Author Tim Barnett
Published on 04/17/2023
Tactics and Tools

How to TRAIN Youth: Know the Difference Between Teaching and Training

Tim Barnett introduces the concept of TRAIN, sharing why we should test our students, require more from them, arm them with the truth, involve them in the battlefield of ideas, and nurture them as they grow


I want to rethink how we do Christian education and teaching, especially in youth ministry. And I want to contrast two ideas. One is teaching, and one is training.

If we want to start engaging the minds of our students, we need to start training the minds of our students. Now, you guys all know what teaching looks like. It’s where I try to get what’s in my mind or what’s in a textbook into your mind or in your student’s mind. I used to be a full-time high school teacher. In fact, I taught science and math. (Everyone say, “Eww! Who would do that?” Right?) And so, as a math teacher, I would put an equation on the board. I realize some of you are triggered right now. When I put up some math on the board, you want to know the first thing my students would say to me? What’s the question that comes to mind? I know some of you are already thinking it. You were that kid, probably. The question is, “When am I going to need that?” Right? “Why do I need to learn this?” And the answer is, “Because it’s going to be on the test right now.”

Deep down, I’m thinking, “Yeah. This kid ain’t using this ever again.” And most people don’t. But the reason they’re asking that question is because they want to know that what they’re learning is relevant to their lives. “Mr. B, why is that important? Why is this relevant to my life? Why are you putting me through this?” If I said, “Oh, you’re never going to need this. This is totally irrelevant to your life and to the job you’re going to do,” guess what happens to all those students? They all shut down. They’re gone. I’ve lost them.

So, that’s teaching. Well, what’s training? Well, training is different. I like how J. Warner Wallace puts it. He says training is teaching, but it’s in preparation for a battle. I want you to think about how a UFC fighter, or maybe a boxer, trains for their upcoming event. You see, what happens is, as soon as an event is scheduled on the calendar, they begin their training. They may spend hours in the gym working out. You can tell I spend hours in the gym working out, right? No. That’s not me. And then they’ll spend hours on the punching. They might master their kicks or some hold. They may be reviewing tape of the other fighter. Why? Because they know that one day coming up on the calendar they are going to be face-to-face with an aggressive opponent, and so they train.

Now, think about a typical youth group meeting. Usually, there’s no tests or exams. Kids show up, and they’re kind of wondering, “How is this relevant for my life?” But they aren’t getting those kinds of answers. Maybe there’s a whole lot of entertainment going on and not a lot of education. Notice, there isn’t really this training mindset. It’s more of just a teaching mindset. And so, I want to kind of switch our mindset here from teaching to training, or think in terms of mixed martial arts or maybe mixed martial apologetics, because this is where the apologetics is going to come in.

I want to walk through an acronym: TRAIN. We’re going to go through this one letter at a time. Each letter stands for some important part of this process, and so we’re going to T—test our students. We’re going to R—require more from our students. We’re going to A—arm our students. We’re going to I—involve our students. And, finally, we’re going to N—nurture our students.