One of the strengths in our student ministry is the variety of volunteer teachers we have. I’ve always believed that if a student or adult is willing to do the hard work of student ministry, they should also be able to have the spotlight as well. For some people, that means being up front; our volunteers teach in our weekly meetings, our retreats, and even in conference events we host. Anyone who wants to teach can become a strong teacher, and we give them the opportunty; here is how we help that happen:
- Regular opportunities. No one becomes a strong teacher overnight. It takes time and practice in front of groups to become confident and capable. The reality is, the person who learns the most IS the teacher through their preparation; the more you can get students and adults up front, the more growth you will see in them.
- Set them up for success. I don’t need curriculum to teach; after more than two decades of regularly being up front, if I’m honest, I can coast on experience if I need to. I deeply enjoy the creative process to writing a message. But for the rookie teacher, that’s a lot. I regularly buy strong curriculum for my teachers to use; this accomplishes a couple different things. First, it helps create a strong connection from week to week even with different teachers. Secondly, it allows the teachers to focus on their delivery. I tell them they’re allowed to use as much or as little of it as they want as long as they stick to the key points – as teachers gain experience, I regularly see them move from leaning heavily on the curriculum to showing creativity and letting their own style come through.
- Positive reinforcement. Odds are, they are over thinking and already self critiquing – I know I do. It is incredibly rare that I give negative feedback; I’ll only do it if I see the same bad habit happen for multiple lessons in a row. Instead, I try to find at least one thing to praise. Emphasizing what they’re doing right helps build their confidence and make them better teachers for the next time. I’ll also on occasion – after pointing out several things done right – suggest something they could have added to the lesson to make it even stronger. For example; I have a young leader who did a lesson and I knew had the perfect example from his own life to illustrate the point but didn’t do it. I mentioned that as I was listening, it occurred to me that it would have been a great illustration and it would have helped connect people to him. The next time he taught he used a great personal story.
- Let go of the ego. I’ve had volunteers who are stronger teachers than me. It could be easy to feel threatened by that. But the reality is, the more capable teachers you have, the better YOU look as a leader. The more you share the spotlight, the more your leaders appreciate being on your team. Having great teachers makes the ministry as a whole look better, not the leader weaker. And here’s the thing; my teaching improves dramatically the weeks I’m on because I’ve let others teach as well.
One more thought; teens in particular can be intimidated to get up in front of their peers. We’ve helped set them up for success in a couple ways that we don’t usually do with the adults. First, we have a couple series we do every year (HABITS and our purpose series); we usually recruit older students to teach this one because they’ve heard variations of it over the years and feel more confident with it. A second thing we do on occasion with students who are really intimidated but want to try is take a lesson and split it into it’s different points and recruit a different student for each point, giving them five to eight minutes each.