When I was a part-time youth pastor working two jobs and carrying a full load of seminary classes, I found myself sometimes opening my laptop at four o'clock on Sunday afternoon to start planning a lesson for youth group that was going to start at six. As much as I wanted to prepare a great message for the teenagers who came to youth group every week, I just didn't always have the time. Even now that I'm a full-time high school pastor, there are weeks when other ministry responsibilities put message preparation on the back burner.
We all want to have something meaningful to say each week to the teenagers we serve, but how can we do that when we're crunched for time?
I thought I'd pass along a few ideas that have helped me over the years. After reading mine, I'd love to hear yours.
Spend time in personal prayer and Bible study.
It can be tempting when your schedule is tight to cut out some of your personal devotional time during the week. After all, you're studying the Bible when you prepare your message, right? The truth is that if you stop being rooted in your relationship with Jesus through regular times of personal Scripture study and prayer, it will eventually show up in your messages in a negative way. The best preachers and teachers are the ones who are followers of Jesus first. And as a side benefit, I've found that some messages practically write themselves because God has been working on my heart regarding the very same topic.
We certainly shouldn't spend all of our devotional time thinking about our next message, but the reality is that we usually preach and teach from what God is currently teaching us personally. Cultivating your own relationship with Jesus is a non-negotiable.
Plan your series and topics at least a month in advance.
If you already feel pressed for time, this one can seem so daunting that you won't even try it. But if you're willing to give it a shot, I promise you'll find it to be such a time saver that you'll never go back to staring at a blank computer screen two hours before youth group. Here's how it works: Simply write down the Scriptures and topics that you're going to speak on at youth group for each of the next four weeks, and keep the list where you can see it throughout your day. Whenever an idea pops into your head for one of those messages, write it down. By the time you're ready to outline your message or lesson for that week, you'll probably already have an idea where you want it to go, and you'll spend considerably less time trying to come up with something to say.
Pick one point to speak on each week and stick to it.
This is one you probably didn't expect to be on the list. However, it's a huge time saver if you're willing to do it. Simple messages generally take less time to prepare (and they're usually better, too, but that's a post for another time). I've wasted hours in message preparation because I didn't stop preparing when the message was done. Choose one passage of Scripture, speak about the one main point that passage is making, and give one way your teenagers can live out that principle. Try it out next week and see how it works for you.
Don't teach or preach every week.
It's tough to prepare four great messages every month in a limited amount of time, so consider asking someone to take one or two of those messages off your plate every month or so. If you don't think you have a few people at your church who can help you do that, then find guest speakers from outside your church who are willing to share how God has changed their life. When you get one or two weeks off from speaking each month, you'll be surprised how much easier it is to prepare solid messages the weeks you are speaking.
Use published curriculum.
If you're having trouble finding the time to prepare engaging messages each week, purchasing (or finding free) curriculum can save you a lot of time in your preparation each week. Of course, there's still some preparation time required if you use curriculum the way it's meant to be used. Just opening up someone else's lesson that you've never seen before and teaching it will end in a train wreck at worst and a sub-par message at best. But if you can get your hands on some solid curriculum and use it well, it may be just what you need to know you're teaching well with a limited amount of preparation time.
So those are my thoughts.
What are some other ways you can save time on message preparation?