I get the question all the time—more often from leaders of smaller groups…
It’s by far the most frequently asked question.
What kind of curriculum do you use? What curriculum do you recommend?
Over time, I’ve formulated a response to that FAQ that I can quickly copy and paste into an email or text message, and it’s just a summary of my thoughts and experiences with two of the major curriculum producers in the United States. Of their flagship products, both reflect two major selling points for every youth leader I’ve ever met; they’re built for both large-group and small-group experiences and they’re extremely easy to use.
As an aside, it’s important to note how the movement in youth ministry to small groups and middle-school/high-school splits has created an opportunity for curricula writers and publishers to build entire product lines and packages for youth leaders who
- desire continuity across multiple youth worship experiences, and
- need resources that could easily be made available to volunteers.
These publishers have built online dashboards for purchasing and downloading messages, lessons, handouts and debriefs on the go—month-long series’, complete with graphics and bumper videos and social media posts packaged into one big folder for immediate implementation and consumption. Those series’ are situated within the publisher’s broader scope and sequence and pedagogical philosophy… and when adhered to, they demand few decisions from the leader beyond the purchase and actual application.
You could literally
- purchase the curriculum an hour before the service begins,
- download the whole series with one-click,
- send the small-group leader resources to volunteers,
- load the powerpoint slides and upload social media posts—
- then print the manuscript for the lead communicator and still have forty-five minutes to greet students as they walk into your environment.
I must confess—that kind of ease-of-use is appealing, especially when trying to coordinate multiple volunteers in different environments across several venues and meeting times. I’ve readily recommended these two products because I’ve found them to be biblically conservative, ecumenical in the best possible ways, and cost-effective for the average church.
Yet, I find myself circling the same mountain every year, usually around the beginning of school. After a summer of mission trips and YouthQuest, we reengage our programs and processes at the end of August and I find myself longing for a genuine move of God’s Spirit in our youth services that only seems to come when I set the prescribed curriculum aside and preach from the overflow of my heart. Having recently spent time reflecting on that missing component, I’ve found my two reliable and recommended publishers
- offer good principles from scripture,
- creative packaging for their series,
- a logical scope and sequence,
- and a solid methodology for incorporating small-groups—
but they seem to skip right over opportunities for Spirit-empowered “self-resourcing” prior to teaching and preaching. There are basic outlines and bullet points, themed games and pre-selected illustrations, memory verses and personal application questions… but there’s no emphasis on teaching from the overflow of my own relationship and experience with Christ. Rather, there’s usually a common-sense reminder to replace all the stories from the author’s manuscript with my own. The selling point of its’ convenience factor—that it’s literally “all done for me”—is also a trap because it’s all done for me.
I once downloaded the Tru curriculum produced by David C. Cook over the summer and made plans to implement it on a trial basis to close out the first semester of this year. I had already spoken with a couple of leaders, advising them that I would soon be shifting gears with them to test-drive a new curriculum that would probably look different than that to which they are accustomed… and then I saw that one sample lesson from Tru was fifteen pages long (!) with no succinct outlines, memory verse call-outs, or bold-print application points. I skimmed through it and found myself quickly overwhelmed with more information than I would have predicted from any kind of youth-focused series—and quietly exclaimed to myself, “There’s no way my teachers will get onboard with this huge amount of material!” I tossed it aside on my desk and revisited the online dashboard of ol’ faithful and was back on track in fifteen minutes—our new series downloaded and emailed to all my leaders with a few short clicks.
And it occurred to me only recently that perhaps that’s the problem.
Could my ongoing frustration with the amount of fruit evidenced by our services and processes be the result of my own hurrying through the personal learning curve of these series? Could the lack of real, Spirit-empowered conversations happening at our small-group tables on a weekly basis be the result of me teaching material that hasn’t been filtered through my own relationship first?
The two tried-and-true products are good, and they can be valuable to any leader, but if they are implemented like microwaveable macaroni and cheese dinners, there’ll never be any real substance to our discipleship processes. Even the Son of God taught (the disciples on the road to Emmaus) from Scriptures as they first applied to Him!
All of that leads me to say—I desire a genuine move of God’s Spirit in our youth services and processes. I wish for His truth to be exegeted, illustrated and applied to all of our lives in relevant ways. I long for students to be truly transformed for life, not just trained in religious routines for a season.
Moreover, I’m confident that I could continue to utilize the programs and series of those trusted publishers—even armed with a fervency and an urgency to study more and encourage my leaders to do so also—but they seem to have taken that work out of it… Like taking the toll-road exit off the scenic-route discipleship highway, they make it really easy to get through a scope and sequence over several years—
- encapsulating the truth of God’s word into bite-sized talking points,
- summarizing eternal, life-giving principles into quickly-digestible, easily-forgotten pithy sayings, and
- truncating the Gospel into brief “talks”
—but what kind of toll has been taken on our group after four (or six) years of discipling shortcuts?
Wouldn’t it be better to take the longer, more difficult road that forces me to own the truths of God’s word personally before I communicate it with my students? How much better would my messages be if they were delivered with the passion and enthusiasm that comes from His word having “burned” in my heart for the whole week prior?
Tru makes room for that kind of self-discovery for the teacher and communicator. It can’t be quickly digested and regurgitated like pre-chewed food. It’s built around the premise that you’ll teach better, and your students will glean more from your messages when you’ve owned the truth for yourself; not cramming a few talking points in as you wait between stop-lights, but reading and reflecting daily and allowing the Spirit of God to first do the work in you, then to speak for Himself through you. It’s avoiding the shortcuts that certainly help make a program run smoothly, and choosing instead to pause long enough on the discipleship road to Tru-ly hear the voice of the Spirit.
I earnestly desire to see lives and families transformed into Christ followers. Can I really afford to pay the toll of prepackaged Bible studies that offer shortcuts around the work of the Spirit in the teacher?
 They might argue that I am responsible for my own preparation—they would be correct.
 See what I did there? 😉
About the Author
Stephen Jones- firstname.lastname@example.org
Team Leader, Student Ministries Advisory Team
Rev. Stephen Jones currently serves as the Pastor of Student Ministries at Whitnel Pentecostal Holiness Church in Lenoir, NC. In 2002, Stephen earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Christian Ministries from Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, GA. In 2008, he completed a Master’s of Divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Since 2002, Stephen’s full-time ministry to teenagers has spanned two IPHC Conferences, three IPHC churches, and numerous IPHC summer camps. Stephen currently occupies the Leadership and Skill Development Portfolio under the Student Ministries Advisory Team.