I have always been drawn to teaching. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, which meant that I would inevitably have some connection to a group called the Royal Ambassadors. Basically, these are Baptist Boy Scouts, who wear a blue jean vest with gold trim. When you accomplish a task, they give you a patch. Can you build a fire? There is a patch. Are you physically fit? Another patch. Can you make a s’more? Here is a patch … which may serve as a contradiction to the previous patch.
Royal Ambassador gatherings were also a time when kids started to study the Bible in depth. It was in this setting that I ultimately delivered my first message (and by “deliver” I mean “put my all-male peer group to sleep in less than 15 minutes”). At the age of 17, I was asked to teach a Sunday school class. It didn’t go much better. I remember being so ill-equipped that I had to literally walk on tables to keep the kids’ attention. After surrendering to a call to vocational ministry, my pastor thought it was high time that I preached to our church as a whole. I studied for days. I knew the passage. I read commentaries. It was a rousing 18 minutes on the conversion of the apostle Paul. I talked really fast, told too many stories, and may or may not have mentioned Jesus.
I say all of this to say that teaching and preaching is a petrifying endeavor in which you inevitably have to lean into the ever-present grace of God. There will be moments where you walk away from the pulpit and feel as if you have hit home runs. Other times, it seems as if you only get on base by being plunked in the head with a ball. Then there are the times when you need to be thrown out.
The grace of God shown to us in Jesus has to equip, shape, drive and saturate our preaching. With that in mind, let’s explore what needs to be present when you preach or teach to anyone — students in particular. Here are some questions that I use to shape messages that hopefully speak Christ’s truth into a teenager’s life.
Why should they care? (The Introduction)
The short answer to this question is simple: “I am speaking from the Word of God.” Therefore, in a perfect world, listeners would be enamored by God’s incredible love and grace and beg you to not stop talking. But since this isn’t the case, my hope when I begin a message is to address the tensions between the hearer and the text regarding their own walk with Jesus (or lack thereof). Christ has gifted each of us uniquely to communicate. Life happens, which means that stories are there.
With introductions, it is critical to be conscious of time. A sermon that is intended to last for 35 minutes should not have an introduction that takes up 10. As I wrap up an introduction, I try to be abundantly clear as to how it connects to the text. For example, if I am preaching on drawing near to God in James 4, I try to address that there are times that I feel far from Him and direct listeners to consider their own distance. The intended result is a listener who does not feel isolated or ostracized but is engaged to go on this journey through the text with you — because the text is what matters.
What does the text say? (Exposition)
Dr. Jim Shaddix uses a great illustration of a swimming pool. He says, “Most preachers use the Bible as a diving board into their own personal stories. True preaching is seeing that the Bible is actually the pool in which you swim.” As a biblical communicator, your mission is to look at the text and show the necessity of Jesus. At my best, I sit down with the text a couple of weeks out and systematically dissect the numerous ways that the words present matter. I try to be very intentional with verbs, especially what I consider impact words.
For example, in James 4:6 the phrase “draw near” paints a beautiful picture of God’s desire for a heart that has been “prone to wander.” Contextually, James has a number of people who claim faith in the early church who view themselves as either financially or theologically elite. James was writing as someone with firsthand experience of how Christ interacted with those who were far from Him. To view poverty as a divider to is to renounce the notion that Christ came to rescue to us from our spiritually bankrupt state. To view oneself as intellectually elite is to undermine the essence of the incarnation that Christ pursued the undeserving. To understand the implications of Christianity, we must draw near to the revelations of Christ made possible in His death and resurrection.
Why do these words still matter? (Application)
The opportunity of the biblical communicator is to connect Gospel transformation with Gospel application. In essence, the Hope of the World has chosen to reveal Himself through broken sinners.
This is where it is our task to land the plane. My hope is to always give concrete things for students to do (apply/obey the text) because of what has ultimately been done on our behalf (cross/resurrection). I try to encourage grace-saturated, sacrificial lives of love because of the grace shown to us in the sacrifice of Jesus as a divine display of God’s love.
Ultimately, our goal is to reveal Christ as loudly and clearly as possible from the pages of Scripture. He is on every page. The implication of Him being on every page is to see the lives of our students reflect that, through the power of His Spirit, He is alive and well in every person who claims to know Him.