How to write Bible study lessons for youth group

I got the idea for this blog topic from my friend Tim Schmoyer.  He offered up 100 blog post ideas for others to write about so I grabbed this one of the list.

I actually enjoy writing Bible study lessons for my high school small group.  It is a process I have been working on and refining for several years now.  When I was a full-time Youth Leader I was a huge proponent of writing lessons for 1 of my 2 weekly meetings with the teens.  This is the process I currently use that has become the most effective way I have ever led a Bible study.

A little over a year ago Greg Stier introduced me to the ALT-ernative teaching style which has since revolutionized the way I do lessons.  The idea is that you follow the ALT acronym: Ask, Listen, Teach.  You ask a question of the group to get discussion going, you listen the teens as they share their ideas and beliefs, and then you teach what God’s Word has to say about the topic.

ASK.  When my buddy Sam and I kicked this off in our small group we had each teen write 3-5 questions on a 3×5 card.  They simply needed to be spiritual questions that they desired answers to.  As we sorted through the cards we saw various types of questions: what is God like, why do bad things happen, how far is “too far,” what do I have to do to be saved, what’s the point of prayer, etc.  Each week we would rifle through our stack of questions and determine what we would study the following week.  We could have come up with spiritual questions on our own to kick-off discussion in the group, but found it was a great move to let the kids do this for us.  1) the questions were from the teens themselves so they spoke to their personal needs AND 2) they more readily engaged in conversation because they were their questions, not ours.

LISTEN.  This was sometimes the difficult part.  The temptation was to hear what teens said and jump all over it, but this only led to squashing the conversation before it ever started.  The awkward moments kicked in when we did ask questions that they didn’t immediately dive into and discuss.  This really requires you as the Youth Leader to stop and practice patients.  The other thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to agree with what the teens are saying but you want to cultivate an environment where they feel they can freely share their thoughts.  Sometimes you simply have to say things like, “Isn’t that interesting?” “Tell me more about what that means to you,”  “So what your saying is…” “Does anyone else agree or disagree?” “Why do you believe that?”  All of these questions encourage further discussion without affirming a particular view.

TEACH.  Each week I would actually get the kids to agree to the fact that we would dive into God’s Word to understand what it had to say about our question/discussion.  By getting them to agree to this part of the process, they were more engaged when we would read Scripture.  Also, because I had listened to them and heard them out they were more willing to hear me out.  You will have to be on your game and come prepared with multiple passages to go to.  When you throw out a big question like, “What are views of God?” you will get a variety of answers that might take you down different roads.  Depending on the conversation you might need to address God’s holiness, His forgiveness and love, the trinity, Jesus, the Creator, etc.  It can be a little messy, but your teens will love the rawness and authenticity.  If you get stuck, don’t lie or gloss over it.  Simply communicate that whatever point they have brought up is a great question that you don’t have the answer to and then commit together to find the answer in God’s Word.

Preparing lessons like this will be the easiest and most difficult thing you will ever do.  It’s easy from the standpoint that you won’t have to write a three point teaching outline, make fill-in-the-blank handouts for your teens, etc.  It will be more difficult in that you can’t always control where the conversation goes, you will have to be in the Word daily to have a stronger working knowledge of the text, and if you are working with volunteer leaders it will require more of them in the same way.

This is the most non-traditional approach I have ever taken to writing Bible study lessons for my teens but it has offered the most indepth discussions and incredible learning opportunities.  My teens have kept the discussions going outside of our meeting time and frequently reference previous conversations we’ve had much more readily and easily than any teaching outline they have ever been taught through.  I challeng you to give it a try and see what God does through your conversations.