NASCAR is hot. People are into speed. Speed can be exhilarating. It can be frightening. If you're standing alongside the road--it can leave you in the dust!
Working with youth is definitely a fast-track ministry.
In recent years the pace of change has been so swift that even the most seasoned and successful youth workers are struggling to stay relevant in their approach. How much more the typical teacher of teens, who often feels out of touch with the pulse of a super-charged teen environment? "Going nowhere fast" is not a trip teachers want to take when driven to effect lasting change in the lives of students. But having influence means traveling regularly down the road of personal relevance.
It is a fact that, regardless of its importance, young people are not likely to give the message much, if any, attention unless they can see what it has to do with their lives and concerns today. Also, the way you deliver the truth has a great deal to do with how teens receive it. Your methods and mannerisms can either clear the way or get in the way of the message.
A relationship with students is prerequisite to effective ministry. As a teacher, the best way to gain relevance with students has little to do with lesson content or program structure. It has everything to do with the messenger. Develop a relationship with teenagers and your life, as well as what you present, will be relevant to them.
While you may never relate totally to every student in your class, there are several ways you can "get up to speed" and move at a relevant pace with an ever-changing youth culture. Here is a hard and fast overview of numerous ways you can improve your style, content, and relationship with students--becoming more relevant with what you teach, how you teach, who you teach and why.
Keeping "Up to Speed" in Content--Staying Relevant in What You Teach:
• Watch and listen--What our teens are seeing, hearing, doing and why?
• Read up--Time and trials will be spared drawing from other's knowledge and experience.
• Answer their questions--Tackling the issues kids are working through helps them understand the relevance of faith.
• Address needs--Deal with choices, consequences and the Spiritual "cures."
• Keep it simple--Address real life experience with direct, practical points.
• Focus on Jesus--Christianity is about building a relationship with Jesus. "Relationship" is a language kids want to understand.
Keeping "Up to Speed" in Style--Staying Relevant in How You Teach:
• Empathize with change--Treat them with understanding and dignity, never putting self-conscious teens on the spot.
• Understand their language--You don't have to talk like students, but know how they communicate.
• Be maturity sensitive--Be sensitive to limitations of time, comprehension and contact.
• Maintain a youthful spirit--You, too, can be creative and idealistic. Work, pray and play hard, and expect the unexpected.
• Be fun-loving--Teens want to enjoy their time with you. Heavy topics are received better when you "lighten up" a little.
• Be "shock-proof"--Don't be "phased" by blatant issues and behavior that require objectivity.
• Be "tolerance" aware--Truth is always relevant, but your approach will affect their openness. Never compromise Biblical principles. Be gracious and careful not to tune them out by appearing unduly harsh or judgmental.
• Prepare your room--Creative and responsible students can help make your classroom a place kids want to hang out.
Keep up with technology, the language of their world. Find ways to use it in class. Keeping "Up to Speed" in Relationships--Staying Relevant with Who You Teach
:• Go to their world--Go back to school for lunch, events...breach the security of your world and see where they live.
• Invite them to yours--Let students into your life and home. Relationships and influence will multiply.
• Ask questions--Gain credibility by learning from student's interests. Let them teach you the whats and whys behind current trends and thinking.
• Remember when--Recall those adults who had significant positive influence on your life as a teenager, and be that type of person for your students.
• Remember names and personal information--Let them know that who they are is important enough to remember.
• Love and accept them unconditionally--Many lack affirmation and will not snub someone who offers generously.
• Open up--Let them see the "real person." With discretion, share how God has helped you to overcome difficulties.
• Record activities--Capture the times of their lives with photos and video. Weave these into lessons and promotion.
• Join the group--Keep up with the whole youth ministry. Sunday school is probably not the predominant aspect of student's youth group life. They will relate better to you and the class as a discipleship tool for the whole ministry.
• Pray for insight--God knows your students and has chosen you to impact their lives. Pray for them, about them, and with them. All other attempts at relevance will remain powerless without prayer.Teaching the Word effectively means knowing the Word. Teaching students effectively means knowing students. The task then becomes bringing the two together--the Light of the Word into the world of teenage students. That's what Jesus did when He came to us. He chose to make Himself relevant to us in every way, as we must strive to do with our students.
The Word, of course, is relevant and always will be. Are you? Most students will initially look deeper into your life than into the Word. If your approach to them appears relevant, kids will seriously consider what you present from God's Word as relevant to their life. Do what you can to keep current with your student's world, and trust God to help you become as relevant as you need to be with what, why, how and whom you teach.
Written by Carey Huffman Copyright 2002 Gospel Publishing House. All rights reserved. Used with permission.