So I’m speaking to my youth group this Wednesday (I’m 16 and this is the first time speaking at church) and I was just wondering if maybe you had any tips?
My friend, that is awesome. Woo!! Let’s first be grateful to God for this amazing opportunity that you’ve been given. You and I never earned the right to preach or teach, but were given this honor by the Creator of everything so that others might know Him, be loved by Him, and love Him in return. Please start there, in a place of humility, recognizing we are absolutely unworthy to teach others with our squishy tiny 3 lb. brains and our half-inch vocal cords, to other squishy fallen human beings from a wild variety of diverse back-stories — except by the grace of God.
I mean that’s really crazy, when you think about it. I’ve never gotten over that.
I don’t want to give you a formula or checklist because then you might be tempted to follow that instead of Jesus. So here just a few things to pray about and consider. You’re not obligated to any of these, so simply reflect and go forth, my friend.
- Love your people. This is obvious, but so very often I forget to love the people who are right in front of me. Sometimes I’m so quick to check off my awesome agenda of great sermon points, that I forget these are real hurting broken struggling people who care less about my intelligence and more about their maker. Every word and sentence and theme must be fashioned out of love for your people. Let your group know that this is a big deal for you and that you’re available outside of preaching time. If they know you care about them, they’ll remember that more than the message.
- You be you. My initial problem in preaching was imitation. When I first started, I listened to a lot of James MacDonald, who is a fiery aggressive preacher with a booming voice and roughly twenty points in every sermon. I even took on some of his tone and inflections. Soon I learned, I wasn’t good at preaching like this. My strengths were not a booming voice and twenty-point messages. If you’re not naturally funny, you don’t have to try. If you’re loud, use that to your advantage. Be comfortable with how God has made you. Part of trusting God is trusting how He made you to be you in the world. Let yourself out to play.
- Be prepared. Please don’t presume that “good speaking ability” or “relying on the Spirit” will get you through a message. They can, but people will know you’re not prepared and they won’t take you seriously, and the Spirit won’t swoop in for a lack of your own prep. Study up, know your stuff, pray and reflect, preach it to yourself, apply it in your own life. And when in doubt, quote C.S. Lewis.
- It’s okay to fail. There’s an old joke in seminary that your first one-hundred sermons will be terrible. When someone raises their first child, they’re nervous and neurotic and freak out easily and take too many pictures and are generally very overbearing. But by the third child, the parent is super-cool and laidback and much more confident. Yet no parent can raise their tenth child like the first one. It takes growing pains. In martial arts, we call that ring experience. It doesn’t matter how much you train at the gym: when you’re in the ring, that’s the true training. If you have a sermon fail, don’t beat yourself up. Also, if you’re a first child: sorry bro. At least you get the double portion. #JesusJuke
- If they fall asleep or don’t pay attention, that’s okay. You’re not doing it for validation anyway. I say this with all love and grace for you: but no one owes you anything. No one owes your their attention or their undying eye contact for you. Their time is precious and so is yours. This goes for bloggers too: no one owes you “likes” or reblogs or replies or validation. When someone does something for the approval of their peers, they’re no longer doing the main thing, but it’s now grossly external and foreign to the original purpose of that thing. So no matter how many people are there, preach like you’re in a stadium. Like Jesus is sitting there. I preached to three students every Friday for two years, and I loved it. They’ll stay awake if you’re awake and alive and all there, and they’ll know you’re not desperate for their thumbs-up.
- It’s also okay to evaluate. If you mess up, simply examine what went wrong, recuperate in God’s embrace, and add that sermon to your ring experience. My method: I write down in a notebook what worked, what didn’t, and what I can do different next time. Nothing too big, maybe half a page. It’s a little painful and humbling, but I wrestle with it to the end. Once I close the notebook, I stop thinking about how it failed. That’s done. I give God the credit for any success.
- Stay humble. Chances are that God will work through you and the Spirit will really sweep through the place. If so, awesome! Thank God when it happens. Thank God if only seeds are planted that day. Thank God you even get to do this.
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