Three Values for Gospel-Centered Bible Teaching
As a student minister, one of your roles as the primary spiritual leader of your ministry area is to lead in faithful Bible teaching. Not only do you have an opportunity to disciple students through your teaching, you also have the opportunity to train and equip other leaders to faithfully communicate God’s Word. Equipping your teachers in your ministry is vital to the success of your ministry and discipleship of your students.
When it comes to equipping other leaders to effectively teach the Bible, there are many different resources that exist from curriculums to learning style teaching to a list of great icebreakers for discussion. All of these are helpful tools for you and your leader team, but without a clear vision for ministry, they’ll only get you so far. It is vitally important that you communicate the underlying philosophy of Bible teaching if you want your student ministry to communicate a consistent message to your students.
As a student minister, I found it helpful to frame our philosophy of teaching and ministry around three single sentence statements. These were memorable expressions that could be easily communicated to a teacher in a conversation, through a training session, or through an email, helping to remind them of what really mattered. Here were the things that helped frame mine and my teacher’s communication of God’s Word:
Jesus is the Hero.
The most important part of all Bible teaching is showing how the Scriptures reveal Christ. Pointing to Jesus as the Hero means that everything we teach ultimately reveals Jesus and the importance of students’ relationship with Him. In seeking to do this, the goal is for students to see Jesus not merely as a historical figure who interacts with people in the passage, but a living Savior who cares deeply about your students as well. Jesus is also the Hero of salvation. He is the only perfect Christian. He lived the life that we could not live, died the death on the cross that we deserved to die, and rose again from the dead defeating death and paving the way for us to have a relationship with God.
If Jesus is presented as the Hero in our teaching, we will choose not to tell stories that make us the hero. As we share about our own walks with Jesus, struggles in life, and areas of spiritual growth and service, we present these not as our own efforts or spiritual success but as a grace from the all-sufficient Hero. We remind students that the same Jesus who has been with us through the ups and downs of life will be with them as well. We also are careful in our use of humor and edginess in our own approach to stories in our own life where we become the focal point. Our use of humor and illustrations should be to connect students to the truth of the passage and draw them to see Jesus more deeply.
If Jesus is presented as the Hero of our teaching, we will point to him and to the gospel of grace as we teach through the entire Bible. We will frame biblical heroes not as good people who were faithful, but as broken people who were filled with the Holy Spirit as Jesus showed Himself to be the Hero in their lives. In the Old Testament, we point to the longings for the arrival of Jesus, and in the New Testament, we reflect on the transformation that he has brought.
Curriculum is a guide not a prison.
Curriculum can cause us as youth ministers and our teammates to see our jobs narrowly: to communicate this specific content. We imagine we must study hard, master the concepts, and seek to share the ideas faithfully with the class. In the presentation of these ideas, then, it is easy for a teacher to feel like a failure when the lesson did not go according to her plans or she did not make it through everything in the material. It is tempting for teachers to see curriculum as a prison. It is the box that holds the ideas that must be communicated, defines the way in which those ideas should be said, and stands as a teacher waiting to grade the success or failure of a lesson.
Anyone who has ever tried to communicate God’s Word to students knows the teaching environment is never the perfect laboratory that the curriculum writer imagined. The lesson does not take into account the middle school boys who stayed up all night at a sleepover playing Fortnite or the high school girls who had drama with each other on social media as they were getting ready for church.
Curriculum was not designed to be a prison that locked in a prescribed way to teach. It was meant to be a guide for teaching. Curriculum is a tool to help guide a conversation with God’s Word that engages with the middle school guys who could use an energy drink and the high school girls who wonder if they could ever trust someone else to be a friend again. Remind your teachers—and yourself—that we need the Holy Spirit to guide all of our teaching.
Students don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.
In a truly gospel-centered ministry, teaching must not be a time of merely disbursing information, but part of our relational connection with students. Your students in Generation Z crave relationships with adults who will love them, encourage them, and take them seriously. Your and your fellow teachers’ first goal should always be relational ministry. Teachers should be the front lines of caring for students.
Caring for students begins with knowing each student’s name, and over time grows into knowing the student’s life story, seeking to point him to Jesus in the midst of it. A youth minister or teacher’s encouragement comes from praying for the students in their group and looking for ways to communicate concern. It is knowing that the student has a big test or game this week and taking the time to ask about it the next week. It is knowing that another student’s parent has a health problem and calling the family to see how you and the class can serve them. It is being there for your students and looking for ways to point them back to Jesus as the Hero.
When we think about teaching the Bible to students, it really is not only about teaching, but also about relationships. You are helping a student connect in a deeper relationship with Jesus, helping students in the group connect in deeper relationships with each other, and seeking to be a voice of spiritual encouragement in a student’s life.
Seeking to embrace these three statements will set our ministries on a path to effectively equip ourselves and our adult leaders to minister through Bible teaching. We pray students will walk away from our ministries with a relationship with Jesus as the Hero of their lives through the ministry of teachers who loved them, invested in them, and pointed them to Jesus.