By Carey Huffman
Perhaps the statement originated from a Sunday School teacher whose lesson had just gone awry: "Fail to plan, and you are planning to fail." Even the most significant purpose crumbles without a solid plan. Students seldom get more out of a lesson than the teacher puts into it. In fact, the effectiveness of both the in class presentation and the out-of-class application of the truth hinge on teacher preparation. Although being prepared is vital in all aspects of youth ministry, two facets of "readiness" are key for a Sunday School teacher.
Be Prepared To Teach the Lesson
The following steps will help you organize and condense the lesson content laid out at length in the Radiant Life teachers' guide. Remember, teens deserve more than a "Saturday night special" if the choose to spend time in class on Sunday morning, so start early enough in the week to put ample time into preparation.
First of all, take a broad glance at all resource materialthe objectives, main points, and suggested activities. Read all Scripture passages and make initial notes. Then, go back through the lesson material more thoroughly, highlighting key thoughts and reviewing the interactive supplements. Narrow the lesson content and choose from the suggested activities and options only those that fit your students. Write your own commentary and questions into the lesson plan, turning main points and key statements into relevant and practical questions. Use variety and incorporate audio-visuals, including items provided in the resource packet. Include at least one interactive illustration or practical exercise for each main point.
With the lesson objective in mind, choose or create an opening that will capture students attention and focus it of the session. Start with the end in mind, deciding how you intend to wrap the lesson, reemphasize main points and help students specifically apply the truth. Plan for interaction, asking yourself throughout this whole process "What should we do as a result of learning this truth?" At all costs, reserve enough time at the conclusion to discuss plans for real-life application of the truth, and to allow for sufficient prayer and personal ministry.
Remember to prioritize. Dont try to do too much in one session. Go back over the material, estimating the time frame of all facets of activity and discussion. You may choose to transfer the main points and activities to an abbreviated lesson-planning sheet, which will help organize and simplify lesson content. This may be what you actually refer to in your teaching.
Finally, review lesson content fully. Rehearse active illustrations. Anticipate student responses and make final notes. Gather materials for activities and illustrations, including student outlines, study guides and extra Bibles. Above all, commit yourself to God and trust Him to impact students through you, remembering His promise that His Word would not return void.
Be Prepared To Touch their Lives
Be more intentional with your influence. In other words, plan to be more effective with your students. It wont happen by chance. It starts with keeping track of students. Good attendance and prospect records enable you to maintain consistent contact with studentsregulars and absentees. A personal connection by phone, postcard or e-mail gives you a pre-class connection and often yields a significant increase in overall participation. By concentrating on just a few students per week you can achieve "full coverage" every month or two. With time for brief but actual conversations, you can also get away from the quick and impersonal "We missed you" or "Will you be there?" and use the calls as personal ministry time by volunteering to pray for any needs the student might have. In conversations, use and remember students names and other personal information, even if you have to make notes to keep track. Let them know that these things are important enough to you to remember.
Students return to places where they feel a sense of belonging. Establish a small student hospitality team to greet and welcome fellow students to class, register guests, and assist with follow-up. Arrive early yourself to set up, greet and facilitate fellowship among students. Plan for a significant discussion and interaction during the session by crafting relevant questions that address contemporary needs and concerns. Prepare memorable illustrations, and use creative discussion starters such as case studies, agree/disagrees and role play scenarios. Give teens a stake in the process by letting them have active roles in lesson preparation and presentation. Greater involvement yields greater retention. Be sure to give students time to draw practical conclusions linking the lesson to life. At all costs, reserve time (usually at the close) for personal ministry that meets specific needs.
The strength of their class connection can depend largely on their tie to you. Develop a relationship with teenagers and your life, as well as what you present, will be relevant to them. Invest in students lives outside of class by being present at their church and school activities. Let students into your lifeand into your home. Entertain them in small groups. Ask them to work with you. As relationship and communication increase, so will your influence. Remember, many students will initially look deeper into your life than into the Word. If your approach to them appears relevant, they may well consider what you present from Gods Word as relevant to their life.
Above all, be disciplined in prayer. Ask God for insight. He knows your students completely, and has chosen you to impact their lives. Pray for them, about them and with them. All attempts at relevance and effectiveness remain powerless and your best-laid plans will ultimately fail without prayer.