In my first youth ministry position, I joked about never teaching Song of Solomon or preaching on eschatology. In fact, there were portions of Scripture and theological topics I avoided teaching for the first several years of ministry. If I had to explain any of them, I felt inept in doing so. It paralleled the genuine nervous fear I felt as a child when considering going into the deep end of the swimming pool.
Twenty years later, I find myself in the deep end sometimes. I’m comfortable with teaching on Song of Solomon or preaching on eschatology. However, there are still subjects and books I would find very challenging to teach or preach. How can my preaching provide due theological diligence for a book like Hebrews? Or how could my teaching on the miraculous gifts of the Spirit convey enough? Knowing how to teach/speak each week can be daunting. Knowing how to swim deep can feel overwhelming.
Teaching on topics such as the Trinity, spiritual gifts, prophecy, eschatology, biblical interpretation, etc. can create anxiety for even the veterans of ministry. Books like Hebrews, Song of Solomon, Romans, all the minor prophets (except Jonah, that’s easy, right?) can cause a youth worker to hit pause. Even the books that might sound “easier” (Genesis, the Gospels) can become difficult due to disputed interpretations of certain passages.
So what’s a youth worker to do? Do we shy away when we feel uncomfortable? Do we only teach topically? Do we pose and pretend? And if we’re ready to dig into studying, is there ever a reason to preach expositorily through a book in youth ministry? Isn’t this just for the larger church congregation? We think teens don’t need teaching based on careful exegesis… or do they?
Some things to consider as you teach and/or preach to teenagers:
1. Know your church’s perspectives and positions, doctrinally and practically.
Consistently communicate to your youth, and your youth leaders, the view of the church. Make sure to give your teenagers some solid ground to continue to develop their faith. Please don’t throw ideas out there and let them figure things out completely. It’s the equivalent of tossing someone in the deep end who is a beginning swimmer! Challenge them to explore tough topics (election, free will, etc.). But, reinforce what their church leaders, and for many, their parents, believe. Teenagers need foundational truth to build on.
2. Explore the idea of preaching through an entire book of the Bible.
It can seem complicated, even daunting, but it’s easier for me sometimes. First, I know exactly what I’m going to teach each week for at least a good portion of the youth ministry schedule. I usually won’t stray unless something significant comes up (e.g., traumatic event, holiday). Second, it’s incredible how many relevant topics come up as you go through a book utilizing expository preaching. You don’t need to spend a great deal of time on every single portion of each verse. However, giving teenagers an overview, highlighting major themes throughout a book, can be very enlightening for them. It shouldn’t surprise us that God’s Word is active! It’s a powerful book!
3. Overconfidence can be a problem.
If you’re not nervous to tackle any subject or book of the Bible because you have all the answers with training, education, a special calling…take a breath. It’s one thing to feel confident and empowered by what God gives us through lengthy study, Godly mentors, prayer, and humble preparation. It’s another to be overconfident because we believe we have much to offer, putting ourselves as the central focus. Knowing what you believe doesn’t mean you’re able to communicate effectively to your audience. Natural talents and gifting are usually part of the calling, but they are not all of it. Certainly not the most critical part. Modeling Christlike humility will teach your youth and youth leaders way more than you might think.
4. On the flip side, don’t avoid diving in deep sometimes.
God has not given us a spirit of fear. Maybe dip your toes in the deep end and scope out what you might like to try. If you have not had the formal training you feel you need and struggle with confidence, seek out guidance and direction from God as you prayerfully consider what the next teaching series will be over. Remember to seek counsel from your spiritual mentor(s) and other pastors you trust and respect. Trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in your heart and mind. If you’re still a bit nervous, that’s not a bad thing. You may find you’ve jumped in too deep too soon. Take a step back and try again. As you find direction, continue praying and seeking out wise counsel (e.g., senior pastor’s viewpoints, Bible commentaries, etc.) as you prep for the series. And don’t stop praying once the series is over. Keep praying God will utilize your words in the lives of those who heard them!
5. Trust God to do the work.
I know, often easier said than done. One of the greatest blessings I experience is when a former student talks about a series or book that we went through that still has an impact on them years later. Keeping it simple and only giving teenagers cute illustrations, funny topics, and a verse to prove our teaching point might be more comfortable and seem like the right thing to do. Tackling a deep doctrinal issue or preaching through a book can be demanding and scary, but it’s so worth it as we study Scripture!
Jon has been a youth pastor for 20 years. When he graduated from Moody Bible Institute, Aerosmith and Shania Twain were at the top of the charts. Times have changed, but his passion for teaching the Bible to students, developing youth leaders, and supporting parents continue to grow. Jon finds great excitement challenging teenagers to see the Bible as living and active, an integral part of their daily lives. He loves coming alongside teenagers as they seek to know Christ in new ways. He’s served in Pennsylvania and New York. He now resides and serves in central Kansas with his wife, two children, two goofy dogs, and two neurotic cats.