A Good Study is Hard to Find

May 15th, 2008 by Rainey

With apologies to Flannery O’Connor, I think that a good youth curriculum is harder to find than a good man, sometimes. Though I am well aware I lucked out in a major way in the good man department, so maybe that is just true for me.

These days I am trying to mix it up a little bit during Youth Group on Wednesday nights. I feel stagnant, though things seem to be going well. For more than a year I have been using Mennonite youth curriculum with the kids and we all have really enjoyed it for the most part. But I need to do something new…and I am finding the youth ministry landscape woefully barren of anything theologically solid these days.

Sure, I could pop a dvd into the player and let someone else teach the youth…but then I would end up picking up the pieces of a flawed theology that the dvd left strewn all over the place and try to fit them back together into a better lesson after the clip ended. I really don’t want to teach by pointing out what I disagree with on a video.

I really try to push my teens to think about their life and their faith in ways that are opposite, in many ways, to what our culture, our country, and many times what their own families are teaching them. That is hard work. And I have to be very gentle about it. The problem is that most of the teen curriculum that is pre-fab doesn’t do that at all! In “Guy Talk/Girl Talk” from Group, the teens are broken into gendered groups to talk about gender issues. The first session (free online as a downloadable .pdf preview!) for guys quotes John Eldredge and Wild at Heart and gives the guys three models for “manhood”: the warrior, the shepherd, and the lover. What. the. Hell. ?!

What about my teenager who doesn’t really fit into the stereotypical gender role? He would be so uncomfortable in this session. I am all for battling the gender stereotypes that our culture hands us, ready-made. That all men need to be powerful and tough and women need to be concerned mostly with their appearance and finding a mate. The problem is that just as the lessons claim to combat these stereotypes, they end up reinforcing them by focusing on them so heavily. I just so blatantly have problems with the dichotomies that are set up in these lessons that I don’t think I can use them without basically rewriting the curriculum almost entirely (not that I am beyond doing that…it happens a lot. But why buy the curriculum then?)

I am just hitting a lot of dead ends right now. I want relevant studies that don’t include worksheets all the time. I want to read the Bible and unpack it and make it interesting for the youth while still talking about the things that most concern them right now in their lives. I want to balance my theological nerdiness and strong opinions with meeting my kids where they are so that I can give them what they need in ways they can handle.  Most of all, I want them to feel loved and cared for and safe, even as they are challenged to be more and better. It is hard. I wish I could buy something prepackaged that would help me do this. But I just don’t think I can.

Any ideas? Things that have worked and worked well for you ministers and teachers out there?

Also, another poll: If you were a teen (which, presumably, you were at one point) what would you want out of church? And what do you think the church should be about when it comes to young people?

My thoughts on these things are ever-evolving. Probably because I am working with ever-evolving people. Prayers and (if you live in Wchester) volunteers are appreciated!

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