Read an Excerpt
What's It All About?
The Seven Checkpoints
Seven Principles Every Teenager Needs to Know
It's a great time in history to work with teenagers!
Youth ministry has slowly evolved into a profession of professionals. What was once considered the lowest rung on the ladder in most churches has now become a job that demands respect. The fight for the souls of our teenagers has intensified. Because parents and church leaders see this, respect for the position of youth minister has increased.
We have entered the race with the likes of Hollywood and MTV for the minds and hearts of teenagers. To keep pace, youth ministries across the country have put a great deal of effort into creating the best context for youth ministry. We all want our ministry environments to be student-friendly. To that end we have produced camps, conferences, and weekly meetings that rival rock concerts in sight and sound.
We want to speak to teenagers in their language, and many media resources have risen to help us. The Christian music industry has grown from a slighted "phase" to a powerful influence. Our push for relevancy has produced hits in the mainstream by artists like Sixpence None the Richer, DC Talk, and P.O.D. Quality videos and television shows have been designed to help students understand who Jesus is and how to deal with the issues that are unique to their stage of life.
These new and relevant approaches to reaching the student culture are needed and refreshing. They are especially refreshing to those of us who've spent countless hours trying to convince the generation before us that an anapestic beat won't send kids to hell.
But as is usually the case during a time of transition, the pendulum has swung past the point of balance. While we have been consumed by context, the content of what we invest in students has taken a backseat. Most of us have spent little time determining what our students need to know before they graduate from high school. Our days are spent planning activities and designing camp T-shirts. Often the core of what we want students to learn gets lost in the shuffle.
Think for a moment about the class of students you just graduated from your ministry. What are the four or five key concepts, principles, or lessons you believe they walked away with as a result of their time under your leadership? As you consider that list, ask yourself: Are these the principles you set out years ago to instill in the hearts of the students under your watch? Or did they pick them up by chance?
The Ever-Raging Battle
Our students are being raised in an entertainment-oriented culture. Just about every morsel of relevant or irrelevant information they pick up is being served to them on a platter designed to stimulate the senses. If it doesn't entertain them, they aren't interested.
This is why so many of us have rushed to create high energy, entertainment-driven contexts for our ministries. And so we should -- as long as the content doesn't suffer. But it is hard to stay content-focused when the "show" takes up so much time and energy.
How do we keep substance in the driver's seat? What can we do to keep the music from drowning out the message? How do we ensure that our students walk away from our youth ministries equipped to enter the next important stage of their lives?
Context vs. Content
This book is not about context. This book is about substance. It is about content. This book is about what you should communicate to your students, not how to communicate it. It is about instilling timeless principles into the hearts of teenagers to better equip them to live in their ever-changing culture.
Most youth leaders struggle with a lack of direction when it comes to the substance or content they are investing in their students. If you are like me, dozens and dozens of marketing pieces advertising new curriculums or teaching materials come across your desk every year. It is not that there is a lack of resources for teaching. It's that there is no systematic plan that lays out for us ahead of time the "irreducible minimum" around which to plan our teaching and curriculum choices.
We have a tendency to plan our environments and events first and then decide the content or substance to be taught. By adapting our ministries to the seven foundational truths presented in this book, however, we can turn that around. We can allow the truth of God's Word to dictate how we plan and create our environments and events. We often talk about the need to preserve the message while adjusting our methods to reach a new generation of students. We say we want to use what is cultural to communicate what is timeless. But in our attempts to remain methodologically relevant, many of us have dropped the ball when it comes to being intentional about the message.
Think about the time and energy you spend planning the context versus the content for a summer camp or youth retreat. Isn't it true that you tend to spend the majority of your time planning the right environment while leaving the content up to a guest speaker, someone who doesn't even know your kids?
What about your Bible study? You have chairs in rows (sometimes circles) for the students and a lectern for you or your assigned teacher. Perhaps you have doughnuts and juice on one table and quiet-time guides, event brochures, and announcement sheets on another. Your adult youth leaders stand on the back wall or sit in the last row of chairs. You plan the environment to a T, then you trust a publishing company to provide a lesson for you to teach. You have no idea what the lesson plan will be from one quarter to the next. The publisher decides what your students should learn, not you!
Of course we leave room for the Holy Spirit to move, and we trust the speakers and the writers. But perhaps the reason we "trust" other people so much is because we're not sure what we want our students to remember, understand, and apply.
If the truth were told, what have become foundational for us are our methods, not our content. We have slowly and unwittingly put the proverbial cart before the horse, and the results sit in our pews every Sunday morning in the shape of young adults who have a what's-in-it-for-me attitude and a weak biblical footing.
A Different Strategy
The leadership team of our student ministry at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, has invested many hours developing a ministry strategy that would be content-driven. What has evolved from our hard work is a ministry model that allows us to create environments based upon seven key biblical principles, or "checkpoints" as we refer to them.
Content drives our context. We are committed to creating relevant environments. But the environment must support the content. We have discovered that once we have identified what we want students to walk away with, creating the right environment is much easier. Our environments are more focused and effective.
This approach to student ministry does not de-emphasize the importance of a creative, fun, and relevant environment. Just the opposite is true. Once we have clarified what it is we want to communicate, we feel even more compelled to create just the right setting.
After all, it is one thing to put together a summer camp. It is quite another thing to create the optimal five-day environment for teenagers to rethink their whole approach to friendship. It is one thing to organize a winter retreat. But the stakes get higher when the goal is to create the optimal setting for students to examine their attitude toward the authorities God has placed in their lives. It is one thing to plan a quarter's worth of Sunday school curriculum. But what if the goal that quarter is to motivate students to adopt an others-first approach to relationships?
When content is the focus, the context becomes vitally important. This approach to youth ministry will motivate you and your leadership to raise the bar programmatically. Camp is camp. Sunday school is Sunday school. But what if these regularly scheduled events were viewed by your leadership as the context for imparting seven life-changing biblical principles? Suddenly the stakes are higher. Now camp, Sunday school, and the winter retreat are necessary means to a predetermined end.
The seven checkpoints are an intentional, systematic approach to student discipleship focused on the content of discipleship. These seven student-specific principles are the irreducible minimum -- the must-know, can't-be-without principles. They are not all that is important. But they are what is most important for students. I am convinced that these are the seven basic principles every student should understand, commit to memory, and embrace before they leave the safety of their homes and youth ministries.
As you begin your journey through the pages of this book, you will find that each of the seven checkpoints is restated in a powerful, easy-to-remember "Principle" of truth. Each checkpoint asks a "Critical Question," which helps you to evaluate your students based upon that principle, and includes a "Key Passage" from the Bible that serves as the timeless foundation for the principle. Finally, each checkpoint ends with a "Checking In" section to help you think about how each principle applies not only to your students' lives, but to your life as well.
The overall scope of the seven checkpoints looks like this...