I don’t think that I’m the only one who’s been sitting at my desk 45 minutes before a youth service scratching my head and wondering what I am going to share with the students that night. A lot of youth pastors (guilty) are wired to be last minute and have learned to thrive in chaos, but let’s not even touch that today. Where do we start in laying a foundation for our students? What is relevant in our culture today? These questions plague people who teach the Scripture to students all across the nation and, while the answers to these questions might be multi-faceted, we can eat the elephant one bite at a time by holding to some core convictions.
1. Bring it Back to the Cross
When it comes to planning out series, our minds usually go one of two different directions: We can teach straight through a book of the Bible (either by theme, by chapter, or even by verse if you want to spend three years in the book of John) or we teach on a certain topic. Either way is effective in my mind, and I try to use a healthy balance of both ways to keep things interesting. Choosing a book of the Bible to study or a topic that seems relevant isn’t the point. The point is that whichever one you choose, every single sermon should be a road that leads back to the cross of Jesus Christ. If students don’t understand the Gospel and don’t have a weekly presentation to respond to, then whatever else they may grow to understand about the bible is futile. The overarching story of the Bible points directly to Jesus. Everything before Him is setting the scene and foreshadowing His arrival, and everything after His ascension is referring back to His teaching and looking forward to His return. Create series that look at all different portions of the Bible, but point toward the revelation of the Gospel each time you take the pulpit.
2. Engage the Question, “So what?”
What’s the difference between a sermon at youth group and a lecture at school? For many students it’s nothing. Both are a wealth of mostly useful and interesting information, and both can become mundane at times. When constructing a sermon series, keep the “why” in mind. After teaching through the text a recurring question should come up in each of our minds. “Who cares?” or “So what?” are appropriate questions to work through every time we give a talk. Students desperately need to know why this book written thousands of years ago has any merit or value in their lives today. Drawing from the Bible the nature and character of God, and applying His truth to the context of a modern day teenager is crucial in effective teaching that will in transforming a student further into the image of Christ.
3. Drive Toward Action
After students have heard the Bible taught accurately and applied to their lives in a way that makes it tangible for them, they are ready for some type of action step. What should they DO in response to what they’ve just HEARD? Thinking through this question and presenting it clearly gives students a softball to actual life change. Sometimes what they need to do is done directly after the message in a ministry time setting. Repentance, introspection, getting prayer from a leader and asking a question can be done in the moment and are very powerful ways to take action. Other things can be done throughout the week as an act of changing habits and living faith out in the day to day.
As the Lord gives you insight as to what to teach your students, my hope is that you will ask yourself the hard questions, allow the Lord to lead you, and do the hard work of preparation for transformative teaching in your ministry!