During college, I served in a fantastic youth ministry run by a great youth pastor who always wrote his own curriculum.
I adored this youth ministry and its curriculum. It was solid theologically, incredibly creative, and designed specifically to meet this specific group of teens where they were. In short, it was amazing.
When I entered youth ministry, I wanted to run an amazing youth ministry, too. So, naturally, I set out to write my own curriculum. I wanted to give my students a solid theological base; inspire them to grow deeper in their faith with my amazing creativity; and meet them exactly where they were at it.
I failed… on every level.
Because no one ever told me how hard it is to write curriculum. No one ever told me that as a 21-year old rookie youth pastor the last thing I should have been trying to do was write my own curriculum.
Maybe no one has ever told you that, either. So, let me be the first.
If you’re a rookie youth pastor (of any age), or new to your church, don’t write your own curriculum. Here’s why:
- You don’t have time. I know you want to be creative. But creativity takes time - time you don’t actually have. Your first year in youth ministry is overwhelming. You’re busy meeting students and their families, recruiting and training adult and student leaders, learning how to collaborate with the rest of your staff, managing (or perhaps, requesting) a budget, and learning your congregation’s systems and politics. Writing curriculum takes hours, days even. Unless you can realistically devote that time to writing it EVERY SINGLE WEEK, quality will suffer, you’ll be perpetually behind, and you’ll never be able to get your lesson to your leaders to give them enough preparation time.
- You don’t know your students yet. One of the primary reasons people want to write their own curriculum is because they believe they know their kids better than any canned curriculum does. But that’s simply not true your first year in ministry. As a rookie youth worker (or someone new to your position), you simply haven’t been there long enough to know your students well. So rather than waste time trying to write the curriculum that will best meet the unknown needs of your still unknown students, you will serve them best by buying a curriculum and using the time you would have spent writing one to take students out to coffee and get to know them.
- You probably aren’t writing your curriculum together with a team. Teams keep you accountable, ensuring that what you’re writing reflects orthodox beliefs. Without teams, it’s way too easy for curriculums to reflect only one person’s viewpoint: Yours… which brings me to point #4.
- You’re not actually as theologically astute as you think you are. I know this one is hard to hear. It was certainly hard for me to hear despite how true it was. And it’s probably true of you, too. As a new youth pastor – even if you’re a Bible college or seminary graduate – your faith and theology are still forming and informing the way you do ministry. Throw in that you’re also still learning the theological nuances of your church it makes sense that until you get all of that sorted out, it’s best to buy a curriculum. Curriculum developed by the major publishers– like Youth Ministry Partners – are written by people who are very theologically astute, who typically have the education training, and skills needed to write lessons that really are creative, thought-provoking and theologically sound.
As a rookie youth pastor, although no one ever told me I had to write my own curriculum, I convinced myself I had to. I believed that if I didn’t write my own curriculum I was somehow less than or not good enough. I feared that if I didn’t write my own curriculum, I wasn’t really a youth pastor.
I was so wrong.
Writing your own curriculum isn’t what makes you a youth pastor; Loving and discipling kids is.
The only way you can disciple students is by being with them. Don’t let writing your own curriculum get in the way of that.
Instead, order that curriculum you’ve had your eye on. Take time to prepare and tweak it if necessary. Then close your laptop and go be with students. Talk to them, get to know them, and listen to the questions they have about God, life, and faith. Then, use the curriculum you trust to engage students in theological conversations that will ground them and give them a foundation on which to build a solid faith.
Do so without shame knowing that sometimes, the best, most theologically sound thing you can do for your teens is use someone else’s curriculum.
Jen Bradbury serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. She's the author of Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders and The Jesus Gap. Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal and The Christian Century.