle those things over and over and over in a kid’s life.


Now, if you’re the one who’s coming up with a plan on what to teach kids and teenagers, you will have critics. There will be people who will ask you questions, like why did you not teach this and why did you leave that piece out? That will happen, but you can never prioritize what you teach a kid or teenager based on adult opinions. You always have to remember what’s most relevant and most important for each kid in the phase of life that they’re in.


Remember the math, you don’t have enough time to teach the whole Bible to a kid this year. You don’t have enough time to help a teenager memorize every book of the Bible and every single verse before they graduate youth ministry. So, you must prioritize what you teach based on the needs of the kids and teenagers in your ministry. Imagine if a kindergarten to teacher just got tired of the alphabet and decided she wanted to teach Shakespeare. Imagine if a dad was kind of tired of throwing a plastic ball to his toddler, so he just got a baseball.


You have to prioritize for your audience, have a plan, know what’s most important, understand the core insights that reinforce what’s most important, and then recycle those insights over and over in a kid’s life. So they’ll walk away, never forgetting the one thing that matters most.


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