What’s the Point of Teaching?

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Jake Kircher

What's the point of teaching?There are reasons we do the things we do in youth ministry (or at least there should be): from youth group lessons, to Bible studies, and to broader experiences like the 30 Hour Famine or mission trips. Usually, teaching has something to do with it. We want the teens we work with to get something out of their time with us; something that actually goes with them beyond the church basement and takes deeper root in their souls.

To accomplish that goal, I think many of us need to reassess how we teach and ask a deeper question: What is the whole point of teaching in the first place?

It may seem like an odd question at first glance, but the answer to this question (and more importantly, how we live out that answer) is crucial to reaching people with the gospel, especially in more post-Christian areas.

Take a minute and consider how you’d answer the question: What’s the point of teaching?

To help people understand the Bible?

To understand Jesus’ teachings?

To make sure people know the right way to live? (And then, by association, the wrong way to live as well?)

To challenge people’s beliefs?

These answers are what I would have given a few years ago, and they are by no means bad answers. However, I’ve to come to believe they actually fall short of the ultimate goal that should be at the forefront of teaching.

At its deepest level, the point of teaching in youth ministry is to first and foremost point teenagers toward an encounter, and subsequently into a relationship, with Jesus. It’s to help teenagers understand their worth and value in the eyes of Jesus. This is not to suggest that we never challenge people’s actions or call into question how they are living, but this must be a secondary goal and not where we start.

The problem typically befalling teachers is that we fail to connect our listeners with Jesus and instead connect them to a theology, a denomination, a church or a specific youth group or program. Those things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but when they become the forefront or purpose of what we do in ministry, the result is nothing short of idolatry.

For many, this idolatry isn’t necessarily intended, but we must be more purposeful in our teaching and ask some tough questions about what we’re really winning people to. This is particularly important as we minister to those in a post-Christian culture, specifically the teens in our youth groups and young adults under 30. They have built-in crap detectors (1), and they are the first to be turned off when they feel like they are just a number or a consumer and not people we care for authentically. It’s why people like Julia Duin, author of Quitting Church, told Youthworker.com back in 2008 that if things continued to progress as they had been, the church in America would decrease by half before 2023.(2)

Shouldn’t any goal of Christian teaching—whether live, online, or in book form—be to reach people with the message of the gospel and help grow the Church, not one’s individual organization or denomination? James warns about this kind of behavior in his letter to early Christ followers, saying, “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For were you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14-16). When we put ourselves, our organization, our denomination, or our specific theology first in our teaching, we miss the point—and we can be sure our students and listeners will miss the point as well. And worse, it will leave our hungry students wanting more, and they will subsequently fill that hunger with something else that feeds their need for belonging and a real-life experience.

As we work hard to teach our students through the various setting we use in youth ministry, may the number one goal always be to help point kids into a wonderful, messy, fulfilling, and real relationship with Jesus.

(this post is adapted from Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World)

  1. This has always been one of my favorite sayings from Mike Yaconelli.
  2.  Steven Todd, “Post-Church Christians: A Journalist Explores the Implications of Believers Who Are Quitting Church,” YouthWorker Journal (blog), February 10, 2009, www.youthworker.com/youth-ministry-resources-ideas/youth-ministry/11599465/.