Happy Monday everyone,
It is a new month and we are starting off strong! This month we are focusing on Bible study. The responses will hopefully aid you as you prepare Bible studies for teenagers. Please remember to check back each week as we continue to post new thoughts on different topics.
It is shaping up to be a great year. Please leave a comment so we can hear your thoughts too! Here is this week’s post about…..
“What is some advice you have for Bible study preparation?”
Josh Beeler is the Associate Pastor of Youth and College and Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, TN. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University and of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Josh is married to his wonderful wife, Sherry, who he enjoys sharing conversation, adventures, and life with. He is ridiculously playful and works daily to maintain his mischievousness. Josh enjoys playing, singing, reading, questioning and laughing with friends.
Bible study prep can be the bane of a Wednesday afternoon if it’s been neglected. I can’t offer any sort of help to fix that short term problem, but I can offer suggestions for how to fix it in the future: long range preparation.
Carve out a chunk of time each year to really do some long-term prep work. I like to take a substantial amount of time in August to plan for the coming year—beginning with and ending at Advent. This allows you to plan events through the year so that they drive Bible study points home even deeper, find guest speakers who might be better suited to speak about certain topics, create literature and learning opportunities for volunteers and parents to take Bible study discussion deeper outside of designated youth times, and truly think about the needs of your students in the coming year.
As far as planning actual curriculum is concerned, I would suggest three major considerations to rely on:
1) Think long and hard about what your students need.
You’ve probably read a really good book recently that hit a topic you were interested in SPOT ON! But just because it peaks your interest and gets you excited doesn’t mean it’s a lesson your students need or are ready for. Lessons should be planned around where your students are spiritually and where you think you can have the most meaningful impact on their development as a leadership team. This doesn’t mean you can’t introduce them to tougher topics—you just might want to use a month or two to get them prepared mentally and spiritually to wrestle with those things! You will also want to consider the major activities you have on your calendar for the coming year: how can I use the month before summer camp to really prepare the hearts of my students? How can I use the month after a retreat to really continue to build the group dynamic and get students to commit to one another and serving together in the mission of the Church?
2) Be creative!
This is one of the advantages of doing this planning thing early—you can put all of your good ideas to paper and let them get even better as the calendar progresses! Let your imagination run wild about ways that you might get students to practice teamwork, how a game that covers them in chocolate syrup might actually teach them something about discipleship (or not…), or how you might get the artistic, the musical, or the “theatrically inclined” to showcase their talents one night instead of simply catering to the athletic and game lovers!
3) Don’t feel like you have to do it all on your own.
There are TONS of good resources out there: topical Bible studies, lectionary planning guides, skits and games, websites for youth ministry, etc. You don’t have to be a curriculum guru and plan every detail yourself—lean on these resources and personalize them for your group. That’s why they are there! A few that I have found really meaningful recently include:
1) Echo the Story—Biblestorying curriculum by Sparkhouse that allows students to deeply engage the narrative of the Bible—an AWESOME study.
2) Downloadyouthministry.com—Great resources of all kinds for an affordable price.
3) youthministry360.com—Tons of free topical Bible studies!
Nate King served as a youth pastor for five years at Gateway Fellowship, a church plant in Royse City, TX. He currently serves on staff at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, TX as Membership Coordinator. He earned a Master’s Degree in Ministry from Criswell College in Dallas, TX. He is married to Heather King and has three children ages 6, 4, and 3.
Perhaps you have heard this story, or a version of it. There was a fresh graduate from seminary going to preach for the first time at his new church. He wanted to impress his new congregation, so he stands in the front of the church and says, “I know the Bible so well I can preach any verse in the Bible.” He continued by challenging the congregation, “Someone call any verse out, and here and now I will preach it.” One of the church members, perhaps being wise or just wanting to have some fun, says,” 1 Samuel 1:18, Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.” The young pastor then goes on for the next 20 minutes talking about how eating can lift our spirits, and how important it is to be properly fed so we can properly worship. To work in his vast knowledge from seminary, he talked about God’s provision of manna in the wilderness, because God knows the importance of eating. After the service the church member approached the young pastor and said, “You said some encouraging and interesting things, but they had nothing to do with the story of Hannah.”
You can prepare like this young pastor if you would like, but here are some recommendations if you would like to lead a Bible study that actually teaches what the Bible says:
1. Approach the biblical text ready to learn, and not thinking you already know what it says. Just because you have read it before, heard it taught before, or even taught it before, does not mean that you know everything about a biblical text.
2. Study and know the text. You learn more when you prepare to teach, because you come to the text with a desire to understand so you can help others understand. This way of approaching the biblical text provides a new perspective and helps transform knowledge into a higher level of understanding.
3. Use illustrations that apply to the biblical text and help make the point of the text. A vivid and robust story will engaging the senses and become the simplest thing for your youth to remember. It is easier for all of us to remember a story rather than a list of facts.
4. Make an impactful application because you know your youth. I’m not talking about taking a student’s personal life and using it as a manipulation tool. If you know who your youth are, what interests them, and what they are dealing with, then you can prepare a Bible study that truly meets them where they are and communicate to them how God’s Word applies to their life.
5. Teach your youth the Bible, not just topical lessons. The young pastor in the story did not know how the verse fit into the chapter, or the book, or the Bible. We should avoid making the same mistake. It is important not to think of a topical lesson and then force a verse to fit. Instead, know what the Bible teaches and teach it to your students. If your youth learn the Bible and how to apply it, then they gain the ability to read and learn more from the Bible on their own.
Adam Standiford serves as Minister with Youth at Faith Baptist Church in Georgetown, KY. He and his wife are both students at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. He will graduate in 2015 with an emphasis in Pastoral Care and Counseling. His ministerial interests include pastoral counseling, spiritual formation, and youth/college ministry.
Though there are many books (some appropriate and some less appropriate for your particular community’s context) on different topics and books of the Bible, there are times when the most impacting Bible studies for your youth are the ones you write. You understand where they are coming from and know what concerns and joys they carry with them each day. Having this knowledge, it is your job to craft a study that both informs and provides pastoral care – but how?
One thing I recommend is that ministers spend time with the text. Though many of us spend most of our time running around, preparing events, working second jobs, and visiting folks that need our time, ministers need to intentionally experience the Scripture they are going to be exploring with their youth. With what time is permitted in your life, open your Bible and take several opportunities throughout a week to encounter and re-encounter the text. Meditate, think, and ponder on what this text says, what it meant to its original audience, and what truths it holds about God’s love for creation.
After spending some time with the text, decide what your goals are for this study. How much material are you preparing to share with the youth? What are the areas of interest that you have noticed in your readings? Whatever you do, be careful about what lessons and experiences you are hoping to convey. Jumping into the Scripture with an agenda in mind and tailoring the words to your intentions is the wrong approach to take. You will not only make the Scripture feel strained but you will also close your and your youths’ minds to the revelations that the Holy Spirit might give you with an open mind. Part of the beauty of youth ministry is having the blessing of being surprised with tough questions and insightful wisdom thrown back through the conversations during study – encourage these things, don’t squash them.
Understanding what goals you have discerned, do some research into your text. Find a good set of Old and New Testament commentaries from publishers that your denomination sponsors or fellow ministers you trust recommend that you can draw from to get more insight into the text. With your information, try to determine what you can get done in a Bible study’s worth of time and split up your chosen Scripture into passages.
As you plan different moments of each study, consider these aspects that might be helpful depending on your lesson’s goals and how your group best functions:
- What activity or group discussion will help introduce the topic or text?
- What are some other voices that exist in the discussion about this topic or text?
- What are the most important things you want your youth to understand about this text and what it teaches them about God?
- What creative ways can your youth respond to the Scripture and their discussion that will offer them a chance to reflect on what has happened during the study?
Danny Steis serves as Minister of Students at Yates Baptist Church in Durham, NC. He enjoys music, table tennis, fishing, cooking, and spending time with his wife Johanna and his two kids, Marley and Ruby. He loves his dog, Rufus, but not his other dog, Ethel. Danny has an MDiv from Truett Theological Seminary.
They key part of Bible study preparation for me is “pre.” Preparation is key to a good Bible study. We’ve all had to ad-lib our way through lessons because we slacked off or other ministry matters took precedence, but consistently relying on our “on the fly” teaching skills is an insult to our profession, our calling, the tithing church members that pay our salary, our students, and our God. Some youth ministers have really earned the “when are you going to be a real pastor” stereotype; Don’t be one of them!
Although I overcome it with intentional efforts, I am by default a procrastinator. I made intentional efforts a few years ago to correct this tendency when I noticed how “good” I was at teaching a Bible study or a lesson with little or no preparation. The lessons were good in the sense that I didn’t stumble over my words or make a total idiot of myself and the message made sense, but those are hardly benchmarks of a quality youth ministry (they’re all about me). The following is a list of ways that I prepare mixed in with some advantages I’ve found in advanced planning:
- Object lessons – when I know ahead of time what I’m teaching on I notice things in my life (TV shows, YouTube clips, situations, etc…) that I can use as examples in the lesson. It’s less work looking for metaphors when you’re not in a time crunch. They seem to pop up naturally.
- Prep mode – It’s important for me to set some time aside just for Bible study preparation. I have a corner of my office away from my computer and office phone. The only objects there are things that focus my attention on God. I have trained my mind that when I’m in this chair I am to be focused. I read the text I’m teaching on here and take notes in the margins (or sticky notes if I need more space). This is the first thing I do in Bible study. If you have trouble being a uni-tasker or focusing I recommend training your mind with a space like this.
- Organic Research – Devotions, academic readings, personal Bible study, and other ways of studying and contemplating in my faith are full of teachings that are wise and sound. When I’ve planned ahead for a weekly lesson things stick out in these readings that I can adapt for my lesson. It’s also nice to be able to authentically say to your students “in my own faith I’ve been encountering [the topic at hand] this way…”
- Relationships – If I’m having to go over the Bible study in my head last minute because I haven’t prepared my lesson, any informal time with students before youth group begins is compromised because I can’t fully be with them. If you make this a trend youth will notice and if they feel that Wednesday nights (or whenever your group meets) is a time when you are not fully available to them they will stop coming.
- Accountability – Because I’m a natural procrastinator, having a “3rd party” in the process keeps me on track. In my case I email my small group leaders the text, topic, and discussion questions every Tuesday afternoon. Basically I have 6 people that know on an objective level if I’ve put off Bible study preparation (if they don’t get that Tuesday afternoon email, they know I’ve slacked off). They’re not a judgmental group or anything but knowing that I’m responsible to them is one more motivation to prepare every week.
- Work in the Car – If I’ve read through and studied my lesson’s scripture and done some of the other stuff mentioned above I find that I can go over it out loud or in my head while driving in the car. For me, some things are really hard to articulate while typing in my office. Speaking through them in my alone time in the car can be a great help. I don’t speak from notes so this method helps me memorize my bigger points and how to articulate them.
- Work in units not individual lessons – Teaching units of material has a lot of advantages over “stand alone” lessons. It naturally provides context for scripture passages and it makes prep work very efficient in that a lot of the reading done to prepare can be used over multiple lessons. In my experience students also tend to absorb more information in units.
(In the corner is my study/prayer/thinking space. Notice the contrast with my desk/working space.)