Speaking Tips: Keys to Remember When You’re Teaching

I love teaching and preaching. It’s something I’m truly passionate about and an area in which I believe God has gifted me. As I’ve reflected over my time in ministry (almost 20 years now…yikes!) I’ve seen how my teaching style and mentality have evolved.

When I first started out in paid vocational ministry I was extremely rigid in how I presented and I followed the traditional approach to preaching and teaching (i.e., don’t move around and keep all messages to three points that have phenomenal alliteration). If you were to compare my early sermons and style–those videos exist somewhere I’m sure–to today, you’d notice a lot of differences in how I present and try to engage with the audience, as well as various other aspects.

As I was reflecting on the change and evolution in style and approach, I’ve noticed there are aspects that have been constant throughout my time in ministry that I believe can help us to become better teachers and preachers. Today, I want to share those ideas with you in hopes of encouraging you as you speak and lead in ministry.

Connection is necessary.

Whether I was the one speaking or part of the crowd being taught, I’ve come to realize that connection is key. Being able to connect with the people you’re speaking to is a necessary part of being a teacher because it allows you and the crowd to be able to relate more personally with one another. When you are able to understand and relate to the people you are speaking to, it creates a relational connection and allows the truths you are sharing to not only hit home but also to connect with your audience on a deeply personal level.

Look at your audience not through them.

When I was in undergrad, I was taught to look at people’s foreheads instead of their eyes to avoid feeling nervous or anxious. As I progressed in my career I heard from other leaders to look past the audience toward the back of the room. Still others told me to look straight at people. Here’s what I have learned through my years: look at your audience not through them.

How that looks when you speak is up to you, but always find ways to look at your audience and not past them. This is another way to connect with people and allow them to be seen and known. When people are seen and a connection is established they feel validated and loved. So don’t look past people or through them, but truly see them and look to connect with them as you speak. This may feel uncomfortable for you at first but finding a way to connect with your audience visually is key to growing as a speaker and establishing a relational connection.

Utilize stories and humor.

One of the best things you can do when you’re teaching is tell stories and bring humor into your message. Stories captivate audiences and help them to remember the points you are highlighting, and humor allows for connection and a unique way to illustrate your points. These two aspects of teaching will help you create opportunities for your audience to connect with you, and will help them to remember what was shared as they seek to apply it to their lives.

Use various forms of media.

It is important to remember that people relate and connect to teaching and teaching styles differently. So the more variety you can incorporate through different forms of media, the greater your chance of engaging and reaching people. This could be through pictures or videos. It may be with different props you bring on stage, through musical elements or times of reflection. It might be through creative questions and interactions during the teaching, or even your posture and where you stand. All of these will engage people differently and also help make the focus and application of the message more memorable.

Be creative and innovative.

You may be quick to dismiss yourself as “lacking creativity” or you may say “I’m not innovative.” But the truth is each of us, in our own unique ways, are creative and innovative. How you see things, comprehend information, understand and tell stories, and allow Scripture to permeate your life is innovative and creative. These aspects are important to share with your people because there are most likely those who relate to God’s Word, His calling, and mission in the same way you do. The ability to make the Bible real and applicable from your perspective is an aspect that only you can bring, and one that can help many people in their comprehension of Scripture. So share that with your audience and allow the Bible to come alive through your messages.

Be authentically you.

So often I remember being told in undergrad, “Don’t try to be a famous pastor, just be you because you are who God called to minister.” God doesn’t look to have clones of certain individuals. He is looking to utilize you and your gifts to connect, minister, and point people to Jesus. Embrace who He made you to be as you carry out His calling for your life.

Speaking Tips: Humor is Your Friend

When speaking to an audience humor is a necessary resource to have in your arsenal. But humor is often over-used or under-utilized. Speakers can tend to lean into humor too much in an attempt to relate to their audience and to pull them in. Other times they barely use it or use it to little or no effect.

As ministers our job is to effectively and clearly communicate the Gospel to our people. But that communication doesn’t need to be dry or boring but alive, passionate, and engaging. When we share God’s Word it should draw people in and help them engage and apply the truths of Scripture to their lives. Humor is one way we can help our students understand, relate to the Bible and apply it to their lives. I believe we serve a God of joy and humor and that we see this throughout Scripture. Since we are created in His image we should be utilizing it in our own lives and in our teaching.

Tell personal stories.

Stories are a great way to communicate humor but I would assert the best types of stories are personal ones. Now that is not to say stories that aren’t personal should never be used. I’m simply saying personal stories resonate more with the people you’re speaking to because it makes you more relatable, authentic, and personal. So look to use funny stories and anecdotes from your own life and share those to help elevate the points you are making.

Be intentional with humor.

Often times speakers use humor just to use humor. But as communicators of the Gospel everything we say and do should be done to drive people to God and the truth of His Word. We shouldn’t just throw out a joke to get a laugh or to poke fun at someone or something. Instead, our humor should be utilized to point people to Jesus and to emphasize a point from Scripture. Being intentional with our humor keeps the focus on God and not on the speaker. It should be used to help your audience remember what is being shared not simply to tell a joke.

Utilize humor to emphasize a point.

One of my favorite ways to use humor is by telling a funny story that emphasizes the point I’m trying to get across. If I’m looking to make the point that “trust is necessary in following Jesus,” I may tell a funny story about when I didn’t trust someone, leading to not great results. But there is also the opportunity to use humor and move into a serious moment. Sometimes when I tell a story, I know there are humorous moments in it but that the end result is more serious in nature. This dramatic switch pulls people in and drills home your point. If I tell a funny story about not trusting someone when it comes to starting a camp fire, which includes lots of funny missteps but ends with me burning down the campsite, the dramatic effect will bring people in and highlight the consequences of not trusting someone else. Humor is a great resource when emphasizing a point but it must be done well.

Sarcasm isn’t your friend.

Sarcasm is defined as the use of irony to mock or convey contempt, and is often used to share hurtful truths thinly veiled in humor. I frequently hear students joke about how their spiritual gift is sarcasm, but this type of humor is often hurtful and mean. Because of these truths, I would highly recommend not using sarcasm even if you are “good at it.”

There are times where sarcasm may be useful in a message, like when you are being sarcastic about a negative attribute or habit while trying to point your students toward a positive point (i.e. no one ever tells a lie). But we must ask, “Is it worth it?” What we might not know is that our sarcasm may actually hurt or alienate a student because they could feel targeted or they could be wrestling with that issue. If our humor could be received as hurtful, is there really a reason to be using it? I would encourage you to not utilize sarcasm and instead look to utilize other forms of humor to help emphasize your point(s). That isn’t to say you can never use sarcasm, but you need to be mindful of how and when you do.

Never poke fun at students.

This point should be obvious, but I think sometimes we forget about it in the midst of our messages. Poking fun at students should never be part of your sermon. It could make the individual student feel targeted and make other students feel like your gathering isn’t a safe place because they may get called out or made fun of from the stage. Having fun at the expense of students should never be what we do because we never want to hinder someone from understanding or embracing the Gospel at the sake of a quick joke. Instead, I would encourage you to make fun of yourself, your stories, or things you have experienced. This will allow you to better connect with your audience because you are being authentic and real with them while highlighting the realities that everyone struggles with.

See the humor in Scripture.

Part of utilizing humor is seeing that God is a God of humor and seeing those moments in Scripture. Think about when Jesus asks the disciples if they caught any fish in John 14. Jesus is asking a bunch of fishermen if they had caught any fish. Now these are guys who have made their living catching fish and for Jesus to pose this question, it’s kind of like a subtle jab at the disciples asking if their previous career path has paid off instead of following the Messiah. Jesus then tells them to throw their nets on the other side. At this point there is clear humor here because of course they had tried all the different methods but nothing worked. Jesus is saying, “Don’t you understand who I am?! I am the Messiah and your old way of living isn’t working because I have come to change your lives!” But the humorous way He goes about doing this cannot be dismissed. When you see the humor in the Bible it allows you to naturally impart humor into your messages.

You don’t have to be naturally funny to use humor.

I’ve talked with many youth workers who have a desire to use humor but they believe they just aren’t funny or don’t know how to use humor. But the reality is that everyone can be funny in their own way and it doesn’t have to look the same with each person. Having different styles or senses of humor is a huge blessing because your style may reach people that my style or others may not.

If you find a story you’re sharing funny, stop and ask yourself why. When you can identify the humorous aspects of your story it gives you a point or angle to emphasize and in doing so, help others to see the humor you’re using. Don’t count yourself out because you aren’t a comedian. Instead, lean into the humor you see or experience and help communicate that with others as you share your stories.

Speaking Tips: Utilizing Space

Last week we kicked off a brand new series called “Speaking Tips.” This series is designed to help us grow as speakers and to critically think through how to be the best speaker God has equipped and empowered us to be. It is my desire that this series encourages you and provides some tips that will save you from learning the hard way like I did.

When it comes to the spaces we teach in, our propensity may be to look at the space with frustration or desire. Frustration perhaps because the space isn’t what we want or need. And desire because we long for a space that is better suited for our context and students.

I get it. The spaces student ministries utilize are often not what we would desire. Instead it is often shared or multi-purpose space, an area with hand-me-down couches, games and activities that were donated and have seen better days, or spaces that feel like an old closet or classroom was converted as a place “to put students.”

Let me encourage you to not see your space as a limitation or to long for something better, but instead to embrace what you have and leverage it to meet your needs. Today, I want to share with you a few tips to utilize the space you have and use it in effective ways to reach your students.

Shake up where you speak from.

When I first started out in a paid ministry position I was super stationary. I was a senior pastor at a small church (like 8-10 people small), I was glued to the pulpit, and I was fairly rigid. As I have continued to serve and grow in ministry, I’ve come to see the value in movement when teaching. Whether I’m speaking to a youth group, teaching at a school chapel, or preaching at our church, I am always trying to switch things around. Sometimes on a Sunday morning I may teach from the center of the room instead of the front. During our Wednesday night programming I make my main points from different spots in the room because it forces a new perspective.

Be mobile when you talk.

If you’re able to move around when you talk, I highly recommend that you do so. Even minor movements help to focus people’s eyes which triggers renewed awareness and attention. However, your movement shouldn’t be sporadic or without purpose, but instead it should be intentional and focused to help communicate your message and emphasize its points. Even simply moving away from a podium, using your hands and arms to demonstrate a point, or walking to different parts of the stage or room will bring people into your message and what is being communicated.

Leverage the space you have.

It’s easy to feel frustrated with the space we have if it isn’t ideal or what we need. But having any type of space is a huge blessing, and one we need to make the most of. So think about the space you have to speak from and make it work for you. Be willing to try something new. Think about how you can change the lighting or seating arrangements to fit the type of conversation you’re having. Creatively think through what elements you can bring to the teaching space to accent it. Even minor adjustments can effect great change in the space you have and in how your message is received. Don’t simply change the space just to change it, but think about how changing the space can help you effectively communicate your message.

Utilize different postures.

This is one that really impacts how you speak and what the audience hears and understands. When you can go from a standing position to a seated position you are bringing the audience into a more intimate and vulnerable place. If you can utilize a height differential it will also force a new perspective and allow you to critically assess how you’re engaging the audience. Think about how a stage elevates the people on it which forces the perspective and shifts how people will see and perceive you. If you’re able to change your posture it will switch how you’re able to engage your audience and how they will receive what you’re saying.

Bring in different teachers and styles of teaching.

Sharing your platform says a lot about the type of leader you are. If you are willing to be more open-handed it allows different voices to be heard by your students and for a greater chance of impact in their lives. Students hear and receive things in new ways from different speakers and that fosters growth and change in their lives. And as a bonus point, this highlights to your students that you both trust and value your leaders enough to let them take the stage.

This will also help you engage multiple speaking styles which don’t all have to be from you. When you can use different teaching styles (narrative, expository, group discussion, testimonies, etc.) it communicates your messages in unique ways that will register with students differently. And when you share your platform you are allowing others to step into that space and naturally assist with it.

Speaking Tips: Leveraging Your Voice

The other week I turned thirty seven years old and it hit me that I have been in ministry for almost two decades in various capacities. As I was reflecting back on this, I realized how much my speaking style and ability has changed and grown over the years. Much of this growth came through trial and error, learning from mistakes, continued education, and learning from mentors.

It is extremely humbling that I am where I am as a pastor and speaker, because I should never have been able to do any of this. I was born with a severe speech impediment and tongue tie. Fun fact, I still have a bit of tongue tie today because they couldn’t fully remove it. For years after the surgery I was in speech therapy, and even today will have moments when I mispronounce words. I was also extremely terrified to speak in front of people. In high school I would shake during presentations, I would have extreme cotton mouth, and would try to find any way out of having to stand in front of the class.

But by God’s grace, He called me into ministry and has allowed me to grow and develop into a person who speaks and teaches regularly. I am by no means a world class speaker or teacher, but I have studied and grown in my own abilities and wanted to share my insights and tips with you. Many of these have been learned through failure and growth opportunities. I hope this series encourages you and provides some tips that will save you from learning the hard way like I did.

For today’s post, I want to share ways that you can leverage your voice as you teach and shepherd your people. Your voice is one of your greatest resources and tools, and when you master it, you can use it with great results.

Utilize volume.

One of the best things you can do with your voice is to control the volume at which you speak. When you transition from a normal speaking volume to a whisper, it brings people in. When you move to a more dramatic and louder voice it communicates heightened intensity or emphasizes a point. It is important to note that when you get loud it isn’t yelling but speaking loudly. If you can balance speaking loudly versus yelling it will help engender you to your students because they don’t see you as authoritative but instead as someone who can lovingly guide and direct.

Inflection is a great gift.

Inflection is defined as “a change in the pitch or tone of a person’s voice.” This is more than just volume but changing the way you actually communicate verbally. Think about the best vocal storyteller you know. What made them special? It was probably the way they told the story and typically that all has to do with inflection. Inflection can be switching up the speed of what you say, enunciating certain words or syllables, speaking for dramatic affect, utilizing your voice to communicate different meanings in a sentence or phrase, and even speaking in various voices like monotone or emphatically. Utilizing this skill not only will make you a better teacher and story teller but will also cultivate a desire to listen within your students.

Pace is key.

Some people are naturally fast talkers, while others tend to be slower. Neither is a bad thing unless it keeps your audience from paying attention and listening. What you need to find is a pace that is comfortable for you, relatable to your audience, and effective in communicating your message. Pace isn’t just about speed but knowing when to change your speed, when to embrace the technique of pausing, and knowing what pace is most effective with your audience. Throughout a message you may have varying paces but walking through a practice run of your message will help to fine tune what pace you need at what time during your message.

Speak from the diaphragm.

One of the best pieces of advice I received about speaking came in college. A prof was speaking about using our voices and talked about how utilizing our diaphragm allows us to control our volume, tone, projection, and longevity of breath. When you breathe deeper and speak from the diaphragm it affords you more control and ability to use your voice in multiple capacities. To know if you’re speaking from the diaphragm you will feel your breaths being deeper, your projection growing without yelling, and the ability to control your speed increase. This is more than a deep breath, it is allowing your whole body to help you speak and you will feel it within your stomach, lungs, and vocal chords.

Practice and watch.

Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice the better at controlling and leveraging your voice you will become. In fact, one of the best ways to grow as you practice is to actually record yourself and watch and listen to how you use your voice. I know that even suggesting watching yourself speak can be uncomfortable. I get it. I hate watching myself speak because I am always my toughest critic. But when I watch myself it challenges me to think about areas in which I can grow. It isn’t about critique but about finding ways to grow.

What Are You Teaching: All Church Series

Every now and then, our church does an all-church series. More recently, we have been using the spring semester to collectively work through a study built by multiple staff members to help our church journey in the Bible together. It involves all ages and happens in our services and in all the classes and groups that meet. But there are some unique challenges and circumstances to consider when doing these studies to help them succeed and truly be engaging for students and families.

Make sure your message relates to students. Sometimes when moving through a set curriculum for the church, there are applications and insights that are really beneficial but not always relevant and helpful to students. So look to make sure what you are teaching and encouraging students to apply is relatable to their lives and circumstances. Providing them with real and tangible applications will help them see how the Bible is practical and relevant to their lives.

Don’t teach the same thing that is taught in the services. This is a big deal because part of our vision for students should be to help them engage the church holistically and not just student programming. If we are teaching the exact same message with the same points in student programming that is taught in the sermon, students will tend to default to only the student gathering and forgo the Sunday service. This isn’t beneficial and further drives a wedge that doesn’t need to be there to begin with. Instead, even if you are teaching on the same passage from the sermon, look to find different insights and understandings. Highlight how passages can provide various applications and interpretations. Bring in new illustrations and ways to immerse students in Scripture, and help them discuss what they’re learning in both contexts.

Collaborate with others. One of the best things you can do in these types of series is talk to other staff members and leaders to see what they are teaching. This will not only provide you with insight and creativity, but will hopefully afford you new and intentional opportunities to partner with other ministries. If the adult groups are looking at a particular aspect, it may be helpful to both adults and students to know what each group is doing as there is a high potential students’ parents will be in the adult group. This provides overlap and a platform on which to engage ongoing conversations within families.

Remember everyone may not be on the same page. It is important to remember when going through all-church series that some students may not have a full grasp, if any, of the material you are walking through. So make sure to do due diligence and help students fully understand what is being taught. Also, remember that students may not be present at each level of the study due to other commitments and so summarizing what has been taught is important and also helps students continue to remain engaged.

Encourage students to be a part of the broader conversation. Make sure your students know everyone in the church is going through the series, and that they have a voice because they are the church. Encourage them to engage in conversations with family and friends. Challenge them to ask deep and meaningful questions. Provide outlets and opportunities for them to engage with church leadership on these topics and series.

What are You Teaching: Reading & Studying the Bible

“Only eight percent of global teens believe the Bible is the word of God and read the Bible several times a week.”

This is a stat the Barna Group posted on their Instagram account last week which caught my attention. It didn’t really surprise me, but it did cause me to reflect on how we can better equip and encourage students to read and study Scripture on their own.

If your students are anything like me, I wasn’t taught Bible study methods growing up. I was given a series of Bibles over the years, and found myself navigating through them on my own. Teen study Bibles helped to some degree, but I wasn’t taught what to do when I had personal devotional time. So I just read passages and tried to make sense of them, often failing to do so.

I can’t help but wonder if the students in our programs have had similar experiences. If they have, it’s no wonder they don’t want to read the Bible. If you don’t know how to understand it or where to start, it can feel like a daunting, confusing, and sometimes boring task. Students should be equipped to read, study, ask questions, and understand, so that they can uncover the beauty, depth, and purpose of God’s word.

In this third installment of the What are You Teaching series, I’d like to offer some ways we can help encourage, train, and engage students in their personal Bible study.

Translations: A simple place to start is by making sure your students not only have their own Bible, but one in a version or translation that is easy for them to understand. If the language/wording used is difficult to follow, chances are students won’t stick with it for very long. So look for a solid version that is written in a way that is clear and easy-to-read. Check out this past post for some suggestions.

Audio Bibles: Some students hate reading, or struggle with it. Others find themselves so busy with school, activities, and other commitments, that it is genuinely difficult for them to carve out time to read. Whatever the case may be, don’t forget that an audio Bible is an option. It may help your students to read and listen at the same time, or they can listen while driving or riding in the car between activities. For others, it may help them to calm their mind before going to sleep or while getting ready for school in the morning. If they’re interested in listening, they can download the YouVersion Bible app for free and listen to audio recordings of multiple versions.

Bible study methods: So your students have a Bible, now what? Make sure they are equipped to study it on their own. Some basic study methods include O.I.A. (Observation, Interpretation, and Application), Discovery Method, or S.O.A.P. (Study, Observe, Apply, Pray). These will help your students as they encounter Scripture on their own. You may also want to supply them with pre-scripted studies, that either you or a trusted source have created. Check out this post for some suggestions.

Recommended reading: As you get to know your students, you will learn their passions, interests, and struggles. Rather than have them start reading anywhere, guide them to passages that will appeal to and capture their interest, speak to their season of life, or help them get to know Jesus better. Sometimes students struggle to read the Bible because they arbitrarily open it and read wherever the pages fall. Or they may try to read through a book and get bogged down in a confusing story. Help them connect to the Bible by making personalized reading recommendations.

Start a study: Consider helping students grow further by hosting an in-depth Bible study for those who are interested. You can use this time to equip them further, challenge and encourage them, and address topics with which they may be wrestling. This is another opportunity to personalize it to your group, helping them see how the Bible connects to their real life situations.

Questions: For a while it seems in some churches, asking questions about the Bible was almost taboo. Help continue to break that stereotype for your students by encouraging them to ask questions about the Bible. Host a “stump the pastor” night or an “ask me anything” about the Bible. Even if you don’t know all the answers, take time to do the research and come back with information. Students are naturally curious. Encourage them to bring their questions to God, He can handle them all.

Creativity: Tap into creative ways to read, study, and process the Scriptures. Help your students see that it isn’t just about opening the Bible in a quiet room. God is creative, and we can interact creatively with Him and His word. This may look like artistic representation of Scripture through drawing, painting, or Bible journaling. Students may want to write their own music, spoken word, or poetry in response to what they’ve read. They don’t have to share their creative response with anyone but God, but if they want to, consider hosting an event for them to share their creations and the story behind them.

Make it personal: Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God? Has it changed your life? Have you wrestled through difficult passages? Share this with your students and bring them into your story of encountering Scripture. Students need to see adults who believe in God’s word and how it has been a part of their lives. They need to see that it can be a real and important aspect of the Christian life, and not a boring part of their to-do list to check off. Students connect with personal stories and will benefit from hearing yours.

What are You Teaching: Culture and Worldviews

Current events, cultural movements, worldviews, and relevant topics in the lives of students present great opportunities to dig deep and critically think about practical biblical application. But in order to handle these topics well, we need to be mindful of what is happening, how we approach them, and what the Bible says about them. Last week, we kicked off this series by discussing spiritual rhythms and today we want to continue by engaging the topic of culture and worldviews.

Speaking on these topics is paramount to our ministries because it helps our students see how the Gospel is relevant and applicable in our present reality and culture. Students are seeking to understand how they can be Christians in a world that is juxtaposed to Christianity, and at the same time trying to understand how the issues of today are guided by God’s Word. So as we teach on these areas, it is important that we help students see how the Gospel transcends time and space and the real applications it has for us now. This will allow our students to make biblically-informed decisions and help to elicit needed change from a Godly perspective.

Know your topics. If we are teaching about a topic our students are dealing with, we owe it to them to be well-versed and knowledgeable about that topic. For instance, if you are going to teach on sexuality, it would be beneficial for you to know the correct terminology, culture perceptions, and biblical insight. This will allow you to engage your students where they are at and you will be able to help them understand how to apply the Bible to these types of conversations and cultural settings.

Dig deep into current cultural contexts. I think sometimes it is easy for us to simply present what the Bible says and believe that our students see the application within their spheres. But the truth of the matter is it can be hard for students (and really anyone) to apply what the Bible says to modern context. The Bible doesn’t speak to every circumstance in our present culture, but there are principles and truths that do apply. Helping our students understand how to apply these truths means we must first understand their cultural context. We need to know what issues they are dealing with, why certain issues are important to them, and how to help them navigate cultural distortions of biblical truths. By doing this you can help your students prepare to engage this world with biblical truths that are covered in love and grace.

Know the pressures your students are facing. This is more than just knowing the cultural context, it is about knowing your community and students and the pressures that are uniquely surrounding them. No one group of students, communities, or environments will be exactly the same. So it is important to know the tensions your students are encountering. It may be issues with technology, sex and identity, or social justice concerns. Mental health could be a big factor for your students, or it could be socioeconomic status, or questions about faith and God’s goodness. Whatever the pressures are, the only way you will know them is by engaging your students, families, and communities and seeking to understand their key concerns.

Be aware of how your students think and engage. It may surprise you how your students think and what they believe. They may have differing opinions than yours on biblical truths and principles, and that is okay. Students, like everyone else, need to formulate their own views as they make their faith their own. This doesn’t mean we sit by passively and treat them with kid gloves, but instead we take their opinions and views into consideration and don’t just shut them down. Allow them to push back, ask questions, and formulate a biblical worldview as they navigate their faith.

Give practical application. This is a big one for students. So often they want to contribute to change, growth, and progress, and the application we give should help guide them in how to meet those desires. If they care about justice, help them find ways to advocate in your community and nationally. If it’s about providing food and clean water, guide them to local food pantries and national organizations they can support. If it’s about race and equality, help them find ways to engage their communities in dialogue and movement toward practical change. If it involves changing perspectives and views that may be harmful in the church, show them where to serve, how to elicit change, who to talk to, and advocate with them.

Present biblical truths with grace and love. As I shared above, students will often have differing views than what we may present. Whether it’s because of personal preference, experience, or cultural impact, their views may not always align with the truths of God’s Word. Even when what we present counters their views and perspectives, we must always remember to share these truths with love and grace. Students don’t often hold differing views just to disagree and cause tension, but their views are often informed by relationships, sympathy and empathy, and cultural trends and norms. Because of this, we must be willing to engage in dialogue and discussion that both hears and understands our students and their views, but also lovingly presents the truth of the Bible. Remember it isn’t always about being right, but instead helping to shape and guide our students to an understanding of God’s Word and helping them make their faith their own.

What are You Teaching: Spiritual Rhythms

One of the questions I get asked frequently is, “What are you teaching students?” Whether it’s parents, church leaders, other student workers, or even students themselves, it seems at some point everyone is curious about what is being taught. This week I’m starting a new series we are calling “What are You Teaching,” which will focus on different types of teachings we utilize in our student ministry program.

Before I begin to talk about one of the areas we teach on, it is important to note that while we do focus on different teaching styles, themes, and topics, we also have to be aware of to whom we are communicating. Our program has two different days that we operate (Sundays and Wednesdays) and both draw very different groups of students.

Our Wednesday night program is more invitational in structure and is focused on discipleship and evangelism. This means when we teach on topics in this environment, we stay at an entry- to intermediate-level of understanding to make sure our teaching reaches the majority of those in attendance. In contrast, our Sunday morning programming is geared toward equipping and training our students to be disciple-makers. This means we often go deeper into topics and look at application that leads not only to heart transformation but outward replication.

While both programs are focused on discipleship, how we meet that goal looks different based upon who is in attendance. I would encourage you to think through those aspects of your programing in order to help you pick the right teaching for the group that is relatable, applicable, and transformational.

This week I want to talk about spiritual rhythms and why teaching on them is important. I believe it is easy to assume these rhythms are taught at home and/or in “big church.” But assuming this puts both our students and families at a disadvantage. It is also unhelpful to assume that your students are not being taught or equipped at home in these rhythms. All that to say, don’t assume either direction. Instead view this as an opportunity to explain spiritual rhythms, allow those who haven’t engaged with them to do so, and help those who already engage with them to broaden and strengthen how they do.

Teaching on spiritual rhythms is something that can be taught to students who fall across all parts of the spiritual spectrum. But we must be aware of which rhythms we are teaching to each group to make sure they are translatable and applicable. For instance, I wouldn’t necessarily teach on fasting and meditation on a Wednesday evening. Instead, I would begin by talking about prayer and spending time in God’s Word.

But the real question is what type of spiritual rhythms should we actually teach our students? I have found in my experience most students are not aware of rhythms outside of prayer and devotions of some sort. This may be a broader narrative about what is actually being taught within our churches and how that is reflected in families, but that is another conversation for another day. I think for many youth programs it would be helpful to start with more entry-level spiritual rhythms and then scale upward as you see your students growing and maturing in their walks with Jesus. With that said, here are some spiritual rhythms I believe we should be teaching our students.

Prayer: I believe it is important to teach our students about both personal and corporate prayer. You can show them different postures of prayer, different prayers styles (like thanksgiving, confession, supplication, lamenting, etc.), different communication styles, silence in prayer, journaling, and more.

Scripture reading, meditation, and memorization: Helping your students not just know how to read Scripture but also to meditate on it and memorize it will help them deepen their relationship with Jesus and give them greater opportunities to navigate the difficulties of this world. Take time to teach how to read Scripture and also how to study it. Utilize different strategies and resources to help students learn in different ways. Highlight different tools for memorization and meditation so student don’t just read but also apply the Word of God by allowing it to permeate their lives.

Fasting: This isn’t something that Protestant churches often talk about, but it is something every Christian should engage. Fasting is something that our current culture isn’t acclimated to because we don’t often have to do without for any reason. But training our students about what fasting is, why we do it, and the results of it will help them to not only grow as followers of Jesus but also as young adults.

Communion: There have been many times where I’ve preached and handled officiating communion in our church services. One of the things I love to do is explain what communion is and then encourage parents to walk their children and students through it. It’s a beautiful opportunity for parents to lead their families and also for students to see how and why we share in this moment with each other. This can also be accomplished in student ministry gatherings where you can go deeper into the remembrance, repentance, and restoration (there’s alliteration for ya!) that comes from this sacred moment.

Giving and service: I think talking about finances is often a difficult conversations for churches overall. Asking for money never feels great. But if we frame it from the perspective of giving and service it allows us to focus not just on the monetary piece but the heart motivation. Students may not be able to give monetarily but can give of their gifts, time, and talents. So look to explain why we give and serve, how we can give and serve, and what that accomplishes for the person and the body.

Journaling: I’ll be honest, I am really bad at journaling. I can write messages, blog posts, devotional guides, and emails, but for some reason journaling escapes me. Elise is fantastic at journaling and has a way of truly putting her heart onto paper. When we journal as a spiritual rhythm it helps us share our hearts, put our thoughts about our faith journey to paper, and see how we have progressed in our relationship with Jesus as one of His disciples.

Worship: Worship is one of those things we believe everyone who becomes a Christian knows how to do. For some reason we assume that everyone knows what worship is and we don’t often teach about. But if we don’t teach our students how to worship, they will never understand it nor why it matters. Take time to make sure your students know worship extends beyond just music and singing. Highlight that different worship styles exist. Help students find their way to worship and show them how to make it a part of their everyday lives.

Sabbath: I’ll be perfectly honest and tell you until recently I really struggled in this area. I didn’t know how to intentionally pause and take time to spiritually refresh. I would assert the majority of our culture doesn’t know how to do this well either. We are so busy and so overwhelmed with everything that exists at our fingertips that we don’t usually find space to just refresh and be in the presence of Jesus. So create the opportunity for your students to experience these moments. Train them in what sabbath is and why it is necessary. Show them how it can be a full day, a week, a season, or even just a few hours carved out of a day. Help them to see what it does for their heart and soul, and how it draws them closer to Jesus as they are encouraged and refreshed.

Community and fellowship: I believe community and fellowship are spiritual rhythms that at times can happen naturally. But even as they occur naturally, they can become tribalistic and alienating to outsiders. Part of training our students in this rhythm is helping them see the beauty within the body of Christ that comes from diversity and differing opinions. When we highlight that the kingdom of heaven is made up of believers from different backgrounds, races and ethnicities, theological positions, and political views, it will help students understand the beauty of diversity and how they can have healthy, God-honoring relationships with believers who are different from them. This will also help our students understand how important fellowship and community is for the church as a whole and prayerfully help them stay connected with a local community of believers.

6 Quick Tips for Speaking Prep

Part of being a student pastor, or even a volunteer leader, is speaking. Whether to your own youth group, preaching in a service, or at camps or retreats, we will all be faced with this part of the job at some point. Speaking in and of itself can be intimidating and taxing, but if we aren’t preparing well, that intimidation can become overwhelming. So what are some ways to prepare well when we do speak?

1. Study and know your material.

This is something we should always be doing when it comes to presenting God’s Word. We should spend time in the Bible, explore commentaries, utilize additional materials (libraries, topical books, early church writers, theologians, and wiser church leaders), and our own knowledge and interpretation to know what the text is saying and how to make it translatable and applicable to our audience.

2. Pray…a lot.

The need for prayer cannot be overstated. Whenever we are getting ready to take the stage and present the Word of God to an audience, we need to remember that it isn’t of our own power or prowess, but it is the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. He allows us to use the gifts we have been given to reach others. So tapping into the power of the Spirit and relying upon Him to sustain and guide us, as well as providing the words we need, will allow us to be more effective when communicating and presenting the Gospel.

3. Seek feedback and insight.

Feedback and insight are things I haven’t always had or pursued, but now that I do have them, I see how vital they are. Seek out input and critiques from people you know and respect, and allow them to help shape you and the messages you give. If you don’t have this option available at your workplace, consider reaching out to local peers, ministry connections, college professors, or even coaches (check out Slingshot Group for some great options) to help you grow and mature in your gifts and skill set.

4. Practice.

Practicing is something that I do regardless of the audience or where I am speaking. I practice at least twice, and if possible, practice in the location where I will be speaking. Practicing should include working on your speech and word usage, mannerisms, movement, crowd engagement, and even eye contact. The more you practice, the more familiar you will be with your message, your space, and your audience, which will help you best present the message that God has given to you.

5. Know your audience and venue.

This is something that you can’t always do (i.e. you’re guest preaching in a new environment) but when you can, it is hugely beneficial as it allows you to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways. When you know the community you’re speaking to it enables you to establish relationship and rapport which will give you permission to engage in deeper and more intentional communication. Also, when you are familiar with your venue you can take advantage of the stage, seating, lighting, atmosphere, and relatability with your people.

6. Be mindful of what you eat and drink day-of.

One of the things I learned early on from friends who are singers is there are certain food and drink items that can adversely affect your vocal cords. Dairy, sugars, and to some degree caffeine, can all have negative affects on your voice such as dry mouth, lack of vocal range, and lack of inflection. I love coffee and drink it almost every morning. But if I am speaking that day, I don’t add sugar or any creamer, and I try to be done with the coffee at least two hours before I speak. Also, make sure to drink lots of water in preparation for when you speak. The more water your mouth and throat have, the better your range and vocal abilities will be.

What are some things you do to prepare for speaking?

5 Quick Tips on How to Connect With Your Audience

Let’s face it: speaking can be challenging and connecting with your audience can be equally challenging if not more so. Add in students, and then the challenge at times can feel overwhelming. I have gotten to know many amazing pastors and speakers serving in a variety of capacities around the country who are doing amazing jobs at sharing the Gospel but also connecting with their audience. These two aspects don’t always work together seamlessly, but when they do there is immense opportunity to reach people. The question before us today is this: how do I actually connect with my audience while I am sharing Biblical truth?

I don’t know if you have ever had one of these experiences before:

  • Someone falls asleep while you are teaching or preaching.
  • A student says, “Hey, I know you try, but you’re just boring.”
  • People seem to tune out while you are talking and start playing on their phones.
  • Someone says, “Your messages are great but I don’t understand how they relate to my life.”

I know I have had very similar conversations with people throughout my time in ministry. I’ll be honest with you and tell you I was not a great speaker before I went to school for ministry, and my first few years in ministry my sermons and teachings were largely informative and expository and did little to connect with my people. Personal connection and the ability to relate to your people is highly important because it makes what you are teaching real and applicable to their lives.

I would assert that being a great orator and expositor isn’t the only thing that makes you a great minister. What truly makes a great minister is one who knows their people, can shepherd well, points people to Jesus, and helps them draw practical application to their own lives from Scripture. But how do you do this well as you are speaking? Much of this sounds like things you would do in a smaller setting or one-on-one moments. I think these opportunities present themselves as we speak, but in order to embrace them we must apply various tools at our disposal. Today, I want to provide you with five quick tools that will help you better connect with your people.

1. Make eye contact.

Depending on the size of the group you are speaking to this may sound easy or it may sound really difficult. It also may be really challenging for you personally if this is something you don’t find yourself doing in personal conversations. But when you look someone in the eyes during a conversation you are literally helping them to understand that you see them. You have made what you are talking about personal and you are allowing your people to know that you care about them and that what you are sharing has meaning and value for their lives.

If you still struggle with this or if you are in a larger church or youth group setting, allow me to offer you a quick tip on how to do this. Look at peoples’ foreheads or slightly above them. When I preach in our sanctuary, it is very hard for me to look at people in their eyes because there are more people present than in our youth group and the stage lights can be blinding. But by looking slightly over their foreheads, it allows for me to connect with more people and helps them to know they are seen. There have been countless moments when I have utilized this trick and people have come up and said, “Nick, it was like you were looking right at me!” Using this tip will help you better connect and know you people in ways you may never have before.

2. Tell stories.

I love to tell stories. In fact, if you were to ask anyone who knows me they would tell you that even to simple questions I use a story to answer. Now sometimes that isn’t helpful, but when you are speaking, stories bring the audience in and they also humanize the speaker. Often people will look at a pastor or speaker in a revered type of way, but what people truly want is someone who understands and can relate to them.

So when you are speaking use stories but also make sure to utilize personal stories. This resource will allow for you to connect in deeper ways with your audience and it also will help them to focus and listen more because they want to know what you will say next. I think this is a resource that Jesus used often (i.e. parables) but in some ways this resource has fallen by the wayside in some church cultures. When Jesus used parables it brought people in and helped to explain the point(s) He was making, and when you use stories you do the same thing. So leverage stories, both personal and general, to bring people in and emphasize your points.

3. Be authentic.

Authenticity is something people crave because it means they can understand, relate, and be a part of your life and vision. When you are real, vulnerable, and authentic people will gravitate toward you and want to share in what you are teaching. So utilize personal stories, be honest about what you are learning, talk about personal applications, show emotion, and be transparent. These traits will help people see that what you are teaching is real and applicable because they see you implementing and wrestling with it. Authenticity breeds relatability and creates a culture where people desire to journey with you.

4. Utilize inflection.

It is often easy to speak in a monotone style or to simply speak in one manner. But good speakers who want to reach their people will utilize inflection when they speak. It isn’t about raising your voice or yelling, but about utilizing the gift that God has given you to draw people in and understand the Word of God. There is much power in how we utilize our voices because a whisper or softly spoken word communicates differently than a loud or passionate voice. So consider where and how to use inflection in your speaking, and practice how to use your voice and understand the skillset God has given you.

5. Know your material and practice.

I personally think one of the best things you can do to connect with your audience is know your material well enough that you do not need to read off of a manuscript. I was trained very classically and taught to memorize and internalize my message, and while I know this isn’t easy for many people, I do believe that at least knowing your main points and application will allow you to connect better with your audience. The reason it allows you to connect is because your attention, vision, and focus is on the audience rather than focusing on reading the manuscript and making sure you get it exactly as it is written.

The only way to achieve this is by constant practice. Whether I am speaking to students, sharing as a speaker at a retreat, or preaching at a church, I make sure to practice multiple times beforehand because it helps me to be comfortable with the message, the text, and when possible, the stage or environment. The more you practice and attempt to memorize key points, application, or the entirety of your message, the better you will become at not having to rely upon notes, and be able to connect at a deeper level with your audience.

What have you found to be the most effective way to connect with your audience?