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Preach Like a Servant Leader

Preach Like a Servant Leader

Being a servant leader is core to Christian Leadership. We all remember Jesus washing His disciples’ feet as an example for them to follow in their ministries. Christian leaders serve first and lead second. That’s why the best spiritual leaders are the ones who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Even when it’s not in their job description, they pick up trash, stay late, and eat last. What if we applied this foundational leadership principle to one of the most important aspects of our gatherings: communicating God’s Word?

Communicating God’s Word is normally the time of the week that requires the most effort and preparation and, for many, the primary opportunity to lead all of your students at once. If that is such a significant leadership opportunity, how can we preach as servants of our students? How can we be servant preachers? Servant preachers meet the true needs of their students, not just felt needs. They preach for God, by God, and about God. They preach to help students know and live for God without any personal agenda or motive. Below are three aspects of servant preaching and how they help us avoid the pitfalls of selfish preaching.

1. Servant Preachers Illuminate, not Impress

The goal of communicating God’s Word is to shine a light on the text and not ourselves. Each week, students come in starving for truth and direction, whether they know it or not, and our job is to deliver. That is the essence of preaching as service – preparing a rich, Jesus-centered message and serving it at a level they can understand.  


Preaching to impress is selfish preaching. Students don’t care about how beautifully crafted an outline is, how much Greek you know, or how much you could bench in High School. They’re not so easily impressed. If you want to leave an impression, have them walking away thinking much of God, much of your love for them, and very little of how smart or cool you are. As the old adage goes, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.


2. Servant Preachers Focus on Engagement, not Entertainment

Students live in an entertainment-saturated world. At any time, they have access to high-quality, personally-curated content that will keep their attention for hours. It can be tempting to try to meet that felt need by introducing more energy, spectacle, and entertainment into our messages. But faithful servants give people what they need, not what they want.


Rather than entertaining students to keep their attention, we should focus on engagement. How can we help them stay interested and interact with the material rather than watch it? My mentor would often say that about every ten minutes, students need a commercial break. Something to change the tempo, grab their attention, and help them participate rather than watch (or sleep). A few examples could be an object lesson, a crowd question, asking them to share something with a neighbor, having them type something in their phone, or having them repeat something back to you. Anything to turn them from an audience member to a participant in the message will help them stay engaged.


3. Servant Preachers Pile on Encouragements, not Burdens

Lastly, students should walk away from most of your messages encouraged rather than discouraged. Years ago, I realized that I was much better at preaching for conviction than encouragement. I could drive home sin and its consequences, but I wasn’t as strong with my encouragement. So I put more effort into the encouragement sections of my message to serve my students better. The Gospel is ultimately a message of encouragement and hope, and students should feel that as they walk away from a message!

Because following Jesus does have expectations of obedience, sometimes communicating that in the wrong way can be discouraging. Jesus once called out the lawyers of his day, saying, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”

Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • Which of the three aspects of Servant Preaching is the most challenging for you? Why?
  • What is something you can do this week to have a more insightful, engaging, and encouraging message?

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