It was called "Road Rules”. The plan was to take a group of students on a week long trip with no destination. I knew where we were going, but I decided that no one else should know. I ended up with upset parents and uninterested students. The reason, no one knew where we were going and what they were signing up for!
I think sometimes in youth ministry, we do the same thing every week, by only planning lesson a few day (maybe even hours) ahead. We ask to take students on a spiritual trip without let anyone in on the destination. We ask parents to trust us, without including them in what we are planning.
It is time for us to have a map and destination for our teaching that we are willing to share. It is back to school time, so think about your students' school setting. They are being taught according to specific curriculum with direct learning destinations in mind. Teachers have benchmarks, standards based on a clear plan to a specific destination. Why are we who are teaching the most important truth, not doing the same!?
I know anything in youth ministry that includes in its name “multi-year” has an immediate negative response. Then you see the word “curriculum’ and you immediatly think about of outdated Sunday school books with the bad clip art and fill-in the blanks.
When I first started doing youth ministry, I was afraid that too much advanced planning would kill my creativity and quench the spirit. My mind however changed after getting my Masters in Middle School Education. I realized actually the opposite is true. I found all the concerns I had were actually solved by planning multi-year curriculum. I was given more freedom, creativity, and even personal breathing room in my schedule.
Multi-year curriculum planning is simply making a map for your teaching over the long haul of your ministry journey. In the simplest terms it is sitting down with the “scope” of your teaching time and coming up with a “sequence” of lessons and teaching. The “scope” is the years you are teaching your students. The “sequence” is the order you are going to cover your topics and fitting them together over all.
Is there an App for that?
Just like any other youth ministry trip; you need to know where you want to go, who is going with you, and then plan the route you are going to travel, including stops along the way in order arrive at your destination safely.
Where Are You?
Physically, where do you live and minister? As you begin to develop a set of lessons for the long haul, you need to understand where God has placed you. You need to know your area, church, and group.
Ask some hard questions about your area. Think about things like setting (urban, suburban..), region, diversity, socio-economic characteristics, etc… As you look at your area ask, “What are the things that are important and relevant to my area, where my students live out their faith daily?”
Next, understand your church. What are the values and theology that characterizes your church?Prepare your students to transition into an active role in the whole church. Teach in ways that honor the core values of your church. Additionally find out what other age-graded ministries are teaching, especially the children’s ministry. If a topic is already being covered thoroughly, focus on those topics that are not being covered.
Who Is Going With You?
Who are your students and adult leaders? Ownership of the journey is key, so include students and adults in the process. Form a team and allow them to create a list of suggested topics and ideas. Students who have ownership will be willing to listen and adults included in the process will be willing to teach on topics they suggested.
This will also allow you to get know our students, empowering you to teaching into their lives and not preach at them. While this process can seem removed and academic, it’s can actually be rooted in relational, connected ministry.
Making a Map.
A “scope and sequence” is the map you are making. Decide on how long, in what order and where you are going. It can take on any form, any length, and can be divided in whatever way fits your students and ministry area. (see my 2 examples at the bottom of my "lesson" section). It is essential to organize your topics and focus your curriculum.
Start by grouping topics according to what you feel fit best together (beliefs, life topics, social issues…) then organizes inside those groups the order of topics. You should plan from foundational to more advanced, like building blocks of learning as one truth prepares for the next.
After you have organized, grouped, and ordered your teaching topics, decide on the scope of your curriculum, the time period it covers. Like a good outline, you are not including every single thing you are teaching. You are coming with a main idea/theme for each time period, lesson unit topics, and individual lesson topics. Be aware of holidays and schedules that can be used to your advantage for topics and teaching.
Once you have a scope and sequence, you can now "color " in the map you have created, with as much or as little flexibility as you like. Create your own lessons that fit within your topics, purchase lessons or curriculum that fit, or a mix of both. Depending on your time, abilities, and position, you now have a clear direction for teaching. Also consider including retreats, mission trips, and other events that fit that year’s overarching focus.
Most important of all communicate and share your map. Create an easy understandable document to make available to those who are connected to what you do. It can be a simple Word document or something more advanced. Either way it is important to inform, interest and include your students, parents, volunteers and even your church leadership in the long-term plan.
Is this really the right direction?
Like anything you do, there are advantages and concerns in choosing to plan for a multi-year curriculum. The advantages fall into four main areas: Assessment, Accountability, Action, and Acceptance.
1.) Assessment. You now have a tool that will allow you a measurement of what is being “taught” and “caught”
2.) Accountability. You have a tangible source of accountability to offer parents and other staff members.
Having an organized plan for an extended period of time pushes your minsitry toward long term discipleship. If you know what you are supposed to be doing you are more intentional in doing it. Instead of endless hours brainstorming and distractions you are action focused. As mentioned above, planning ahead frees up your schedule for more active ministry with one on one with students.
A better word could also be professionalism. Simply by taking time to plan and organize your ministry will be seen differently. Offering transparency of what you are doing and teaching gives way to better acceptance and support, especially by parents and leadership.
On the Road?
Consider and pray through this process and the destination of your teaching. You know as well as I do, we are driving on a winding, ever changing road. We are simply seeking to invite as many students, leaders, and parents as we can to join us on the journey, through offering a map for the trip ahead.
Editing and update from it original form that appeared in: