Tailoring Lessons to Teens
This post adapted from Best of ProMaker II, "Tailoring Talks to Teens" by Frank Hamrick.
In order to teach teens well, we should adequately prepare our lessons. Just because you know the Word and can teach it to adults doesn’t mean you’ll teach teens successfully.
Tailor your lesson to your audience. Effective youth speakers study an audience and take time to learn their characteristics, interests, and needs. So let’s look at some characteristics of teens and understand how they should affect our teaching.
Teens Are Immature
Teens need solid biblical principles because they don’t have the experiential wisdom to help them make proper decisions. Their immaturity stems from at least two areas—pride and a focus on short-term gratification over long-term benefit.
Teens who are sinfully proud often consider themselves exceptions to the rules. Adults may warn them about the dangers of reckless driving or keeping bad company, but they don’t take warning. They simply don’t have an understanding of life and consequences. As teachers, we should constantly emphasize God’s truth as a counterpoint to the false promises of sin.
Immaturity also results from a focus on the here and now. Many teens fail to see the future benefit of present sacrifice or investment. Teachers should present God’s truth as relevant to the teens’ present, as well as to their past and future. Doing so will increase teens’ interest in our teaching.
Teens Are Practical
Teens want to know how to do things. Much of our teaching challenges teens, but it leaves them without the knowledge of how to practice what they’ve learned. It’s one thing to urge teens to pray, witness, and study the Bible, but it takes patience to show them how. Teachers must prepare teens by teaching them skills. Teens should learn how to lead worship, encourage prayer, minister to the elderly and the needy, teach from the Bible, disciple Christians, and connect to people from all kinds of backgrounds.
Teens Are Informal
Teens want genuine interactions. In a church context, they can view formality as arbitrary, insincere, or even hypocritical. A teacher will communicate far more successfully to teens by interacting in a relaxed, sincere manner.
Teens Are Interested
Teens’ interests often reflect their preoccupation with the present. Topics such as relationships, education, family conflict, and self-identify are often high on their list of immediate concerns. By weaving these topics into the applications of your lessons, you can boost teens’ interest. Take time to learn the specific interests of your teens. Memorize the names of their schools, share their favorite books, and know what they enjoying doing during their free time. As appropriate, reference these interests to make your teaching more practical and relevant.
Caution in Focusing on Relevancy
But while relevancy helps engage a teen audience, it should never be promoted the point of sacrificing truth. By valuing relevancy or popularity over a commitment to truth, a teacher will undermine the very purpose of teaching God’s Word. We should watch out for the following dangers:
- Don’t act like a teen. Few things seem more disingenuous to teens than an adult that tries to act like them. Teen culture matches their development—it’s marked by change and instability. Most adults discover teen fads late, and by the time they learn a new part of teen culture, it’s already grown old and stale. Further, much of their culture can stem from unbiblical philosophy, so referencing those values without explanation or counterpoint could distort your teens’ view of God.
- Don’t use questionable or unbiblical methods. If teens only show interest in God because of our activities or presentation style, then they will demand increasingly bigger and better of the same to maintain that interest.
Ultimately, the Holy Spirit alone must work in the hearts of our teens. By His grace, we simply reflect His truth—helping, and hopefully not hindering, His work.