Writing your own curriculum is a great way to start the new ministry year. Don’t be intimidated! Here’s a guide to producing great, do it yourself curriculum.
“What do you have to say?”
This wisdom, a follow up of a pertinent college student asking for an opportunity to preach, has bounced in my head for over a decade. This wisdom has formed the basis for preparing sermons and other curriculum since I first took my youth minister’s seat (which of course didn’t match my youth minister’s desk).
From that desk,, my initial goal was to seek out, purchase, and apply curriculum form the greatest youth ministry minds of our day. I discovered that it not only took a lot of time to find great minds, but that great minds needed to be re-contextualized and re-presented. The words and concerns of Southern California did not align with the culture of rural Kentucky. The curriculum that I had purchased contained someone else’s voice, someone else’s convictions, and someone else’s passion.
While difficult at first, my curriculum prep has become one of the most satisfying elements of my ministry. It allows me to not only “own” what I’m saying, but allows my experience and my students’ experience to shape what I share. I have used the following rubric to make sure I do have something to say.
Am I exegeting my students?
Writing your own curriculum gives you a unique ability to speak directly to what is happening in your particular context. It is one thing to talk about love in the abstract, and another to talk about love as the coming together of bitter high school rivals. Paul’s description of his own academic prowess is easily re-translated into the most popular AP courses in my area (AP US History, for what it is worth). Listen to what they are talking about, see what they post on their social media platforms, pay attention to what is happening in their families and their peer clusters. Don’t call particular kids out (I saw what you posted in Instagram!) but drink deeply from their own specific culture and context.
Am I sharing my story?
Most packaged curriculum leaves no room for you to share what God has uniquely done in your life. Most packaged curriculum avoids the struggle of day to day personal discipleship. Writing your own curriculum gives you the opportunity to share your passion, your failures, and most of all, your story. The next time you share a personal story, watch how many heads pop up from their phones. Students need to know that God is not just incarnate in the abstract, but that Jesus Christ is being made manifest in front of them. Your story provides a hook to hang the more abstract elements of your sermon.
Am I using my voice?
Throughout seminary, I was blessed with tremendous teachers. From the curmudgeonly theologian to the drop-a-hymn-on-a-dime worship teacher, these teachers had styles all their own. I saw these teachers being successful in their presentation of the story of God, and I, desiring the same success caught myself emulating them in my own teaching. My students sniffed out the artificiality quickly. Despite my best attempts, the sermons were dead on arrival. You are unique. Your gifts are unique. The investment that you are making in your students is unique. Develop a style (it will take practice!) that is comfortable to you and deploy it.
Am I doing the hard work?
One more thing: great speakers and great sermons are not born overnight. If you are committed to writing your own curriculum, do the hard work of encountering scripture, practicing your curriculum, and constantly revising to achieve what God has laid on your heart. Your students and the God we serve deserve better than your rough draft. Money spent on tools
I loved my students in rural Kentucky and desired a deep relationship with the living God for them. Ironically, when I abandoned artificiality for the hard work of designing my own curriculum, I was met with the following questions from a young senior high student.
“That was a great sermon! Did you get it off the internet?”
I just laughed and shook my head.
Key questions for designing your own curriculum
What are my students struggling with? What do my students need to hear?
What is God teaching me that I need to share?
What things are happening that I could use to hook students? (i.e. relationships around valentine’s day)