Do you have a scope and cycle to your curriculum?

Do you have a scope and cycle to your curriculum?

Writing curriculum is one of the most challenging endeavors a youth worker undertakes.  (I have found that it is hard even writing the word curriculum, mostly because I am a horrible speller.)  As hard as writing curriculum can be, what really makes a curriculum great or awful is its scope and cycle.  And this is where Orange's XP3 Student ministry curriculum hits it out of the park!

It is often confusing cruising through a website and trying to figure out what is going on, why they do what they do, and how it all fits together. I get that 90% of that confusion is because I don't pay attention and skim read. So, I really enjoyed sitting down and having the creators of this material, Jeremy Zach and Jared Herd, explain it to me.

These two guys and their team put together some really great material. But what is even more compelling is the values they begin with as they write their curriculum.

Here are a few values that form the foundation of how this curriculum is put together.

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Orange is the new Black

maxresdefault Ok, this blog post isn't about the new Netflix show, Orange is the New Black. But it is about Orange and how all over the blogosphere Orange leaders are spending the week promoting Orange!

What is Orange? That is a good question. Orange is a ministry philosophy, a curriculum / strategy resource, and an epic conference designed to encourage and equip those who are like minded in ministry.

Throughout this week some of my friends and I will will be writing about some of the many facets of Orange and the upcoming Orange conference. There will be product reviews, give-a-ways, and general encouragement towards the Orange strategy. Below is a list of the bloggers who are participating this week. I highly recommend you take a look at them and even add them to your RSS feed.

Children’s Ministry Jonathan Cliff, Matt Norman, It’ Yancy Richmond,

Middle School Ministry JC Thompson,

Youth Ministry Austin Walker, Benjamin Kerns, Jonathan Cliff, Michael Bayne, Ryan Reed, Tom Pounder, 

NextGen / Family Ministry Joe McAlpine, Jonathan Cliff, Michael Bayne, Nick Blevins, Pat Rowland, Tom Pounder, 

Technology Matt McKee,

For me, this week will be spent reviewing some products, talking about Orange as a strategy / philosophy for ministry and seeing if you want to room with me when I go to Atlanta this spring!

But before we get to those things, lets do a quick catch up:




XP3 is the is the most comprehensive scope and cycle of curriculum for student ministry out there.  It is theologically solid, culturally relevant, and easy to use.  To learn more about it, check out the XP3 link as well as check back for some XP3 highlights later this week.


This is the conference that puts it all together.  For a week in April you have the opportunity to surround yourself with some of the smartest people in the field who want nothing more than to make the gospel come alive for children and students.  And they, like you, are convinced that this happens most effectively when we partner with parents and have children, student, and college ministries link up.

Registration begins soon, so make sure to mark your calendar, save your pennies, and join me in ATL for the orange conference.


This is Orange week!!  An this means that this week, I will, along with some of my good friends, be sharing our thoughts and reflections on the strategy and support that Orange provides.  If you use Orange and are looking to connect, lets do that, if you are not an Orange person, then I would love to know how you intentionally leverage the church and family toward greatest impact on students.

I am continually thankful for the resource Orange is for me and for our church.  If you have never used Orange or they are not on your radar, their strategy for connecting the church and the family is head and shoulders above anything else out there.

As you think about how you will be trained this year and how you will train your staff, why don’t you consider joining me in Atlanta, GA this April for the Orange Conference. This is an entire conference designed to wrestle with the intentional partnership between the church and the family.

If you use something else and/or something better, would you be willing to share.  We as youth workers continually need to be sharpened, so sharpen away.

Youthministry360 is HOOKING YOU UP!

The folks over at youthministry360 have just launched another round of free resources, just in time for Easter. They're giving away three different Easter Bible study lessons, PLUS a set of 10-day Easter devotions for your students. It's solid stuff that will help your teenagers prepare their hearts and minds for Easter. Easter is such a powerful time for Christ-followers. These tools will help you lead students to both reflect on and celebrate Christ's death and resurrection.
To download these free resources, head on over to the ym360 Easter Vault at

Developing your own curriculum.

teacher1To buy curriculum or to write your own? This is a debate that never seems to die.  The young guns have convictions, the veterans have their experience, the big churches have resources and the smaller ones are simply happy to have someone show up and love kids.  In the midst of all these differences there still is the un answered question of whether or not this is a good idea.

Here is the deal, we all come to the table with a completely different gift set and context in which we find ourselves. And because of that, we all need help and support in different areas.  However, no matter what kind of ministry you lead, no matter how big or small your context is, you MUST have a curriculum.  The real question is what will your curriculum be.

There must be some rhyme or reason to what you teach and when you teach it.  Purchased curriculum is great in that it lays out what each lesson is and usually puts it together in a cycle that builds upon itself and reinforces the lessons that have been taught.  There are many good options out there for this.  My favorite is XP3 by Orange.  I have written a little bit about their scope and cycle before.

Who needs curriculum, I have the Holy Spirit!

If you don't buy curriculum then I am sure that you have sat down at the beginning of the year to plan out your lessons so that you too have a scope and cycle to what you are teaching your students.  Back when I first started as a youth worker, many of my colleagues, including myself, would think planning that far in advance left little room for the Holy Spirit to lead the ministry.  They would trust that the thing that God was teaching them and what they were most passionate about at the moment was the thing God had called them to teach to students.

But what everyone who has been around this type of "spirit lead" teaching for a while knows is that very soon students have only been exposed to a very limited understanding of scripture and limited exposure to the wider experiences and discussions surrounding the Christian faith.  On the off chance that you are someone who has never developed their own scope and cycle before, I thought I would share with you how we have developed ours.  And if you are a vet and have a much better and more compelling one, please share it so we can all learn.

My Scope and Cycle:

Over the years I have developed a pretty set scope and cycle to my student ministry curriculum.  We have a pretty simple motif in our ministry.  Our youth group's name is House, and the language we use surrounds being part of the family of God.  God is our father and through Christ we are adopted into His family.  We use the language of adoption and belonging because I think alienation is one of the main places of brokenness our students experience, and is a place where the good news really is good news.

With God's family as our over arching picture, we can then drop town into our themes, and then our lessons.

Fall:  Our Family Story

Every family has stories that they share to communicate where they came from, great things that have been done, love stories, awful failures and how they have overcome, and many more.  All of these stories give expression to how this moment around the dinner table is actually part of something much, much bigger.  So in the fall we spend these lessons telling the story of God, his love, our rebellion, his grace, our adoption, and the implications of our new family identity.

Winter:  Our Family Values

In youth group we have to tackle sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  We address these issues too, as well as parents, cheating, lying, gossip, dating, homosexuality, creation care, etc. But instead of simply sharing, "this is right and this is wrong,"  these topics are placed into a larger context of values, the values of their adopted family.  Just like in my family we value things like generosity, education, and hard work.  In God's family we value mercy, justice, humility, holiness, service, and integrity, to name a few.

Spring: The Family Business:

For us, Spring is when we gear up for mission trips and focus on evangelism.  These are great parts of every youth ministry diet.  In the context of this scope and cycle, everything is framed through the paradigm that God has work to do here on earth, and he invites his kids to take up the family business.  Just like in the good old days, a black smith would pass their trade onto their kids, God passes on his kingdom work to his kids.  And since we are adopted as his children, part of the family story, putting on and owning the family values, we are to now also be a part of the family business making God's kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.

What do you do?

All good youth workers need to have curriculum, some plan to what you teach, why you teach it, and when you teach it.  You can buy it or develop it yourself.  Above is my simply plan.  I am sure you have one that is just as compelling and works for the unique way God has created you and serves your context well.  Would you be willing to share how you develop your scope and cycle?


The 7 Best Practices for Teaching Teenagers the Bible

the 7 best practices for teaching teenagers the bible

I just finished reading a really great book by my friend, Andy Blanks.  Andy is the co-founder of a the website youthministry360 which is chalked full of great resources for anyone connected to student ministry.  I found his book, The 7 Practices for Teaching Teenagers the Bible, to be one of the most helpful tools I have come across that equips, inspires, and challenges youth workers and volunteers to teach scripture in a way that is impactful and transformative. As someone who has developed my own curriculum as well as used just about every curriculum under the sun, I found this book to be the right tool that walks through the difficult process of having curriculum in your hand to actually presenting it.

Keep the main thing, the main thing!

One of the best parts of this book his Andy's first chapter on engaging with God.  He immediately dispels many of our reasons we think we want to teach scripture, like information transfer or behavior modification.  "You teach the Bible so students will know God and grow in their imitation of Him."  And then he hits you between the eyes with a true gut check.  "You can't lead students to desire that which you don't desire."  Our walk with Jesus is foundational to our teaching students to know and love Jesus.

In a very pastoral way, Andy shepherds the reader through a little bit of self-evaluation.  And I have to admit, this was pretty convicting as a youth worker who is struggling with senioritis!  Because these were words that were difficult to hear, I found Andy's tone and heart warm and inviting.  There is no shame, just grace and a kick in the pants.

Every chapter is full of practical nuggets you can implement NOW.

Andy could have milked this book and made it a couple hundred pages, but instead he made it totally accessible and easy to read.  Each chapter is formatted in a way that you can skim to what you need, but written in a way you won't want to.  What I appreciated most is that in every single chapter there were things I could use this week in youth group to do a better job in my teaching.  Here were some of the highlights for me:

  • Practical step by step plan to take curriculum and translate it into an actual lesson
  • A renewed call for biblical context to make sure students know how particular stories, themes, people, and points fit into the larger biblical narrative.
  • People have different learning styles.  No kidding, but I don't teach that way.  Andy gives a huge list for ways to connect with different learners.
  • A tutorial on how to ask good questions.
  • A list of different types of application questions and activities you can use so that students can lean into life change.

Two thumbs up!

I have to admit I was feeling a little patronizing about reading this book.  I have been teaching teenagers the Bible forever.  What could this small book have to teach someone as wise and good looking as me?  It turns out quite a bit.  This book only took me an evening to read.  And every other page is marked up and underlined with things I want to remember and implement in my ministry.  In fact how I am doing my talk this week is completely changed, and changed for the better simply by using a different application tool outlined in this book.

I highly recommend this book.  Anyone, including you who is responsible for the teaching in any form within the context of student ministry, this book will be a blessing and dramatically improve your ability and effectiveness.  Good curriculum is great.  But someone who is working out their own thriving walk with Jesus equipped with the right tools to take that curriculum and make it personal for their context is golden!

I hope you find this book as encouraging and equipping as I have.  And if you are struggling with a little senioritis, this book is a good kick in the pants from a true pastor and shepherd of students and youth workers.  Thanks Andy for your heart and for this great tool!

Developing a ministry plan part 3 : A youth group that rocks!

ministry plan.jpg

part 1 : a solid ministry modelpart 2 : purposeful events

Your Youth Group Says It All:

For as solid as your ministry model and philosophy are, and for all the amazing events you have put on your calendar to wow kids and impress parents, what actually happens at youth group matters most.  What happens during the hour and a half of youth group says everything about you and your ministry plan.  It communicates to your staff, your parents, and your students what your ministry is all about.  The liturgy of the evening, the way it is led, who's up front or if there even is an up front, where people sit if they sit at all, what you sing, and what you teach, no matter how you teach it--all communicate your ministry plan.  If that's the case, then pause for a minute and think about what your youth group time says about your ministry model or philosophy.

In my 15 years of running youth groups I've tried just about everything.  There have been seasons where I have:

  • Met in my living room with my entire youth group of 5 for dinner and Bible Study.
  • Played guitar and led worship, have had students lead worship, and have had no singing worship at all.
  • Bribed kids to come and bring friends by offering big prizes.  (I still do this one)
  • Set up and played huge all campus games and relays.
  • Duct-taped kids to walls.
  • Lit hundreds of candles for a quiet and reflective prayer experience (and fire hazard).
  • Scrapped all my plans and packed kids up in cars for ice cream and for impromptu service opportunities.
  • Used bull horns to command attention on big game nights.
  • Sent kids home for being rude and obnoxious.
  • Wondered what I was going to teach on 20 min before kids have shown up.

Why Do We Do What We Do?

For most of my ministry career, I've found myself going from the latest idea or fad to the next for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes I stole ideas online because I was tired of having a youth group of 5 people and was willing to try anything get more kids to come.  Other times I stole ideas online because I was at the end of my rope with how selfish and self-absorbed my kids were and wanted to give them an experience to shake them up a bit.   And there have been seasons where I have stolen ideas online because I was simply bored with youth group and wanted to mix things up.

It is an interesting exercise to reflect on why we do what we do on a particular youth group night.  For me, most of what I've done was predetermined for me.  The people before me did it a certain way and everyone seemed to like that model just fine, so why rock the boat?  For what wasn’t already laid out by my predecessor, I simply reflected back to what worked for me when I was in youth group. Somehow between those two poles, I found a rhythm to my youth group nights that worked for me.

A Disciplined Approach To Youth Group:

But what if what you and I do on a youth group night was not decided by our predecessor, or by our past histories, or by the latest fad, or by the hot thing online?  What would happen if what we choose to do during our youth group nights is born out of an intentional ministry plan based on a solid model or philosophy?

This is the hard work I did several years ago, and I was surprised by where I landed.  Before I share with you where I ended up, there are a couple of disclaimers.  First, each one of us is unique and made with different ideas, personalities, and passions.  Second, on top of this reality, we are all called to totally different and unique contexts.  Because of this, what works for me may not work for you.  Nevertheless, I thought I would simply share my journey with the hopes of A) making you feel better about your ministry and more importantly, B) encouraging you to wrestle through this process yourself.

As I've shared with you in the other two sections, I have landed on a model of ministry that is built upon The Celtic Way Of Evangelism.   The basic gist of this book is that when doing ministry in a post-Christian context, it is impossible and counter-productive to build a movement by having people first conform to a belief, then live lives that are integretous with that belief, allowing them to fully belong to a community.  Rather, from the very beginning, we allow people to belong to our community no matter who they are or what they believe or how they live.  As members of our community, we explore together what it means to believe and to work out this belief as they become all that Christ has for them to be.

This paradigm of Belong, Belief, and Become now shapes the how, what and whys of youth group.  The funny thing is that most of what we do looks exactly like most other youth groups.  (Solomon was right in that there is nothing new under the sun.) But even though the parts may be similar, they all play into and build momentum toward our overall goal of helping students in our post-Christian context become all that Christ intends for them to be.

Is that the Celtic Way of Youth Group or A Flashback to 1990?

With all the high minded, philosophical discussion surrounding what we do at youth group, when it comes to actually putting together our midweek youth group, it is easy to mistake our deep and relevant ministry for one that has gone back as we rock out to Audio A!

Because our first order of business at youth group is to create community and a sense of belonging, everything we do is done to collect students, get them to interact, break down barriers, build memories, and share lives.  I wish there were better ways to accomplish this, but what I have found to work is what has worked for over 30 years in youth ministries all over the country.  We have FUN!

As cool and sophisticated as students may come off, I 've found that they are still kids.  We can’t let their false persona cause us to question ourselves or our ministry.  Our cool kids need to remember that they are kids, that there is fun to be had, that there are friendships to be made, and there are even things to be learned.  When we give them the social power to control a room we shrink our ministries and cater to their natural self-absorption, giving them zero tools to learn to connect with people different than themselves.

When you bust out the big games, messy games, competitive games, you allow students to be true to their developmental phase.  They have to be adults all the rest of the time, so at youth group they get to be kids again.  Games break down barriers and get kids to interact.  The more kids interact, the more opportunities they have to realize there are other kids at youth group that they can connect with.  Games break the awkwardness at the beginning of youth group and make a defined place and roll for kids to live into.  As fun as these games are, their purpose is to foster a sense of belonging.  At no time in the hour or two I have them at youth group do I want kids to feel isolated or invisible.  No matter who they are, when they come to youth group, they are family, they belong!

We do more big games than any other youth worker I know, but the unique way that God made me is that I love to have fun, so fun is what we are going to do.

Choosing Curriculum That Jives With Your Plan:

Besides having fun, we also squeeze in funny videos, announcements, and a time to welcome new people.  After the fun and mayhem portion of youth group is over we transition, rather awkwardly sometimes, into a time of worship.  Or students lead it and do a great job.  I have gone back and forth on whether or not to have singing worship be a part of our youth group rhythm.  In this season I have students and leaders who are passionate about it and who do a fantastic job leading it.  This helps tell our unique youth group story.  We all belong, we all use our gifts as we become all that God has us to be.  Worship for us is a time when we reflect on who God is and what we believe as we make space for him to shape us into who we are becoming.

After singing worship we have a lesson, talk, sermon, whatever you call someone teaching for 20 minutes, from a passage of scripture.  For 20 minutes, once a week, we work through a curriculum that helps us work out our ministry plan.  The curriculum that is chosen is not haphazard or dictated by what I happen to be learning this week.  It has been carefully and prayerfully put together a year in advance.  This work has been done because for as seriously as we take the Belong part of youth group, we take the Believe part even more seriously.

We only have limited time with our students, so what we communicate with them is of utmost importance.  The lessons themselves tell the story of how we belong, what we believe, and who we are to become.  It is an annual rhythm that works hand in hand with the scholastic calendar and our calendar of events.  Every summer I reexamine the curriculum choice of the last year and build on it to develop a curriculum plan for the upcoming year.

You might think that planning out youth group talks a year in advance hinders the work of the Holy Spirit, but I have found the opposite to be true.  The amount of spiritual work that goes into a yearly calendar is difficult and challenging.  And once it is done, there is huge freedom in it.  Plus, have you noticed that every school and institution that has things to teach has a prescribed curriculum? Maybe there is something to learn from them J

Because we all know that listening to lecture-style sermons doesn’t do a very good job of helping information stick long enough to transform, we use these sermons as launching pads for our small groups.  In our ministry we have age- and gender-specific small groups that meet every youth group to process the information, wrestle with the concepts, and attempt to put them into practice.

By the end of a youth group night, our dream is that every student feels like they belong and are part of our family, are introduced to a biblical truth or belief, and are encouraged to wrestle with it as they become all that God has for them to be.

Like I said before, this is just how we have chosen to work it out in our unique context with our unique mix of students and staff.  What do you do in your context?  How is your youth ministry run?  What do you do for curriculum?

Appendix: Our Curriculum For the Year

It probably isn’t helpful for you at all, but it is a discipline of mine to get it out there.  These lessons work with our ministry plan and are designed to communicate why we belong, what we believe, and who we are to become.  Here is what we are teaching for the next year during our midweek youth group.  These are just the lesson titles.  If you would like more detail, just let me know.  If you have better ideas, please help me out and hook me up!

Sept 7: Open House

Sept 14 : I have huge value

Sept 21 : I have huge brokenness

Sept 28 : There is a huge solution

Oct 5 : A huge invitation

Oct 12 : A new world view

Oct 19 : Eat the Word

Oct 26 : Phil 1

Nov 2 : Phil 2

Nov 9: Phil 3

Nov 16 : Phil 4

Nov 30 : Operation Andrew (invite a friend night) Best Gift Ever!

Dec 7: Christmas Party

Jan 4 : Having integrity

Jan 11 : Peer pressure

Jan 18 : Following through

Jan 25 : Lying / Cheating

Feb 1 : Drugs (Pot)

Feb 8 : Dating

Feb 15 : Sex

Feb 29 : How to engage culture

Mar 7 : Music

Mar 14 : Internet

Mar 21 : Movies

Mar 28 : Hot Topic Night

April 4 : Worship Night

April 20 : What is the Good News

April 25 : Good news for you

May 2 : Good news for the world

May 9 : How to share Good News

May 16 : Outreach Night

May 23 : Softball Party

May 30 : Small Group Dinner

The End!