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?

Quick Tips for Preaching in “Big Church”

For many youth workers the time to preach in “big church” is fast approaching as the holidays begin. Whether you are asked to preach because your senior pastor is on vacation or because you are part of the regular rotation, preaching is something we should revere and treat with respect. For our post this week, I want to share with you a few quick tips on how to preach well in church (and really anywhere) and how to allow yourself to be most effectively used by God to reach His people.

Be yourself.

Authenticity is key when you are preaching. Don’t try to be something you aren’t or to imitate someone else. Be the person God designed you to be and ask Him to work through you. God has specifically designed and equipped you to communicate His Word, so be yourself and allow God to utilize your gifts. Don’t try to be someone else, be who God made you and allow that to be the person who stands in the pulpit.

Know your material and practice.

This is something we should be doing regardless of where we are preaching or teaching. Before you preach make that you have studied your material so you present it well. Coupled with knowing your material is practicing. We all know how easy it is to lose your place or get distracted. Knowing your material and practicing helps to ensure that happens less and that you are able to recover easier.

Slow down and be intentional.

This is something I have been practicing for a long time. I’m a fast-paced talker, and often I feel pressured to get all of my material out in a set amount of time. Or maybe you just talk fast because that is how you teach students. When you are preaching, slowing down and showing intentionality will connect you more to your audience. This will also help you be more succinct and clear in your communication. Practicing this will help you grow as a preacher and allow you to communicate in a clearer and more direct manner

Treat the pulpit with respect.

This is something I don’t think we always are aware of, but as we stand in the pulpit (and honestly any time we teach), we must be aware of the privilege and weight that comes with teaching and preaching God’s Word. Too often the pulpit and office of authority as a minister of the Gospel is treated cavalierly, and we don’t afford it the respect it is due. The Bible tells us that those who preach God’s Word are held to a higher accountability because they are presenting the Word of God to His people and what they say has eternal ramifications. So when you enter the pulpit to preach, hold it in respect knowing that God has called you to present His Word to His people, and you have the honor and privilege of doing so.

Speak to all generations.

Often when we are afforded the opportunity to preach, people expect the youth pastor to speak like and speak to the young people. But we are in a unique place to speak to all generations because student ministry is truly about reaching multiple generations. There are students, parents, volunteers, and others that cross multiple generations which gives you an opportunity to reach all those generations when you preach. Don’t talk to just one or two generations or groups, but instead try to make your message applicable to all.

Don’t look to be inflammatory just because you can.

I need to remind myself of this. I get to preach fairly regularly at my church and have had the privilege of speaking on quite a few controversial topics and passages. I have often wanted to say things because I have felt passionate or wanted to push people to think critically by challenging their norms and perceptions. But to simply say something to be provocative is not the purpose for those who are preaching. Our purpose in preaching is to exposit God’s Word and help people grow in spiritual formation through God’s transformation. The Gospel is enough to challenge people, so let it do so. Look to communicate the Word of God and to challenge your people, but you do not need to make provocative or inflammatory statements in order to do so.

Remember that the focus should be on God, not you.

I will be the first to say that I know pride is a struggle within my own heart. I love when people say they like my preaching or that they have missed seeing me in the pulpit. But in the same way that positive comments can affirm me, negative ones can break me. The root issue in those moments is the pride within my heart because I have made it about me.

What needs to be the focus is simple: did God’s Word get shared, did you communicate it clearly and accurately, and was God glorified by what you shared? If we can answer yes to all three of those questions, we know that we have done what God has asked of us, and it shifts the focus away from us to where it should be–on God and God alone. When you stand in the pulpit or before a group, remember it isn’t your platform, but God’s. It isn’t about you creating brand recognition, but about pointing people to the King of Kings. It isn’t about the shoes you wear, but about the eternality of peoples’ souls that are at stake.

What are you most excited to be preaching about next? How do you utilize the opportunity to preach to best reach the people you are speaking to?

Speaking on + Equipping Students for Difficult Topics

Last week I was invited to share on the topic of justice with our young adult group at church. This is an issue that is near to my heart, and also one that can feel extremely intimidating. Speaking on topics that are challenging and culturally-charged usually isn’t our first choice. But if we are willing to step into these difficult discussions, we can equip our students with a godly perspective as they encounter them in their every-day lives.

Today I want to share some tips for speaking on and equipping students for topics like justice, with the hope of encouraging you to not shy away from challenging subject matter. It can be tempting to gravitate toward easy topics and tried-and-true lessons, but our goal should be to speak to our students where they are, approaching topics and issues they are encountering every day. May we equip our students to live Christ-like lives in all places where they find themselves, including and especially our current cultural moment.

Always seek Scripture first.

I challenge students to take their questions and concerns to Scripture first. How does the Bible address the issues we encounter? How does God speak about the things we are dealing with in the twenty-first century? What can I learn about God’s heart from His word? As student leaders, we shouldn’t only model this in our lessons, we should encourage students to do their own research and study, and not just take our word for it.

Topics that are culturally relevant or popular can be easy to research online, through news stories, and from podcasts. There is no end to the number of voices speaking into things like justice, and you can find many different perspectives on any given topic. That is why it is essential to ground our perspective in Scripture. As we listen to the voices around us, how to they measure up to the truth of the Bible? Do they reflect God’s heart for the world, the oppressed, and the believer? And are we regularly seeking God’s word on our own to discern His voice and truth as we interact with other voices?

I encourage students to compare what I say, and what they hear from others, to what they find in the Bible. I also challenge them to learn what God says about the issues they are encountering in their lives. Sometimes that means providing resources like study Bibles, study guides, or Scripture references. Other times it may mean doing a deep-dive study of a topic or book of the Bible with our students. Whatever it takes, make sure your students are equipped to study God’s word and put it into practice in their lives.

Help cast a Christ-like vision.

As we study Scripture, the goal isn’t just to acquire head knowledge or the ability to regurgitate Bible verses. It is to know Christ, to have an understanding of who He is, how He lived, and how He would have us live. Scripture gives us a vision for how we can walk in Christ-likeness, and we need that vision desperately if we are going to step into our calling as believers.

Those of us who are student leaders have a responsibility to aid in casting this vision. We have a responsibility to lead by example for the generations that will follow, and to help show them who we are following. Without this vision, we can construct a self-made vision for our lives and the world, one that can easily be swayed by outside voices who have no regard for God.

We find ourselves in a time where the weight of political opinions and personal preferences hold obvious weight in the church. Allegiances are placed in parties, people, and places that are not God, nor His word. The truth is this is a dangerous place to be because it means separating who we are and how we live from God and what He wants for us. When we separate ourselves and our responses to the world from God, we easily lose sight of the life we have been called to live as followers of Christ.

If we want to live powerfully for Christ, we cannot misalign our priorities. We need a vision for Him that captures our hearts and lives, and creates a lens through which we view everything else. Help your students form a Christ-centered vision of themselves, the church, and the world. From this point they will be most prepared to respond to the issues they encounter, and to live in the world as beacons of Christ’s light.

Humanize issues by making them personal.

Whenever I speak about justice, I have to share my personal connection to the issue. I have spent the last seven years fighting the specific issue of human trafficking, in large part because of the assault I experienced in high school. When I first learned about human trafficking, all I could picture were young people who were like me. They needed someone to speak up for them and fight for justice, just like I needed when I was a teenager. This made the issue personal for me.

As time as gone on, the issue continues to remain personal, not just from my experience, but also by listening to the stories of others who are willing to share. Each time we hear someone’s story, it transforms an issue from a headline, statistic, or hashtag, into a living, breathing human being. We can help students make these connections and move beyond disconnected observation to connection and care.

Of course any time we’re sharing stories on difficult topics, we have to use discretion and caution with what we share. It’s important to make sure stories are not overly graphic, and to provide trigger warnings. Whenever I talk about what happened to me, I am never explicit in what I share. I am always willing to share more with people who ask, but when speaking to a group, I use general terms and focus more on the help I received and what I learned than what was done to me.

Look for simple ways to help students make human connections to issues. Maybe it will involve asking someone to share, or perhaps experiencing another way of life on a mission or service trip. Help your students broaden their horizons and care about issues by making personal connections.

Help students move to action.

Humanizing issues can cause us to feel deeply about them. Sometimes feeling deeply can paralyze us because the issues feel too insurmountable. Students might wonder what they could ever do to tackle issues that are beyond all of us. This is where you can help students move to action.

This can be as simple as providing suggestions of ways students can help. Things as simple as gathering food for a pantry, serving at a homeless shelter, donating clothes or toys to a holiday drive, finding ways to shop ethically and fair trade, or financially supporting a child in another country. There are many ways students can fight injustice right where they are, sometimes they just need a few ideas.

Something else you can help your students do is discover their gifts, and how they can be used to combat an issue. Is your student a natural speaker, or an artist, a poet, or always looking for ways to help out with projects? Tap into the talents and gifts your students have been given and see the ways that serving others will become life-giving. Sometimes all it takes for a student to step up is having an adult speak their talents into their life.

Do what you can to equip your students, spiritually, mentally, and practically. The Christian faith cannot be something we just do in our minds, on Sundays and youth group nights. It needs to be holistic, our students want it to be holistic. We have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help our students step into a holistic Christian faith that speaks to every issue they will ever encounter. Will you help your students do this?

6 Ways to Connect with Your Audience

Whether you’re speaking to your students, a group of parents, or guest-speaking at a retreat or camp, it is important to think through how to connect with your audience. We have all witnessed someone struggle to connect with their target audience, and we know the necessity of connection as it helps to strengthen the effectiveness of our message. But the question is: how do we connect with our audience?

This is an interesting question because depending on the audience the answers may vary. If you’re communicating with students or children, you may use simpler language and talk about memories when you were their age. If you’re speaking to adults who have a stronger biblical background you may be more apt to include theological terms and doctrinal statements. But age aside, there are some key ways to connect with an audience no matter who you are speaking to. Today, I want to share some of these with you to help you think through how you’re not only connecting but also communicating with those around you.

Know your material.

This is a big thing that I think we often overlook. As ministers of the Gospel we need to take seriously what we are doing and sharing with those in our charge. We shouldn’t treat the messages we share with a lackadaisical attitude that sees us prepping the message right before the start of youth group or a conference. Instead we should desire to study and know our material, and we should give it the proper treatment that is reserved for the life-changing components it contains.

That means we need to afford the proper amount of prep time to what we are sharing, we should internalize our message so if we lose our place in our notes we can still continue and not be stuck, and doing this will afford us freedom as we share should a question or distraction be raised.

Know your audience.

This is one that can be both easy and difficult depending on your setting. If you’re speaking to your students it is probably easier to know them than if you were speaking at a conference or to a newer group. Regardless of who are speaking to, knowing your audience will allow you to establish rapport and credibility, which will then allow them to listen better to what you are sharing.

An easy few ways of knowing your audience include listening, observing, and interacting. Listen to the people around you: to what they say, their stories, their likes and dislikes. These things will help you know what makes them tick which will allow you to then engage with them more on their level and with what they care about. Observing people will also help you understand the social settings and dynamics that are happening within the group, and to discern what they do or don’t enjoy. This then affords you a greater understanding of how to relate to them. Lastly, you should also interact with your audience. Listening and observing is great, but if you don’t get involved with them you may appear standoffish or elitist. When you actually engage and participate with people you will learn much about who they are, which will allow you to connect with them at a deeper level.

Utilize stories.

Stories are an amazing way to connect with your audience. Not only do they help engage one’s imagination but they draw people in and help to further the point of your message. I highly encourage using personal stories because they help you to connect at a deeper level, show authenticity, and highlight that you are a real person who is growing just like your audience. Jesus used stories, often called parables, with great success because storytelling is a wonderful and helpful means of getting your audience to understand and connect the principles you are sharing with real world application and results.

Be authentic.

If you work with students you probably know that they can sniff out when someone isn’t being real or honest with them. They know the moment someone doesn’t really see or care about them, and they know if a speaker truly cares about and wants to be sharing with their group. So when you are speaking or onstage for an event, just be yourself and look to connect with your audience by sharing from your life. Don’t try to mimic another speaker or presenter. Don’t try to tell someone else’s story. Don’t try to be another “influencer.” Instead be who God made you. Communicate your own way and care about the people with whom you are communicating. When they see your heart and love for them, complimented with the truth of Gospel, then you will see lives changed as the Spirit of God takes hold of them.

Use humor.

Humor is a great resource when connecting with people. Some people are masters at this and can seemingly weave it into any talk with little effort, while others need to work hard to bring it into their messages. No matter where you fall in that spectrum, consider using it because humor helps people lower their walls and it allows them to trust you more.

When it comes to humor remember a few things:

  • Always keep it appropriate. If you need to ask, “is this okay to say, do, or show?” the answer is probably no. Always err on the side of caution. You never want humor to be the focus of your message but to point people back to it.
  • Never use other people for humor unless you have their permission. The worst thing you could do is make fun of someone in the audience because they will tune you out and you could potentially turn them off to Jesus.
  • Poke fun at yourself and tell funny stories from your own life. This will help you to be relatable and seen as a normal, everyday person.
  • Your message isn’t a stand-up routine. You are there to point people to Jesus, and humor is simply an asset to help you do just that. Too much humor will come across as disingenuous and people will only come to laugh and not hear the truth of the Gospel.

Utilize visuals.

Visuals can come in all varieties and may change depending on your audience. If it’s a younger audience video clips and funny photos may be a very helpful resource. If it’s an older audience photos, quotes, pictures of resources, and graphs may help in getting your point(s) across. Regardless, we must understand that visuals help us in communicating and therefore help us in connecting with the audience. Visuals bring people in, capture their attention, and help with recall later on.

A few easy visuals include photos (personal photos offer a deeper level of connection if applicable), video clips, PowerPoint or ProPresenter slides, props as they pertain to what you’re sharing, or art. The importance thing in utilizing visuals is that you do not force them and that they are not juvenile. Don’t try to force a prop into an illustration or point because if it doesn’t work, you will detract from your message. And if you try to do something juvenile, people will disconnect and just think about how it wasn’t for them rather than focusing on the point you are attempting to communicate.

How to Value + Incorporate Story Telling in Student Ministry

Everyone loves a good story, especially if it’s true. Historically our world has relied on stories to tell us where we’ve been, where we’re going, and how to live in the here-and-now. Christianity especially is grounded on a book full of stories about God and His people.

Story telling is nothing new, in the world or in student ministry. But at times we may forget just how powerful and important the telling of true stories can be. For followers of Jesus, they can be a compelling marker for the ways in which our lives have been changed and can be changed by the Gospel.

Valuing Story Telling

One of the best ways to truly value the telling of stories within a church context is also one of the most simple: keep them true. Whether it’s a quirky illustration or a heartfelt recounting, make sure it’s a true story. Nothing turns listeners off more than realizing a great story is fake. Conversely, nothing connects a listener to a speaker more than an honest retelling of their life experiences.

True stories are especially important when it comes to connecting “real life” to our faith. For many students, faith can feel like an abstract concept, resulting in a separation of their faith journey from their everyday life. The telling of true, personal stories can model a bringing together of our everyday lives and our faith, showing how the two are woven together at all times. True stories from our lives connect the abstract to reality.

True stories also help to illustrate the life change that the Gospel brings about, showing that Jesus Christ isn’t just a historical figure but a living being who interacts with us now. Stories can demonstrate the power and applicability of the Gospel to the struggles our students may be facing. They can move a message from a broad theme of “the Gospel can change your life” to a specific example of “how the Gospel changed my life.”

In a way, the valuing of true, personal story telling is also a way for us to value the Gospel. If the truth of Jesus Christ has changed your life, you will have stories to back it up. And even more than that, you will want to share these stories so that others may know about the Jesus you have encountered.

Incorporating Story Telling

An obvious and easy way to incorporate story telling into your youth ministry is to include it in weekly messages. Again, using true and personal stories to illustrate your main points is much more powerful than a generic story about “a friend” or “a girl named Sarah.” Even if the story about your friend is true, unless your friend is telling it, there will be less of a connection between the story and your students. Aim to keep all your stories to personal and factual accounts.

Another way to incorporate story telling while also building community and connection is to invite leaders and students into the process. Some of the most powerful student ministry nights have featured a leader or student sharing their personal story of how Jesus changed their life. Consider structuring a series around the sharing of leader and/or student testimonies. Planning in advance will allow you to meet with each story teller to help them prepare and practice telling their story. In addition to giving them a platform to share the Gospel, you will also build community between story tellers and those who listen, resulting in the strengthening and building up of relationships within your ministry.

Look for ways to empower your students to tell their stories. Some may not feel comfortable sharing in front of the entire group, but that shouldn’t make their story any less valuable. All followers of Christ should be encouraged to write and track the story of how He has changed and is changing their life.

Consider hosting an event to help students write and tell their story, providing tips, personal assistance, creative options, and tools like a journal and pens. Some students might write their story like an essay, while others may want to write it like poetry or spoken word. Leave time at the end of the event for an “open mic” session for any who would like to share. Secure a few leaders and/or students ahead of time to share and help get things started.

When you incorporate story telling into your ministry, your goal should be to not only share your story or your leaders’ stories. It should be to champion and equip your students in the telling of their stories as well. Each follower of Jesus is part of God’s overarching story, and to value the telling of individual stories is to value our place in it.