Don’t Forget This Key Ingredient for Youth Ministry Talks

Several weeks ago, a woman in our church shared her testimony with the senior high group. It was one of the best talks I’ve ever heard at Sunday night youth group. Ironically, it was the first time this woman had spoken to a group of students.

She did not have a riveting exposition of a biblical passage, although her talk was anchored in Scripture. She did not have a catchy structure, although articulated outlines can be very effective in youth ministry talks. Still, the kids hung on her every word, and Jesus shined through the talk.

The woman told the story of what Jesus had done in her life, and she tied it to several Scriptures. What made the talk such a home run? She demonstrated a palpable conviction about how God has rescued, redeemed, and faithfully guided her through life. The woman’s passionate and sincere appreciation for what God had done in her life made the talk effective.

Passion Is Credibility

When I was twenty-one I went to visit a very successful fundraiser for tips on how to raise money for a start-up nonprofit organization I had established. I sheepishly admitted that I questioned whether or not I had the credibility to ask people for money, given my age. I just felt so young. My friend slammed his hand on the table and declared, “Passion is credibility!”

While passion yields credibility, a talk must also have substance. One must explicate the Bible and proclaim the gospel. A person needs to dedicate enough preparation time to exhibit a demonstrable level of organization.

A talk is worthless without biblical substance. A talk is unclear without structure. With that being said, sincere passion and conviction make up a key ingredient to effective communication of the gospel. It makes kids want to listen. It makes them wonder why you care so much. It conveys that the work and redemption of Christ in a person’s life is real and worth giving our lives for.

How Do We Cultivate Passion

Fake passion is obvious and unattractive. Kids can sense it from a mile away. They have incredible sensors for sincerity. Sincere passion, however, is equally transparent and riveting. The head pastor at my church, Andrew, often gets a lump in his throat and even wells up with tears when he talks about the love of Jesus and his death on the cross. These are his finest preaching moments because they are so sincere and genuine.

We must ask the question of how a speaker “generates” sincere passion and conviction. If it’s “generated,” then the passion is not sincere, right?

The conviction and passion that undergird a great youth talk flow out of our own intimate fellowship with Christ. When we have joy in our heart that emanates from a close connection to God, it naturally overflows. When we have deep gratitude for Jesus rescuing us from such a sad estate, the thankfulness resonates in our voice. When we have a genuine love for the person Jesus, the affection is evident in our tone.

These realities remind us that cultivating our own relationship with Jesus remains the first priority of a youth pastor. Spending copious amounts of time with Christ through prayer and the Word are essential. Digging into the principles of the gospel and how they comfort and help you constitutes an important practice. Recounting the stories of how God has healed, delivered, and provided for you creates thankfulness and joy. You should never feel guilty or irresponsible for spending time with Christ and enjoying him on the clock and during work hours. It’s perhaps the best thing you can do for your students.

Seeking joy in Christ and gratitude for the gospel will naturally produce a passion in your communication of the gospel that is compelling and convincing.

Cameron Cole has been the Director of Youth Ministries for eighteen years at the Church of the Advent, and in January of 2016 his duties expanded to include Children, Youth, and Families. He is the founding chairman of Rooted Ministry, an organization that promotes gospel-centered youth ministry. He is the co-editor of “Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practice Guide” (Crossway, 2016). Cameron is the author of Therefore, I Have Hope: 12 Truths that Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem in Tragedy (Crossway, 2018), which won World Magazine’s 2018 Book of the Year (Accessible Theology) and was runner up for The Gospel Coalition’s Book of the Year (First-Time Author). He is also the co-editor of The Jesus I Wish I Knew in High School (New Growth Press) and the author of Heavenward: How Eternity Can Change Your Life on Earth (Crossway, 2024). Cameron is a cum laude graduate of Wake Forest University undergrad, and summa cum laude graduate from Wake Forest with an M.A. in Education. He holds a Masters in Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary.

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