A Crash Course In Preaching For Young Leaders

Because about 80% of Youth Ministry in America is done by the volunteer Youth Leader in America (Group, Youthworker.com, and YFC), here is a crash course in Homiletics (homily, or preaching). This is specifically meant to assist the volunteer who may not be able to attend University or Leadership College level courses to construct and communicate sermons to students. But, I believe this is a universal commitment for all Youth Leaders.

Use these following steps to help you become better at preparation and preaching. Paul taught that elders who worked hard at preaching and teaching were worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). Far too many young preachers enter the setting without adequate preparation to rightly divide the Word. And to communicate it effectively.

10 Ways To Improve Youth Preaching And Teaching

1. You must have a few key tools to begin - My list of key study materials for every Youth Leader includes the following: A Commentary set, an Expository Dictionary of New Testament words, Manners and Customs of the Bible, Hebrew and Greek Lexicon, Abingdon’s Exhaustive Concordance, Social Media platforms, a monthly meeting with a diverse collaborative team, and internet capability for research. These are basic study tools that will give you the competency and the background of the biblical text and the modern cultural context so that you can accurately interpret the scriptures.

We cannot raise another generation in America who are ignorant and illiterate in the Word of God

2. Set 16 hours a week aside that is strictly for study - Our families will gladly help us carve out this time when they see the results of this discipline. I know that it is easy to say that football on Sunday afternoon, and Softball on Monday night, and working out at the gym on Friday morning is a priority. But, what is your passion? Uninterrupted research and thinking through the topic and series is vital. It will take more time than Wednesday afternoon to build a biblically healthy Youth Ministry. That might mean spending 4 hours one evening each week (say Monday), 4 hours one morning each week (say Saturday), 4 hours on Sunday afternoon each week, and finally 4 hours on the specific day of delivery. By organizing this time and setting it as priority nothing will get in the way. Our students must have a strong foundation in scripture if they are going to stand and impact culture.

If we are going to fail as a Youth Leader, fail at events

3. Understand the times and know what to do about it - Youth Leaders should be the greatest Sociologists and Theologians on the planet. Handling culture takes currency on the issues and real-time with students in their setting. Handling the scripture takes carefulness in study and real-time with the Spirit. You will speak with greater authority and capture the attention and interest of teens when you are current with their setting. Do not be afraid to deal with issues that are divisive. The sexual revolution, the social media onslaught, the crumbling family structure, the humanism on campus, and the addiction of alcohol and drugs must be addressed. The Church cannot continue to be late to the party on teen and cultural issues. Somebody has to speak to our culture about the evident issues of our day from an authoritative and biblical position.

What good is it to have the answers to questions nobody is asking?

4. Use a collaborative team to help prepare your messages - It can be easy to default to our own language and ideology if we are not careful to involve others in preaching and teaching. Use a diverse group of middle school, high school, young adults, and adults to create your series direction. By meeting monthly to prepare the series with a diverse team, you assure that you are not locked in a room by yourself repeating the same personal ideology, texts, phrases, illustrations, and verbage week after week. This team can help you create the sermon and message series from many angles and backgrounds such as gender, race, economic, faith maturity, and interests.

A collaborative team will also create ownership and excitement for the Youth Ministry in those who are a part of the team and give you at least 5-7 people who are all in during the sermon

5. Create an atmosphere for study - The Church, a coffee shop, the basement, or even a library can become a great setting for sermon construction. Use music if you enjoy it, no appointments on study days, find a comfortable setting with space, provide snacks, limit outdoor noise, and turn phones off. You must be inaccessible and unplugged for several hours and not distracted if you are going to hear from God. He has a great interest in Youth Ministry and adolescents and is eager to speak into the process of Youth Ministry to teens. Enough of our own ideology. We need the right setting to get God's theology.

At some point every Youth Leader must close their ear and ultimately shut their mind off to culture so that they can hear clearly from the scriptures

6. Follow and read other great Youth Leaders - There is a reason why some people have built strong and lasting ministry. We should be teachable enough to watch these people and learn the lessons. It is easy to follow your favorite Youth professionals by subscribing to RSS feeds, following Leadership Networks, listening and reading vlogs/blogs, and watching live stream or live events monthly. The impact that is gained through information while reading is one thing, but, the impact that is gained by inspiration while watching (or even speaking to) others is even more dynamic.

If you want to go where you have never been and do something you have never done, then find someone who has been there and done it

7. Use A/V and aids with intention - Be careful of majoring on audio, visuals, and aids, while minoring on content. I have watched a 3 minute clip of a movie in a sermon that was way more interesting than the speaker who followed the video. It made me want to yell, "can we watch the rest of the movie?" There are enough Youth Ministries around that are a mile wide and an inch deep. Teenagers can retain a lot more than you think. I personally believe that Youth Ministry in the Church has under-challenged them. Students are already over-stimulated before they get to the Youth setting.

Do not forfeit the evening to your Powerpoint. You be the Powerpoint.

8. Be great at both content and context - Sociologists and Marketing gurus say that context is king. There is a balance that Christ demonstrated in His ministry. He was able to tell the story of the law and the principles of the Kingdom in the language of the people. And He most often used story. Learn to tell a story in every sermon. We must carefully bring the 1st century into the 21st century, and, we must carefully bring the 21st century into the 1st century if we are going to effectively communicate to this generation a real faith. I always make it a priority to spend as much time in the Bible as I do on the internet. And in the sermon itself, as much time illustrating the Word as I do illustrating the world. Marry the two in a powerful balance.

If context is King, then Content is Queen

9. Write your ending first - What is the win? What do you want to accomplish in the message? What is the one thought you want the students walking out with? The last thing you say should be the first thing they say on the way out. With a clear thesis or propositional statement, you will be assured that the students will hear the message. You should repeat that win or intent at least 5 times in the sermon. Your takeaway should be in the introduction, in the text, in your main points, in every illustration, and in the minds of the students BEFORE you get to the conclusion.

Have one thing to say each message and the audience will have one thing to think afterward

10. Prepare yourself before you prepare the message - One of Aristotle's methods of communication was encapsulated in the Greek word, 'ethos'. It is the principle of the motive of the speaker. Why am I doing this? What is motivating me to preach and teach? After more than 30 years of preaching to and teaching young people, I have learned that my sermon and message preparation breeds confidence. And that confidence breeds authority. And that true biblical authority breeds humility. People love to watch fire trucks in route. They are intrigued by a plume of smoke on the horizon. And almost everyone likes to stare at a bonfire.

Maybe it is time you lit yourself on fire so that others could come and watch you burn


There are so many more things to say about this topic. But, this is a starting point. Whether you are full-time or volunteer, Youth Leaders all have the same amount of time for preparation. The full-time Youth Leaders will have, among other things, increased responsibilities in their portfolio that includes calendar and event planning, counseling, visitation, organizational meetings, family commitments, and community and campus involvement. The volunteer will have a marketplace job and not be able to get involved with many of these other areas. And I suggest that sermon and series preparation be the first commitment the volunteer takes on.

I know that some Youth Leaders will argue that small group or outreach or event-based emphases are most important to teenagers. While I agree that these models are important, they are not most important. They are secondary. A primary and consistent emphasis upon preaching and teaching the Word of God will build a Youth Ministry faster and deeper than anything else. We are called to make disciples and not only converts.

Once a foundation of preaching and teaching the Word of God has been set, each Youth Leader will need to determine what areas in their setting require development next. Which areas the volunteer decides to make priority for their setting will be another blog in the days to come. Stay tuned.