I was intrigued by a recent blog post by Brooklyn Lindsey entitled Why Youth Talks Keep Getting Shorter. In her post, Brooklyn talks of how she’s recently become OK with 10 minute talks, saying, “Shorter messages, intentional preaching with varying forms, a genuine desire to connect, and the power of the Gospel combined, equal something really great for us. The students are more likely to come back for more and remember the point going out the door.”
While I actually agree with Brooklyn, the question that I’m left with is, if that’s true, then why give a talk at all?
Now before you burn me at the stake for saying something that I’m sure sounds absurd, almost heretical, to most youth workers, hear me out.
In my first year of youth ministry, I gave a talk every week – not because I was particularly good at it, but because I thought that’s what youth workers did. They gave talks.
Because it’s our job to teach the youth in our care and the easiest way to dispense information to a large group of people is to talk at them.
So I spent HOURS every week preparing a 30 minute talk and faithfully delivered it.
By the end of my tenure at that church, though, I had started noticing the glazed looks in the eyes of the very kids I was trying to reach with the Gospel and thought, perhaps there’s a better way.
So at my second church, I began teaching much more experientially.
I still gave a talk, but that talk was filled with discussion questions and various experiential learning activities designed to actually engage the students in what was happening.
I still spent hours each week preparing my 45 minute teaching time, but when I looked at the students in the room, their eyes were no longer glazed over. They were, instead, involved in what we were doing, actively learning and growing in their faith.
So when I began ministry at my third and current church two years ago, imagine my surprise when I began giving very similar youth ministry “talks” filled with experiential learning activities and nearly got lynched by the kids in my ministry.
They told me they didn’t want to attend anything that even remotely resembled school and that they learned best when THEY did the talking.
That was hard for me to hear. So much so that I nearly quit.
After all, isn’t one of our primary jobs as a youth worker to give a talk? Isn’t this how we teach kids about their faith?
I felt as though NOT giving a talk would make me less of a youth worker.
And as soon as I realized that, I also realized this:
Talks are about us.
They’re about all the amazing things we discover as we prepare for them and about all the wonderful knowledge we have. They’re about our creativity and our style of communication. They’re about familiarity and being able to serve out of our own comfort zone. They’re about our charisma and time in the spotlight. They’re about our authority. They’re about our reputation among our peers.
But at their heart, no matter how experiential, well-written, or entertaining they are, they’re not about our kids, who simply don’t learn best when they’re passively listening to us ramble on about something they may or may not actually care about.
Teens learn best when they do the thinking.
Teens learn best when they do the talking.
And I’d even go so far as to say, teens learn best when they do the teaching.
Though I initially thought otherwise, enabling teens to think, talk, and teach on a weekly basis actually requires MORE work from us, not less. It also means we have to be willing to step out of the spotlight to allow them to shine. What’s more, it means relinquishing control of our youth ministry program and allowing it to NOT be perfect.
Perhaps worse, most of the time, this means that we’re suddenly the ones who are uncomfortable because we’re no longer doing what we’ve become so used to doing.
But it also means that our kids are the ones who ARE comfortable.
In the two years of experimenting with NOT giving a talk at my weekly program, I’ve found that the mode that seems to best engage my kids are discussions, both large group and small group ones. And surprisingly, I’ve also found that it’s much harder to craft a discussion that will enable my students to learn what I want them to learn about their faith than it is to write an awesome talk where I simply tell kids what to think about their faith.
But the pay off has been so worth it. My kids are engaging in our ministry and more importantly, in their faith, in ways that I’ve not seen in the 9 years I’ve been in youth ministry. Our discussions are deep and enthusiastic. And because of this, my kids are thirsting for Christ.
And they’re also thirsting for each other because their relationships with each other have become so much richer, so much more integral to who they are as people of faith.
This actually shouldn’t surprise me.
Discussions breed community. Talks don’t.
If you don’t believe that, just think about your answer to this question:
Who or what has most profoundly influenced your faith?
Almost universally, the answer to that question is a who, not a what.
People influence each other’s faith.
And at the end of the day, students remember PEOPLE, not the things we say in our talks, no matter how profound they are.
We know this. We say it all the time.
So, let me ask you, once more, why are we still giving talks at all?