5 Things Youth Ministry Taught Me About Preaching to Adults

The room was ready. I had my coffee. I had my notes. I had my slides. It was second service and I was greeting Middle School students as they arrived. If there were students who looked like they didn’t want to be there, I’d target them, talk to them, and try to make them laugh. I’d either end up making them laugh or make them give me a look like, “dude, you’re weird,” and then I’d make a joke about that. Eventually, we were good and maybe, just maybe their walls were down a bit.

5 Things Youth Ministry Taught Me About Preaching to Adults

I’ve said this a lot to ministry friends: I believe Middle School students are the hardest group of people to teach Scripture to. They’ve got a lot on their minds and they won’t pay attention to you just because you are the leader. And that’s the rub: you have to work hard in engaging them with the word of God. They’re not going to automatically be super excited (not most times) about the Bible teaching – even if they read the Bible and care about it themselves! So, without further ado, here’s what youth ministry taught me about preaching to adults.

5 Things Youth Ministry Taught Me About Preaching to Adults

1. I Have to Help Them Care About The Text

In an ideal world adults and teens would automatically care about the Scripture text because it’s Scripture! But, in case you didn’t know it, we don’t live in an ideal world and many people won’t really care about the passage of Scripture you are preaching from unless you help them care. What I mean by this is that you speak to the significance of the passage before you read the passage. Or, help them connect the dots after you read the passage. Or both!

Questions to consider:

  1. How does this passage connect to everyday life?
  2. Does this passage, if believed, followed, or done, address any problems in their lives?

2. If I Expect Them to Be Excited About God’s Plan and Word, I Have to Be Excited (And Show It)

Emotional connections are powerful. If you want your listeners to emotionally connect with the passage you are preaching on then you better make sure you are showing that kind of emotion toward God’s word, plan, and your life. By doing so you are helping them see the significance this passage of Scripture has on your life and theirs.

Questions to consider:

  1. What significance does this passage have for MY life?
  2. Do I really care?

3. I Must Address Their Biases and Questions Without Being Prompted

In order to show them (adults and teens) that I understand what they’re going through in life and that I care, I must not leave any “Elephants in the room” unaddressed. Relational connections are vital here. Otherwise you won’t be able to anticipate their biases and questions. With them, though, you’ll have a good idea at what different groups of people will be thinking when they hear you read the passage of Scripture you are preaching on.

Questions to consider:

  1. If someone doesn’t “buy” this, what’s their hesitation?
  2. What preconceived ideas does this go against?
  3. Is this passage uncomfortable? How so?

4. Engagement Trumps Length

Some people advocate for shorter sermons and I see a lot of benefit in shortening your messages so that they are more succinct and focused around one main idea. However, I’m not one to say that shorter sermons are better than longer ones. The right conversation is not one of length, but one of engagement. If your listeners aren’t engaged after 5 minutes, then your 25 minute sermon isn’t going to connect to their life because they’re not hearing you. On the other hand, if a pastor preaches for an hour and people are engaged, then that message is connecting to their lives. See, it’s not a matter of length, it’s simply a matter of engagement. Teens will listen to a 30, 40, or 50 minute message if they are engaged. Adults will too.

Questions to consider:

  1. Can I help people stay engaged for the length of this sermon?
  2. How am I incorporating story into this message?
  3. How am I identifying and exposing the tension?

5. Be Real!

Teenagers can spot a fake from a mile away. If you’re not real with them, they’ll know it. If you want to build credibility with people then be yourself. The world doesn’t need another Andy Stanley, Matt Chandler, Judah Smith, Tim Keller, or Craig Groeschel. The world needs you to be you. At least that’s what God thinks – He made you to be you.

Questions to consider:

  1. Where am I tempted to be someone else’s voice?
  2. How would I really say this?

Youth Ministers and Former Youth Ministers – Let’s Hear From You

What have you gleaned from youth ministry that you have seen is transferrable to preaching to adults? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on social media (Facebook Group, Page | Twitter).

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Written by Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley is the co-founder of Rookie Preacher and the author of Preaching Sticky Sermons and Crucified to Life. He serves as the Lead Pastor of First Church of Christ in Bluffton, IN. He also writes at BrandonKelley.org. You can follow him @BrandonKelley_. Watch his sermons here.


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