Even though I grew up in and around the church, for a long time I lacked a genuine love for the local church. During my high school years, I hopped from church to church trying desperately to find a youth group that I could really belong to. Throughout this time, I grew in my love for God’s Word and was consistently disappointed by the shallow, topical preaching I received during youth group. I longed for the rich, Biblical truths that came through expository preaching in my church’s main service.
After bouncing between three different church youth groups, and not finding what I was looking for in the way of Biblical depth, I started a parachurch Bible study that was centered around expositional teaching for high school students. Over time, this ministry grew and grew. We were focused around God’s Word and we taught it to the best of our ability. Soon enough, we had groups meeting in twelve different high schools with over five hundred high school students. While God did a mighty work in the hearts of our leaders and members, we were not growing in our love for the local church. We lacked proper oversight, mentorship, and wreaked of immaturity and pride.
When I went to college, I spent three weeks visiting churches, and then picked one that was centered around expositional preaching and had a healthy network of small groups. As I sat under the preaching of the Word week after week, I was taught the full story of the Bible. Rather than hearing three big tips on how to have a great week, I heard the story of the early church chapter by chapter, verse by verse, through the book of Acts.
Throughout this time, I finally began to grow in my love for the local church. As I was surrounded by believers who were serious about their commitment to God’s Word and submission to the elders placed over them, I realized the importance of the local church. Campus ministries are always experiencing transition as students move away, but a local church has lasting roots in the community. While campus ministries come and go, the local church, God’s primary place for community, always remains.
After having the opportunity to sit under the preaching of my senior pastor and college pastor for the past two and a half years, after watching the way they both preach to a congregation with a large student population, I wish my high school youth pastors would have preached the Bible similarly: deeply, simply, and lovingly.
Preach the Bible with Depth
When students are taught the Bible deeply, they are able to rightly understand the Word of God through the story of God. Far too often students are incredibly passionate about what God has done, but they do not think any further about what those actions reveal about his character. One of the best ways to overcome this and preach the Bible deeply is through expository preaching – where the message is rooted fully in Biblical text, unpacking the meaning and context in each and every verse. These expositional sermons will have a far greater impact on the hearers than the cliché, out-of-context, topical messages that plague youth groups across the nation because they will be focused around the words of God and in particular the gospel of Jesus.
Expository preaching allows the Word of God to reveal who God is through what God has done. When youth pastors preach the Bible with depth, they develop students who are passionate about both who God is and what He has done, and they are more likely to hold onto their faith in Jesus into adulthood.
Preach the Bible with Simplicity
Far too often, when a youth pastor attempts to preach the bible deeply, he uses words that students do not understand. The goal of preaching with depth is not to use bigger words, but to explain who God is more accurately. The key is to convey complex theological truths with simplicity.
Consider the example that Paul sets in his epistles. Rather than using the beautiful yet complex vocabulary of Homer, he writes in common vernacular so that his readers would understand what he is trying to convey. This is the type of preaching that youth pastors ought to aim for. Rather than trying to teach a seminary-level course on the nuances of predestination for middle school students, preach about the rich truth of God’s love for us since the beginning, as seen in Ephesians 1. When youth pastors preach the Bible with simplicity, they develop students who are able to understand what they are hearing and share it with others.
Preach the Bible with Care
Even when youth pastors preach the Bible with depth and simplicity, they must also preach with care. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul famously writes about the importance of love. At the end of a list of great hyperbolic accomplishments, he concludes verse 2 by saying, “but [if I] have not love, I am nothing.” If youth pastors preach the Bible – teaching their teenagers of the wonders of who God is, in such a way that they can also understand it – but do not do so in love for each one of them, then their work is in vain.
We need youth pastors who do not only teach the Bible deeply and simply, but ones who do so lovingly. This means that the youth pastor’s job is not simply to teach the Bible, though it certainly is part of it, but to show how faith in Jesus transforms a student’s life. When youth pastors preach from the Bible with depth, simplicity, and care, they develop students who continue to walk with Jesus for the rest of their lives.