1. Laser Show.
2. Two-story screen with LED projector.
3. Boy band guest appearance (just pick one).
4. Either pyrotechnics or an indoor snowfall.
But sometimes it’s tempting to think that jr. high students are out of reach and beyond budget.
Instead of going for broke (literally), here are five essential ingredients to every healthy youth lesson:
This sounds fairly obvious, but you need an introduction. You’ve got to start somewhere. How do you get going? Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind when crafting an introduction aimed at junior high and high school students:
No matter the size of your audience they make up their mind about you in less than 10 seconds. It sounds unfair, but they’ve already decided whether they’re going to listen to you or not. Start strong and deliberately by memorizing your first few ideas and keeping eye contact.
Also, you have to give them a reason to listen in your first 60 seconds of speaking. This is an instant culture, and those who teach need to recognize that. Raise the need. Name a tension. And let them know that you’re heading to a solution.
The last point to to keep in mind is that you’ll need to give them one (at minimum) helpful piece of information in your first five minutes. Not just an interesting piece of information, but helpful. Something that speaks to the tension you named earlier.
This is where you bring the big stuff. If your introduction was the appetizer, this is the steak.
Preaching authority Haddon Robinson says that there are two questions that every teacher needs to ask before they dive into any text, story, verse, or passage:
1. What is the writer talking about?
2. What is the writer saying about what he is talking about?
The first question answers the subject (prayer, love for neighbor, moral purity, etc), and the second question answers why that subject is relevant.
For example, consider the story of David and Bathsheba. Samuel is talking about a moral failure (that’s the subject). What he’s saying about what he’s talking about (why it’s relevant) is that no one is immune to sin and that even the most inconsequential action can have devastating consequences. That’s an idea that is ripe for conversation.
This is where things get interesting. More than any other age group, junior high and high school students crave conversation. But the most interesting thing is the reason why:
The frontal cortex (the part of the brain that’s responsible for making motivation and critical thinking) grows phenomenally just prior to adolescence. Students are still learning how to use it (which is why students can make seemingly incomprehensible decisions). Conversations engage that part of their brain and help it grow in healthy. Biologically, students who participates in conversation during the learning process are not only learning more efficiently, but also leveraging what they’re learning to make lasting decisions. What this means for you is that conversation must become a part of your teaching.
Lecture is out.
Discussion is in.
They need it.
But sooner or later discussion has to end. This is the hard part. If you’re in youth ministry, you probably love a good discussion. But it’s what happens next that makes the discussion worthwhile. Principles are the big so what part of your teaching.
At some point (usually while the discussion still has momentum), you need to move toward principles. And it takes work, especially if you’ve got a great conversation going. If you’re not careful, it can feel like you’re pouring water in a fire. It can feel like you’re shutting them down. But you need a hinge. Here are a few things you might say to make the transition a little more natural:
“It sounds like you guys are saying…”
“God seems to be leading us to…”
“It sounds like the Spirit is leading us to..”
“What would it look like if we…”
Yes. This takes lots of practice. Your transitions will sound a little forced at first. The more you practice these (or find others that suit you better), the easier transitioning into principles will be.
Principles are great, but you’ve still got one step to go. Application makes the principles practical. It takes the lofty ideas and conclusions you’ve made in the last few minutes and makes them real. Application puts them into words, makes a plan, and sets them in motion.
For real change to happen, application has to be specific, personal, and measurable. Helping your students see how God’s truth impacts them is where your leadership is most needed. Ask questions. Push toward specifics. Develop a way to keep each other accountable. You’ll have to lead this part of the lesson. Either by breaking down into small groups, involving other leaders, or other creative ideas. Spending time here is where your teaching pays off. Don’t stop until you’re got something transformative.
These five ideas represent only the essentials.
There are plenty more ideas and nuances that you might like to incorporate.
Anything else that you find particularly helpful?