What Schools Get Right That Youth Ministry Gets Wrong
Written by Aaron Helman
School systems mess up on a lot of things. They have the potential to create frequently intimidating environments and turn otherwise interesting topics into a set of boring exercises.
Then there’s this: For the most part, your students don’t really like school that much.
So does that mean that you can’t learn anything from the way schools go about their business?
In fact, here are just a few of the ways that school does things right and where we can learn from them.
1. Schoolteachers intentionally help students develop skills.
Think way back to elementary school math. How did you learn to add and subtract?
Your teacher demonstrated it on a blackboard. Then you practiced it yourself, under the watchful eye of a teacher. Then you practiced it on your own, your teacher checked it and provided feedback.
Only then did you move on to a more advanced skill.
Compare this to too many of our youth ministry settings, where we throw an elevated idea at our students (developing a prayer life, servant-leadership, etc…), explain it to a large group, then send them out to just go and do it.
Then we wonder why they don’t.
2. Schools develop an intentional years-long curriculum plan.
From the moment you started Kindergarten, someone somewhere had a rough idea of what you’d be learning ten years later.
Year after year, your continued learning was intentionally designed to deliver you to certain checkpoints along the way.
How do you determine your students’ faith development over the course of years?
From an intentional plan? Or from whatever you felt like talking about in a given week?
If we want to help our students progress in their faith, it would sure help if we had an idea about what progression looked like.
3. Schools provide meaningful feedback to ALL of their parents.
Of course, we know that there are too many parents out there who just don’t care, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.
If a student misbehaves, the parent finds out.
If a student is struggling, the parent finds out.
And while report cards aren’t a terribly transferable idea for youth ministry, they do accomplish the job of telling parents where their students are excelling or falling behind.
In fact, when I would receive a particularly good report card, my teacher used to write something in the margin like this:
I really enjoy having Aaron in class.
And maybe it occurs to you, when’s the last time you’ve said even that much to a parent about their student?
4. Schoolteachers take time away.
There are a lot of similarities between teachers and youth workers. Overworked and underpaid are just a few of them, but here’s a key difference:
Schoolteachers do a much better job of taking time off than youth workers do.
Of course, part of that comes with the territory of the school schedule, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make it a point to take some time off too.
If you’re working too much during the busy times, then make sure you can rest during the slower times…
…and if there aren’t any slower times, then go back to your calendar and make some.
What are you supposed to do with all of this?
You’re not going to gain any popularity points with your students if you make a big deal out of the fact that you’re going to emulate their schools, so I wouldn’t necessarily market this.
But, if you’re in the business of trying to teach someone something, then wouldn’t it make just a little bit of sense to take some cues from a few other teachers?
Like this blog post? Read another one of Aaron’s blog posts – 3 Surefire Ways to Lose the Trust of Parents
Aaron Helman is on a mission to end youth worker burnout by providing the training and resources that you haven’t been taught… until now. Smarter Youth Ministry exists to help you learn how to manage their time and resources better so that you can do more ministry with less frustration. All of that having been said, you most likely know him as the creator of “Lamentation or Taylor Swift Lyric.”
4 Replies to “What Schools Get Right That Youth Ministry Gets Wrong”
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! As a teacher and youth pastor’s wife, I’d say you’ve pinpointed quite precisely some keys to having a deeper youth ministry. Thanks for being so clear. It’s given me some things to consider changing in our youth group.
Christina, that is really awesome! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂
Heather Lea Campbell
I wish you’d get out of my head, Aaron! Just kidding, stay there.
Ha…that’s really funny! He’s in my head a lot too!!!