I never went to Sunday School when I entered High School.
I went when I was growing up, and I built some great relationships with students and even with the Sunday School teachers that I grew up learning from, but that all stopped when I got confirmed in the eighth grade.
That doesn’t mean I never went to Youth Group or got involved in ministry at my church. I loved serving, being a part of a community of other high schoolers, but simply put, I never went to Sunday School after eighth grade.
I remember my senior year of high school, I wanted to grow in God’s word. I finished school early on Friday’s and my youth minister would pick me up from school and take me to Panera Bread for lunch and to talk about Scripture. He had no written plan, no agenda, and no lessons. The best thing he could offer me was his engagement as we talked about the Word of God.
Often many youth workers and volunteers struggle with this question: What should I teach my kids this week? I see people sharing resources on social media, connecting with other youth workers offline, and reaching out for advice on the next coolest thing to talk about. How can we get over our teaching slump to interact with our students?
Don’t teach. Engage.
I would argue that the majority of us are asking the question of “what to teach” versus challenging ourselves with “how we engage”. Students will tend to grow through how you interact with them rather than the actual content you put out.
Students aren’t looking to learn. They do that five days a week, nine hours a day. School is more than a full-time job for them. Instead, they’re looking to engage. Think about this, if you could switch roles for a Sunday, how engaged would you be with hearing your own lesson?
Here are some questions to consider as you prepare for your next lesson for this week:
“If you could switch roles for a Sunday, how engaged would you be with hearing your own lesson?”
- Why do you teach?
Seriously consider this question. What is your purpose for engaging students? Sometimes, I think back on some of the lessons I have done and to be honest, I am teaching myself with the topics or stories I have struggled with. Simply put, the topic has been on my heart and I believe God has then put it on my heart this week.
- How are you wrestling with the topic you are engaging your students with?
God seems to work in many ways, even when preparing a lesson. Are you looking for how God is rocking your world and reminding you of His promises this week? Is it a promise you can remind your students this week? I have found that the most impactful conversations I have had with my students are the ones that have first impacted me in a powerful, Gospel-filled way.
- How are you engaging your students as they continue to learn and grow alongside you?
I sometimes forget to keep in touch with our students regarding specific topics we’ve learned about. This past Advent season, I gave the students a pen, paper and an envelope and encouraged them to take some time to write themselves a letter, seal it, and put it under their Christmas tree. I then challenged them to open it up and read it on Christmas Day. I forgot to remind them to read it, and I never caught up with them about their thoughts on their letter. I had missed an opportunity to connect with them in a meaningful way after I challenged them.
How often do we miss the mark of not picking back up the conversation we engage with our students outside the walls of the church and Youth Ministry programs?
“How often do we miss the mark of not picking back up the conversation we engage with our students outside the walls of the church and Youth Ministry programs?”
Here are some things I have learned throughout my time in ministry when it comes to preparing for lessons:
Do less, interact more.
Create space in your lessons when preparing. That can look like doing “highs and lows”, giving them an activity to be creative, converse with their peers, anything that would keep them from thinking “this is like being at school.” How can you engage their creativity, God-given gifts, passions, or even their struggles and difficulties?
Speak less statements, share more stories.
Everyone has a story. My students love stories. Especially the ones that either make no sense or the ones that are more random than sloths on a Geico commercial (you’re welcome). Do you read from the Bible each week and kids are disengaging? Switch it up and share the story from Scripture instead of reading word for word. Students love hearing stories, especially if you can connect them to their own spiritual journeys. There is also great influence in being an effective story-teller.
Ask more questions, allow awkward silence to resonate within the room.
It’s not that they don’t know, they are actually thinking. I usually allow seven whole seconds before I ask the question in another way. Trust me, seven seconds is a LONG time when it comes to students that gain instant access to information via smartphones and the internet. And I still don’t answer the question for them after that. I believe this is a challenge for students to learn about critical thinking skills rather than spoon-feeding them answers. They are growing up in a world where they can find answers anywhere else except their brains and hearts. And because of that, we must learn to engage their hearts and minds.
So, don’t teach. Engage.
Lord, I pray that as ministers of the Gospel, we would be effective in our communication as we look to engage rather than simply teach. I ask that as the Creator of the universe, allow us to reflect the image of You in your creativity to interact with your children, and that we would be influencers to this generation for your glory. In your name we pray, Amen.
A.J. Vega is the Director of Christian Education at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Memphis, TN. He is involved in leading Middle School and High School Ministry, College and Young Adult Ministry and takes on many other roles at Immanuel. A.J. is married to his beloved bride, Krissy Vega, who is also involved in Youth Ministry at Immanuel. Both were Interest Speakers in the 2016 National Youth Gathering in New Orleans, LA titled, #RelationshipGoals. You can follow A.J. on Twitter and Instagram @thebossajv.