Three Signs You Aren’t Preaching the Bible in Youth Ministry

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James McDonald has a great post over at The Resurgence on “5 Things We Do Today Instead of Preach the Word.” As I read the list, it struck me that “preaching the Word” isn’t exactly something that youth ministry is known for. In fact, I’ve been guilty of every one of McDonald’s five points (Entertain, Share, Woo, Intellectualize, and Abbreviate) when speaking to the teenagers I serve.

So, what does it mean to “preach the Bible” as youth workers?

Does it mean we can’t be funny? I don’t think so; some of the best Bible-centric youth ministry speakers I’ve known have also been very, very funny. One mistake we can make as youth workers is to assume that hilarious stories, impactful movie clips used as illustrations, or even great drama means that we aren’t preaching out of the Bible. The problem is that we can allow these elements to replace the Bible in our “talks” or sermons. But where’s the line? What’s the difference between using a great illustration and allowing it to replace the Bible when we speak to teenagers? Using McDonald’s list as inspiration, here are three signs that the Bible–and therefore Jesus–isn’t front-and-center in your teaching:

1) Your sermon is more inspired by a movie clip (or other illustration) than a passage in the Bible. Let me confess that I have done this before, and am embarrassed by it. I’ve watched a movie that included a really meaningful scene and built a whole youth group around it. Hopefully, I tied it back to Jesus and the Bible, but I wasn’t teaching out of the Bible. There’s nothing wrong with a great clip as an illustration, but a good preacher preaches out of conviction from his or her own study of the Word, not because there’s a great movie clip that “the kids will love.”

2) When you teach on a particular topic, you come to a conclusion on the topic and find Bible passages to support your conclusion. I don’t see anything wrong with topical teaching (although just for fun, you should just try to walk verse-by-verse through a book in the Bible with your students for a few months or so). However, it’s easy when teaching topically to know before you sit down to prepare your lesson or sermon where you will end before you even open up the Bible. Even if it seems like a no-brainer, you shouldn’t short-change the Bible study portion of your preparation. Your conclusions on the topic might not change, but in your time digging into the Bible on that topic, the Holy Spirit might prompt you to touch on something you’ve never seen before, or perhaps give you more of a shepherd’s heart for the teenagers who are struggling with that particular issue.

3) You never teach on anything that comes out of your personal devotional study of the Bible. Many teachers and preachers fall into the trap of reading the Bible and only thinking of how they could teach that passage, and not how to apply it to their own life. But the other extreme is to never let the fire that God lights under you during your own devotional study to bleed over to your teaching. At least every now and again, you should read something in the Bible that hits you so hard, you just have to share it with the teenagers you speak to on a regular basis.

QUESTION: What would you add to this list?

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