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3 Critical Questions to Ask When Shaping Your Messages to Teenagers

3 Critical Questions to Ask When Shaping Your Messages to Teenagers

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The task of teaching the Bible is daunting when you think about it. Not only do you have to stand in front of people and present. You have to do so and get what God said right(!) even though everyone listening already has a preconceived notion about what you are saying. It is a lot to consider even before you have done anything to get ready. 

My best understanding of what it means to preach/teach boils down to this: Present Gospel information (a knowledge of Scripture) in order to see Gospel transformation (applying the truth of Jesus to our everyday lives) in the lives of yourself and your listeners. 

I have always been drawn to teaching. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, which meant that I would inevitably have some connection to a group called the Royal Ambassadors. Basically, we R.A.s are Baptist Boy Scouts. In the 80s, we would wear a blue jean vest with gold trim. When you accomplish a task, they give you a patch. Can you build a fire? There is a patch. Are you physically fit? Another patch.  Can you make a s’more? Here is a patch … which may serve as a contradiction to the previous patch.

Royal Ambassador gatherings were also a time when kids started to study the Bible in depth. It was in this setting that I ultimately delivered my first message (and by “deliver” I mean “put my all-male peer group to sleep in less than 15 minutes”). At the age of 17, I was asked to teach a Sunday school class. It didn’t go much better. I remember being so ill-equipped that I had to literally walk on tables to keep the kids’ attention. After surrendering to a call to full-time ministry, my pastor thought it was high time that I preached to our church as a whole. I studied for days. I knew the passage. I read commentaries. It was a rousing 18 minutes on the conversion of the apostle Paul. I talked really fast, told too many stories, and may or may not have mentioned Jesus.  

If you are like me, you have also realized teaching and preaching are petrifying endeavors in which you inevitably have to lean into the ever-present grace of God. There will be moments where you walk away from the pulpit and feel as if you have hit home runs. Other times, it seems as if you only get on base by being plunked in the head with a ball. Then there are the times when you need to be thrown out. 

The grace of God shown to us in Jesus has to equip, shape, drive, and saturate both our preaching (presentation) and the time it takes to get ready (preparation). With that in mind, let’s explore what needs to be present when you preach or teach.  Here are some questions that I use to shape messages that hopefully speak Christ’s truth into a teenager's life.

  1. Why Should They Care? (The Introduction)
    The short answer to this question is simple: “I am speaking from the Word of God.”  That simple fact means that, in a perfect world, listeners would be enamored by God’s incredible love and grace and beg you not to stop talking. Because we do live in the real world, I attempt to address the tensions between the hearer and the text regarding their own walk with Jesus (or lack thereof). Christ has gifted each of us uniquely to communicate.  Life happens, which means that stories are there. Take the experiences God has given you and use those to build bridges to the good news of Jesus.

With introductions, it is critical to be conscious of time. A sermon that is intended to last for 35 minutes should not have an introduction that takes up 10.  As I wrap up an introduction, I try to be abundantly clear as to how it connects to the text. For example, if I am preaching on drawing near to God in James 4, I try to address that there are times that I feel far from Him and direct listeners to consider their own distance. The intended result is a listener who does not feel isolated or ostracized but is engaged to go on this journey through the text with you — because the text is what matters.

  1. What Does The Text Say? (Exposition)
    Dr. Jim Shaddix uses a great illustration of a swimming pool. He says, “Most preachers use the Bible as a diving board into their own personal stories. True preaching is seeing that the Bible is actually the pool in which you swim.” As a biblical communicator, your mission is to look at the text and show the necessity of Jesus. At my best, I sit down with the text a couple of weeks out and systematically dissect the numerous ways that the words present matter.   
  2. Find the main thing the passage says. Whether you are reading through a narrative, an epistle, or one of the other various writing styles of the Bible, finding a main idea as to what is present in that text is key to you delivering a message. 
  3. Do not try to say everything the text says. This really boils down to something we forget: No one can. There is so much nuance in the Bible. When you are speaking to a diverse room of listeners, it is easy to lose the passage’s primary point by looking at tertiary points. 
  4. Be very intentional with words-especially verbs. Anyone who has ever spoken to a group is tempted to word vomit. With a bit of consideration, you can eliminate extra, unnecessary words and hone in on the actual goal of the passage in the message you are preparing. 
  5. Why Do These Words Still Matter? (Application)
    This is where it is our task to land the plane. My hope is to always give concrete things for the hearer to do (apply/obey the text) because of what has ultimately been done on our behalf (cross/resurrection). Try to encourage grace-saturated, sacrificial lives of love because of the grace shown to us in the sacrifice of Jesus as a divine display of God’s love.

Our goal is to reveal Christ as loudly and clearly as possible from the pages of Scripture. He is on every page. Christians believe the Hope of the World has chosen to reveal Himself through broken sinners. The implication of Him being on every page is to see the lives of our students reflect that, through the power of His Spirit, He is alive and well in every person who claims to know Him.

Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • What are some techniques you use when shaping your messages?
Which part of sermon creation do you find most difficult?

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