I’ve been sitting on this post for several months, ever since I watched a web conference put together by the people at Preaching Rocket about Preaching Better Sermons. The webcast re-aired again yesterday, so I thought now would be a good time to get it posted. When the youth minister starts talking about preaching, sometimes people either jump to crazy conclusions or they get a little dazed and bewildered, so let me let you in on a little secret… Youth ministers are not only called to be great at dodgeball and ordering pizza, but also (and just maybe a wee bit more importantly!) at communicating the Word of God. It’s shocking I know, but young lives shall not be transformed by deep dish pepperoni alone.
If you lead a student ministry, you need to get better at communicating God’s Word – even if you’re already pretty good at it. So here are a few thoughts for better preaching in your student ministry, gleaned from guys like Perry Noble, Jud Wilhite, & Andy Stanley (Check out more at Preaching Rocket):
Start with God and you:
When you stand in front of a room of students with a message, it isn’t just another speech club or class project for your students to listen to and critique – this is a riveting message from God who wants to impact and shape their lives. You’re certainly not qualified to carry it, but for some reason He picked you anyway and credentialed you, Himself. Find out what exactly God wants to be heard, then figure out how He can say it through you. We have to preach from the overflow of a heart that’s fully pursuing God, otherwise our own agendas and egos get in the way of His message. Preaching in student ministry isn’t a time to try to impress. It’s a time to let the Holy Spirit make an impact. The first thing you need to do in preparing to preach to students is the same thing you need to do in preparing to preach to anyone else: build a relationship with God that will fill you with a message you have to deliver. Charles Stanley says, “You can’t preach any better than you pray.”
Work on you and your message:
A clear message will flow out of a strong and healthy relationship with God. Maybe you could count on God to just strike you with inspiration and give you the message in it’s entirety every week, but there are some tools you could employ that are a whole lot more practical and consistent. (Tools that help you diligently make the most of the gifts God’s given you.) One of those is to let God use a team of people to help you shape a series of messages ahead of time and to help you pay attention to the language you use. We don’t want to water down what God actually says, but we need to be sure to explain words that only the initiated will understand. Many (maybe even most) of the students we’re talking to don’t understand the religious jargon – get rid of it or explain it well.
Make sure you’re sharing what Scripture actually says. Don’t just jump around from one passage to another to prove your point – park yourself in a passage and explain it to your students. Help them see where that passage fits into God’s bigger picture and what it has to say for their life. Don’t just try to fill an outline with supporting texts for all the points you want to make, but let the story of the Scripture be revealed in your message, then connect the concepts of that story with real life. Call for clear action that should take place in your students’ lives as a result of the message. Providing specific vehicles for your students to do what you are telling them to do will help cement the message clearly.
The first couple minutes of your message are critical. Andy Stanley talks about using this time to create tension that will engage your students in the message.
Preach Tweetably! If you can’t summarize your message succinctly and with clarity, your students probably aren’t getting a good picture of what you’re trying to say, either. They may be lost in the forest of sub-points and illustrations and not even know what you’re talking about. Make 1 point.
Build a relationship between your students and your message:
Honestly share your own story and help your students see how their stories could be similar. (Be careful to avoid using your students as your own personal confessional booth, though.) Be aware of the brokenness in your students and their world and help them find hope amidst that brokenness.
Help your students know what’s really at stake, but also don’t take yourself too seriously. This doesn’t mean you have to try to be funny, but don’t be afraid to share what you’ve learned from your mistakes. You don’t have it all figured out, so there’s no use pretending.
As I tried to pull together my notes from 3 hours of instruction, I’m realizing this sounds like a lot of barked out bullet points. There’s a lot more that could be said about just how to go about implementing some of these ideas. If there are specific parts of this post that you’d like to see fleshed out a little bit more, let me know in the comments section or via the contact page.