How to Keep God the Goal of Youth Group

Let’s talk about the education pull of youth ministry. We’ve all been there and perhaps many of us feel most comfortable there (I know I do most days). It’s that side of youth ministry that emphasizes the educational element in the form of gaining knowledge about Christianity. We teach teens about the Bible, biblical history, church history, theology, etc. There are so many facts, concepts and paradigms of thinking that are a part of Christianity as a whole. It is no wonder that there are those in youth ministry who feel a strong pull toward making knowledge the object of youth ministry.

We will do things like …

• Bible quizzing

• Confirmation as church history

• Theology classes

• Host “Institutes” that are run like classrooms

• Teach “Sunday School” (I know it’s a dying trend but it’s still being done)

I’m not saying that the educational side of youth ministry is bad (I’ve got a Master’s in Christian Education so I lean this way). I am saying that it deforms our faith when we lean this way too much. When we trade revelation for insight, we lose the transformational power of the Holy Spirit. When we push information to the exclusion of formation, we lose the life giving practice of the Christian life. When we think faith is taught more than caught, we forget that we are supposed to model as well as instruct teens in faith.

Keeping the Subject the Object

The object of Jesus-centered faith is a subject or person, the Triune God. The faith that Jesus handed on to his disciples was a way of life that they lived with him as the Word made flesh. He revealed God over and over to them. His teaching was marked not just with information but also revelation. His days with his students were spent demonstrating how to live in such a way as to keep God central in their life.

So what are some ways we can practice keeping God the object of our times when we gather with our students?

Here Are Three Teaching Practices for Keeping God the Goal:

The space is recognized as sacred. I start my lessons with a centering prayer or a moment of silence, allowing students time to let all distractions fade. I break the silence with a simple recognition of God’s presence, “Welcome, Lord God.”

Wondering is expected. I ask the group to agree to respect all (wondering) comments shared, by listening to whomever is talking. I also try to use open-ended questions, which requires students to reflect on personal experience. Students who question are encouraged to continue their exploration.

Illumination is celebrated. When students’ wondering leads to insight, I celebrate. I learned this from my pastor who gets excited when students discover or understand something from lessons. And my group has committed to either praise God or give words of encouragement when insight is shared.  

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Paul Sheneman
Paul Sheneman is an author, speaker and youth pastor. He serves with the Macedonia Methodist Church in Ohio. He drinks way too much coffee for his own good. His main interest is exploring Christian formation. You can follow most of his ramblings on his blog at www.discipleshipremix.com or on Twitter @PaulSheneman.

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