In an age of information overload, it is essential that those given the privilege of communicating to young people spend time developing the art of teaching and preaching. A failure to do so will simply result in their well-intended input being carried away by the winds of teenage distraction.
After many years of preaching and teaching to the youth of South Africa, I’ve picked up a few thoughts that may prove a helpful reflection.
KNOW YOUR PLACE
This first thought comes after thinking too much initially of the place a talk/sermon/message had in my ministry.
Before you speak remember that God has already. God is at the moment and will after your meeting, be speaking into the lives of those filling the seats. Your sermon, your message, simply joins this existing, ongoing chorus.
From the moment God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden, a perpetual eternal voice has been calling ALL back home in the most creative and imaginative ways. Breaking through into the everyday existence of all. God has an active presence in the lives of all.
Without the correct perspective on the part your preaching has in the unending chorus of God’s voice to all of creation, you will make more than you should of the gift and platform entrusted to you.
Accepting that you are part of a choir rather than a ‘soloist’ should prevent you from clothing yourself in pride, believing that you are centre of stage.
This is a much-needed realisation in today’s world, where preachers endure an intolerable notoriety. Often, which comes with a FALL.
A Youth Workers life speaks more sermons than what they might say for 30 minutes on a Friday night.
PRAY LONGER THAN YOU PREACH
I picked up this focus on prayer from Charles Spurgeon. It has served me best of all.
We know prayer is important. We know we should pray. We often do pray. But, sadly we pray little and often just before as a precursor to the ‘main event’ of actually delivering our message.
Prayer is not a precursor. Prayer is the thing.
Praying for longer than you preach is not a formula. It is ‘not how to become a better, more successful preacher.’ Praying for longer than you preach is a simple understanding that the ‘power’ of your message does not rest or come from you but from the Holy Spirit.
It is an understanding that there are things happening in the spiritual realm, in the unseen, that you are participating in whether you signed up for it or not and the only way to ‘overcome’ in this realm, is to suit up with the power of prayer.
Praying longer than you preach will also turn you into a better listener. Listening more for what’s on God’s heart, hearing what you should emphasise or let go, it really is allowing the Heavenly Gardener to tend the tree of your message and prune away.
Prayer will help you remember that your message is simply something you ‘hear’ (from God) and let come ‘through you’ to the people He so loves.
Without proper prayer you will always be unprepared no matter how good you sound or well your message is received.
It is my experience that those early in their preaching journey tend to spend more time on ‘the colour of the model’ than in the engine room of any talk, prayer.
EARN THE RIGHT TO SPEAK
I’m not sure of the seed of this thought but suspect it was born from speaking often to hundreds upon hundreds of young people who didn’t know me and whose ‘attention’ I was given for 10-15 minutes.
It is important to differentiate between a ‘captive audience’ and a ‘captured audience’.
A ‘captured audience’ has to be there. Think assembly, class lesson, even Friday night when lots of teens endure the talk but are really there for the games and social times. A ‘captive audience’ (whatever led them there, forced or not), are actually listening to what you have to say. Are engaged with you, as you journey together through your talk.
The use of ‘with’ is purposeful. Talking ‘to’ youth sounds like a lesson of sorts but with is Jesus-like.
Understanding what ‘earning the right to speak’ means, will give you a great chance at moving from ‘captured’ to ‘captive’.
So, earing the right to speak is about accepting that it’s not ‘your right’ that youth listen to you. Sure, you may come from a position of authority and they ‘have to’ listen but then that’s not really listening is it? By earning, you accept that you need to begin with something that says, ‘Hey, what I’m about to share with you has value, is important, is not something you want to miss out on.’
‘Earning the right to speak’ is not about getting people’s attention or doing something cool (although it may end up a part of it). It is about a posture of the heart that begins all the way back in your preparation. It begins with asking questions.
Who am I speaking to? What is their context? What are they most likely going through? Where have they just come from and where are they going to next? It’s less about ‘what I want to say’ and more about ‘what they need to hear.’
Earning the right to speak begins with acknowledging and knowing the story of the group you’re speaking to and discovering the most excellent way to begin sharing with them. It is the hard, hidden, empathetic work of starting a talk.
It says, ‘I have prepared something special in advance for you to hear because you are of eternal value.’