Reflecting on My Experience Leading an Adult Sunday School on the Faith of TeenagersPrimary Audience – Youth workers and those interested in youth ministry.
Last month I had the privilege of leading an adult Sunday School class that I entitled, “The Faith of the American Teenager”. I’m grateful to say this four week class for parents went pretty well. I have always known that a youth pastor my age cannot teach a class on parenting but I was hoping that I would be credible in sharing on the faith of a teenager. Relying on the research from the National Youth and Religion conducted by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton was the key for me. From the research, Smith and Denton released a book called Soul Searching, and from that book, there is Kenda Creasy Dean’s contribution called, Almost Christian. It was Kenda’s book that I had based much of the Sunday School content on.
Here’s what I learned:
Being in youth ministry for a few years truly helps in providing enough anecdotes to make a class like this a bit more personal. When the research says, “The average teen sees God as a cosmic butler”, you probably have a few stories helping to unpackage that. As the class went on, I found that I needed more stories than I realized to help communicate the findings of the research.
Don’t make the class a commercial for youth ministry. If you understand the research by Smith and Denton, you’ll know you can’t because parents are the key to a student’s spiritual formation; the youth ministry is to serve as a support to the home. Namely in nurturing a Christ-centered teen community that equips, challenges and inspires the Christian faith.
Allow people to see your passion and your thoughtfulness concerning the faith of their children and the youth ministry you are called to serve in. As we all know there are a lot of stereotypes concerning the youth pastor position, allowing parents to see you “in action”, helps them understand a little more about you and your ministry.
Presenting research in this type of a setting allows for questions, push-back, discussion that you as the youth pastor do not need to defend or take personally. I truly felt like an ally to our church families.
The use of disclaimers is helpful in talking about other people’s children. Research and commentary tells a big-picture story. Just about every week, I offered the reminder that not all of this is necessarily true of their own child. In fact, for many of our families, they represented the highly committed statistics (evidenced by them being at the Sunday School class).
Allow for discussion. There are so many different types of people/parents. Some can lead a company and not a home – some can do both and then some. Allow for their voices to be heard. Our last Sunday, we broke up into discussion groups and allowed the parents to respond to the 11 Findings of the Research (found in the appendix of Almost Christian)
I was encouraged by the positive feedback. But I admit, I was a bit surprised that quite a few of our students had a lot of good things to say about the parents taking the class. Some felt very validated that they were the subject and others shared stories of resulting conversations with their parents. They convinced me to present a condensed version of what I shared with their parents. I’m interested in seeing how they respond to what was shared on their behalf but I believe most will find it very helpful.
The need to do this more often, maybe quarterly? I drafted a few ideas like “Teens and Social Media”, “Teens Dealing with Stress” and “Teens and Love”. Feel free to chime in if you have thoughts for other needed discussions.
You can find Tim on Twitter at @tg24
You can also visit his Blog
I want to thank Tim for allowing us to share his story. We love to feature "how to" type stories, when it comes to teaching adults about teenagers.