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by J Warner Wallace
I spent most of my adult life as an atheist and once I eventually determined Christianity was true, I jumped in with both feet. I volunteered in Children’s Ministry and eventually became a ministry coordinator. It wasn’t long before I was enrolled in Seminary, and within a few years I found myself pastoring a youth group comprised of both junior high and high school-aged students. My first year was a disaster. Don’t get me wrong, my students wouldn’t have necessarily described it negatively, but looking back at it, I did little to protect or prepare them for what they would face in university. In fact, most of the students in my first graduating class of seniors left Christianity before the Christmas break of their freshman year. When I discovered this was the case, I decided it was time to rethink my approach.
In the first year, I leaned heavily on my background as an artist rather than my background as a skeptical cop. I spent nine years in the arts, completing an undergraduate degree in design and a graduate degree in architecture. I am also a musician and have played on a number of worship teams over the years. I wanted to celebrate the arts and create emotionally moving weekly experiences for my students, and my first year as a youth pastor was an adventure in creativity. Unfortunately it was light on content. All that changed once I realized how poorly my graduates were surviving when they left us. At this point I re-examined my priorities and shifted from creative artist to critical investigator. I also stopped teaching and started training.
Like most of you who are leading or teaching youth ministries across the country, I had difficulty finding pre-designed curriculum meeting my needs. As I surveyed the challenges facing young people, I identified three areas of concern, but I was unable to find curriculum matching these priorities. I knew I was going to have to create my own material, and I knew it was going to take some work. Given my art background, I tried to create a content-rich, focused, robust, visual learning experience, even as I attempted to tailor the curriculum to specific trips I planned for my group (the key to turning teaching into training). I divided my annual training calendar into eight six-week series (leaving four weeks for holidays and special occasions). This meant, over the course of four years, I would have an opportunity to explore thirty-two series. But what would be our focus? Our approach was three-pronged…
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