One of the questions I am most often asked is: do you use a curriculum when you craft your messages? This questions and others like it constantly pop up in forums, Facebook groups, and in youth worker gatherings as people try to navigate whether using someone else’s material is appropriate, and if they do, how to incorporate it well.
To answer the above question, sometimes I use curriculum and other times I craft my own messages, it just depends. Honestly, choosing to use a curriculum is a choice each person will need to make on their own, but I can say that it is okay to use it. You shouldn’t feel bad for using a pre-made lesson or series. These are resources to utilize that will help you grow, mature, and be a better youth leader. But in saying that, there are a few guidelines and principles that I think should be followed when using a curriculum in order for it to have the best affect on your students.
Work ahead on your schedule as much as you can so you aren’t trying to get curriculum for this week, or tomorrow night. By doing this you remove the pressure of finding the best curriculum for your program in a short amount of time, and you give yourself breathing room to pick something that is best for your students and what you are looking to create. Don’t pick a curriculum to just fill the space, but be intentional in what you choose and why you choose it. Build it into the mission and vision of your program so that it all flows together well.
Vet the curriculum.
Make sure the curriculum is solid before choosing to use it. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say that they purchased a curriculum site-unseen in hopes of using it that week and it turned out to not be worth what they paid. Look for reviews or previews of the curriculum. See if other people have used it before. Purchase or gather your curriculum from trusted sources. Some great online sources for curriculum include Leader Treks, Download Youth Ministry, The Source 4 YM, Orange, YM360, YouthMin.org, and Group Ministries.
Read through your curriculum.
Once you have the material you are using, take time to read through the entire curriculum. Look at the resources they give you, see how many lessons they provide, look into how they utilize Scripture, and make notes and tweaks to the material as you read through. Often when I am reading through curriculum I look for where there are personal stories or phrases that only relate to the author’s audience and note them so when I am preparing my lesson I know to change them.
Know your audience.
When using a curriculum, remember who you are using it for. I have heard people use a curriculum and reuse someone else’s stories or examples word-for-word. Typically what happens is the stories fall flat, students disengage, and you can instantly tell that the message is not having the desired effect. What I suggest is knowing your students and shaping the curriculum around them. Take the material and make sure it is relatable and translatable to your audience.
Use the curriculum as a springboard.
Whenever I use a curriculum I never use it verbatim. I look for the big ideas, the translatable concepts, Scripture passages, and key points. Then I look to shape those areas around a lesson I craft; I take the meat of the curriculum and shape it for my context. This does take a little more time, but I would never advocate for simply reading from a pre-crafted message because it feels disconnected. Crafting a lesson from a curriculum saves you time while also allowing you to put your own heart and passion into the message.