Preaching to Students (Jr. High and High School)
This past Sunday I had the privilege to preach at our Impact Student Ministry worship service. As I expressed in my Sunday Reflections blog post a few days ago, I count it an honor to have the opportunity to invest in the next generation.
Coming out of that service, I began to reflect on my ministry experience with students throughout the years and what I have learned about preaching (and teaching) to them. I chose to publish it here on my blog with the hope that it will serve to equip, encourage, and confirm those who are involved in student ministry.
Preach the Word (i.e., The Bible in general and the Gospel in particular)
In the day and time in which we live where there is a low view of Scripture and preaching, we must remind ourselves of what Paul wrote to Timothy:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquantied with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 3:14-4:4, ESV)
Our words, in and of themselves, have no power to save or grow our students spiritually; only the Gospel/Bible does that through the convicting and illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. So, no matter your style of communication, be committed to the exposition of Scripture.
Pray for the Holy Spirit’s Help
When you read of Paul’s ministry among the church at Corinth, it becomes quickly apparent that he was dependent on the Holy Spirit as he preached the Gospel of Jesus to them:
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Cor. 2:1-5, ESV)
If we wish to see students convicted and repent of sin, grow in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus, commit to Christian fellowship, serve in ministry according to their giftedness, and be emboldened to be on mission for Jesus, we must carry out our preaching ministry to them in prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Use the Bible
Here is what I mean: when we are preaching, it is good practice to have a physical copy of the Bible with us and to actually refer to it, rather than simply reading a passage, using it as a launching pad to fly us and our students into the galaxy of our own thoughts and viewpoints.
Trust me, I am in no way bemoaning the use of technology. My notes are on my iPad. But I also carry a Bible with me to the stage, pulpit, or front of the room because I realize that students not only learn from what they hear, but also from what they see.
Referring to the actual text of Scripture helps our students to understand that the authority in our preaching does not reside within ourselves, but rather within God and His Word. We are not progenitors but heralds of God’s message.
We need to not only be exegetes of the Scriptures, but of our students as well, so that we might meaningfully engage them in “their world.” We would do well to at least make ourselves aware of those things that in general mark or characterize their generation. Music, media (Television, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Social Cam, etc.), and movies are three of the major “icons” of adolescence that we should keep our eyes on.
This is not beyond biblical warrant. The classic text that many refer to when making this point for the need for cultural awareness and engagement is Acts 17:16-31 where Paul preaches to the Athenians, making reference to their [pagan] religious devotion and poets.
It is possible to engage culture without endorsing it.
Pay attention to your terminology
Preach to them in terms they can understand. Jesus was the master at this. When he spoke many of his parables to the crowds, he used common elements and terms (e.g., birds, trees, bread, door, shepherd/sheep, mountains, sower and seed, kingdom, etc.) to explain spiritual truths.
Is it okay to use theological terms in your sermon? Of course, but use them only when needed and be sure to define them in words they can grasp.
Remember, our goal is not to impress them or to simply express what we have learned in seminary or through our own study. Our goal is to see them progress in their relationship with and devotion to Jesus.
For the most part, strive to be clear and simple (simple is not the same as simplistic).
When I say creativity, I am not saying be gimmicky. To be creative, in the sense that I am using it, is to use whatever you might have at your disposal to keep your students attention (as far as it depends on you) and to relevantly communicate to them the points of your sermon that have been derived from the text of Scripture.
Here are some suggestions:
a. Switch up the presentation.
Preach a 1st person narrative sermon.
If you usually preach on the stage, try preaching from the floor.
Alliterate your sermon – where every point begins with the same letter.
Make your sermon into an acrostic – where each letter of a name is a point (or where your points form a name).
b. Use a flip chart or dry-erase board to write your sermon points on or project them on a screen via powerpoint.
c. Present an object lesson
d. Solicit interaction by asking questions or participation if you need to demonstrate something.
e. Show a movie clip or play a song
f. Incorporate a sketch (aka: skit) at the beginning, throughout, or at the end of your sermon
Whatever you do, make sure that your creativity is always subordinate to (and supports) Scripture and appropriate for your audience.
Share your life story
Your successes and your failures. Students need to know that you were not always the mature Christian that you are today. And yet they need to know more than anything that with God’s enabling grace living a life for His glory is possible.
On sharing your failures, I would admonish you to be careful of the tone you use when mentioning them. To recount them flippantly can give off the impression that we are at best trivializing them or at worst glorying them. So use discernment as to what to disclose and share it with a measure of sobriety.
Students are notorious for sniffing out inauthenticity or a copycat. So don’t try to preach just like your Senior Pastor or whoever else. By all means, learn from them, but don’t try to be them. You have your own unique personality and style that needs to come out in your preaching. Right away or over time, your students will come to appreciate you for being you. As they say, find your voice…and stick with it.