Preaching to youth is a wonderful responsibility and all youth workers should be about improving their craft. How you handle scripture, what you understand about the Grand Narrative and contextualisation, are all important aspects to consider.
COME UNDER SCRIPTURE WHEN YOU ARE PREACHING
The idea of ‘coming under scripture’ was a gift from writer Eugene Peterson.
Eugene Peterson (amongst others I’m sure) makes the distinction of either standing ‘above scripture’ or ‘sitting under scripture’. Those who ‘stand above scripture’ begin with themselves and find scriptures that re-enforce, illustrate or justify their teaching. When you choose (and is it a decision) to ‘sit under scripture’, you teach the whole story of the Bible, letting God’s Word have authority over your life (and teaching) as the preacher.
When you are new to preaching, as many youth pastors often are, and giving ‘topical’ teaching, which is mostly the case with young listeners, it is a real temptation to only ‘tag’ scripture as part of the message. God’s story is easily lost when you choose to offer only a highlights package of your own conclusions in the name of relevance.
God is telling the story (and the whole of it). The role of the preacher is to retell that story (the whole of that story) not to give a consumer-friendly version of truth.
The Word of God is not a commodity. Don’t sell it in the name of popular preaching.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
KNOW WHERE YOU START IN THE STORY
This is a little something Rob Bell taught in the series Poets/Prophets/Preachers which I actually found to be quite true.
We all lean towards either being a Genesis 1 or Genesis 3 speaker. Let’s see which one you gravitate towards.
As you know, Genesis 1 is the creation poem and gives us the beautiful picture of how it all was once ‘good’ with the world. Genesis 3 is about THE FALL and describes Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God’s will.
When we preach (whatever we’re preaching on and whether we are super aware of it or not) we all frame our talk within the greater Grand Narrative of the Bible, making either Genesis 1 or 3 the beginning to the story.
Genesis 3 preachers see sin as the problem (which it is) and focus on how to solve it. This is what’s wrong and this is how you fix it, pretty much sums up the flow of the message.
A Genesis 1 preacher is all about restoration, the returning to how things were in the very beginning. They are all about capturing the hopeful imagination of young people by painting pictures of who teens really are created to be and what the world is meant to be like. Sin is part of the story but not the story.
It’s all about where you start in the story.
From my experience young people are not a problem to solve but rather a young life in need of a captivating vision to follow. Jesus offers that with the simple invitation of ‘Come, follow me.’ Not a bad place to start a story.
LET IT BE YOUR VOICE WHEN YOU PREACH
This one may take some time and is woven into your personal walk with Jesus.
Learning from others and incorporating good preaching practices that you observe will always be important but not when it comes at the cost of your unique offering as a youth worker.
Preaching and teaching will always have some ‘Rock Stars’ to mimic. We should give thanks for these ministries, but not idolise and certainly not try to become mini-versions of them every time we speak to a group of young people.
Coming under the direction and authority of elders and church leadership is important. Understandably, often the content of the talk may be given but what’s important here is to not just share the words of others without having truly understood them for yourself. The words may sound right and true, but they will lack authenticity, and for this generation that’s like blood in the water.
Don’t just learn the teaching. Digest it.
It may be a strange comment to make but we need to remember that we live in South Africa, not America or the UK. Contextualisation is vital and an important step towards the sharing of your (local) voice as a youth worker.
Bring your journey to the talk. Have the confidence to believe that it’s you God wants standing in front of those young people, not some ‘higher profile’, ‘better’ preacher.
Your life journey is a message, let it speak when you preach