Maybe it’s just because we’re now publishing curriculum? Or maybe it’s because after 4-5 years of trying I realized that buying curriculum is better than trying to do everything myself?
But as I’m out, talking to youth workers, I hear a phrase over and over again when I ask about what they are teaching. “We do our own thing.”
“Really? You write your own curriculum? Why?”
In the words of my 10-year old, Paul. The answer… “dot, dot, dot.”
There’s really not a single answer to that question. Some do it because they just want to. Others do it because they assume that’s what professionals do.
I was like them. I came out of my undergrad fully empowered and capable of writing curriculum for the church, kids ministry, and youth ministry.
Then I remember talking to my buddy Jeremy Brown, a guy I looked up to because he’s just a flat out better organized person and a stronger communicator of biblical truth to adolescents than I am. It shocked me that he shamelessly bought a curriculum and taught it, nearly unaltered.
Adam: “Wait, why do you do that?”
Jeremy: “Because my job is to minister to teenagers, not write curriculum.”
Adam: “Dot, dot, dot.”
He had a good point. And a point that lead me to more of my current viewpoint: Buy and contextualize curriculum. Let someone else do the vast majority of the work, then flavor it to taste for my group’s needs.
Yes, I could write everything I teach. But that might not be the best use of my time, either.
Now that I’ve had a little longer to think about it, here are a few reasons why I think you should adopt a buy and contextualize mantra for your ministry:
- It’s arrogant to write everything: When I first started I thought it was cool that I could write stuff. I even thought that since I knew my students and a curriculum writer didn’t, I was writing stuff that was better. That’s an arrogant posture. Now that I know how the editorial process works, know that there are people with advanced degrees in curriculum design, and see how cool it is when multiple experts collaborate on a curriculum together, I just don’t think very many churches have the resources to make curriculum that’s as good as something that’s edited, tested, refined, and published. Now, some churches do have all of those resources and I think many people do a mighty fine job of writing their own curriculum. But that leads me to my second point…
- Curriculum is cheap, your time isn’t: I remember talking to Jeremy about this when it sunk in. I spent 8-10 hours prepping a lesson for Wednesday night. At $25-$30/hour… that was a $250-$300 talk. If I’d just bought a resource for $10-$15 and spent an hour with it, would my talk really have been $200 better? Of course not. More than just the money, my role as a youth worker is to minister to teenagers. Spending a day each week not-with-students, but writing? That’s not why I do youth ministry. Maybe it makes sense in a system that has levels of youth workers and I’m the primary teacher? But in most churches the paid youth worker has a few volunteers, so spending 25% of your work on lesson prep is really costly to the whole ministry. Which leads to my third point…
- It communicates isolation when students long for connection. This has a few nuances to it. First, your students want to know that your church is connected to something bigger than them. Believe it or not, they talk to other people who go to church at school. And it’s really cool when you do things that aren’t isolated. (Which is why I loved doing the 30 Hour Famine with other churches!) Even if it’s 1-2 things that crossover per year, that communicates connectivity rather than isolation. Second, your students can tell what your priorities are. So if you’re working hard to “do your own thing” they can see the antithesis of that is that you’re not spending that time investing in them. Third, if one person in your ministry is spending a day in a coffee shop, alone, writing curriculum that doesn’t just communicate isolation over connection… it is isolation over connection.
Some places to look for curriculum
- Simply Youth Ministry
- XP3students (Orange)
- Youth Specialties
- Download Youth Ministry
- The Youth Cartel
Question: If you’re writing most of your own stuff and you feel like I’ve just kind of slapped you a little, I’d like to hear your response to my 3 points above. Where am I wrong about “buy and contextualize” versus “we do our own thing?“