The first approach we’ll consider is the instructional approach, a paradigm familiar to most youth workers because it’s the dominant approach of published curriculum. The goal of the instructional approach is to help students understand scripture so that they can live and obey God’s truth. Whenever you see the verbs “know” and “apply” used together, it’s quite likely you’re looking at curriculum that is written in the instructional approach. The assumption is that when the content of the faith is taught in ways that make it understandable for teenagers, then their beliefs can be shaped, their minds changed, and their hearts and actions formed. Obedience begins in knowledge, and teaching is seen largely as imparting knowledge of the truth.
Obviously, this approach puts significant emphasis on the teacher. She should have the ability to present the gospel so that the student can grasp it, understand it, and live in light of it. If you communicate the gospel from an instructional approach, you don’t just read scripture and call it good. Rather, scripture needs to be handled by an experienced interpreter so that it can be made understandable to youth. The teacher—and those writing the curriculum—act as interpreters who pre-chew the word, breaking it down so that it can be meaningful to youth and so that they can find ways that the scripture “applies” to their lives. If the teacher doesn’t know how to teach (or lead a discussion), is unskilled in handling scripture, or doesn’t have his or her life and knowledge in order, then the instructional approach falls apart. You can almost imagine that the role of the teacher is to mash Scripture into a paint-like substance that can be applied to youth and which can soak into their lives and change their ways.
Since the role of the teacher is so important in this approach, there is great respect for the training of teachers. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that those who take an instructional approach to communicating the gospel borrow heavily from educational theory and practice. The assumption is that what works well in the public school classroom will likewise work well in the church. Christian educator James Michael Lee, working from an instructional approach has said that, “Religion teaching is basically no different from any other kind of teaching. Nor is the learning of religion basically different from any other kind of learning.” [1]
The instructional approach has some great strengths: Students engage with scripture in significant ways and know it well, and they’re challenged to live out their faith individually. However, as you’ll discover in the remainder of this Course in a Nutshell, the instructional approach is not the only game in town. In fact, in the next article we’ll consider an approach that seeks to communicate the gospel in a way completely contrary to the instructional approach.
For an example of the instructional approach in action, we’ve included two sample lesson plans that you can download:
Lesson 1: Instructional Approach 1
Lesson 1: Instructional Approach 2
[1] Quoted in Jack Seymour & Donald Miller, Contemporary Approaches to Christian Education, 1982.
Further reading in the style of the Instructional Approach: Dan Lambert, Teaching that Makes a Difference
Click the links below to read the series in its entirety:
Communicating the Gospel to Youth: A Youth Ministry Course in a Nutshell
Course Overview

  1. Instructional Approach
  2. Community of Faith Approach
  3. Interpretive Approach
  4. Developmental Approach
  5. Liberation Approach
  6. Contemplative Approach