written by John Byrne of the Rock of Southwest in Littleton, CO.
On May 29th my wife and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. It was a good night. Our plans were pretty loose, but we ended up at Olive Garden one of my wife’s favorite places to eat. I enjoy their food as well, but the bread they bring out right when you get there is amazing. If I am not careful I will be full by the time the real food arrives. I have to pace myself, and by that I mean eat one loaf and ask them not to bring another. As I think about taking students deeper into God’s word I often wonder if we spend too much time serving appetizers and not enough time serving the main course. Students may go away full, but have they really been fed?
It is much easier to serve chips and salsa than it is to serve a healthy meal and more often than not that is what the students want. A message built around a cool story with a verse pulled out of context is much easier than taking a passage of scripture and doing old fashioned exegesis. For years I did the cool story bit. Over time I began to realize that I had been taking verses out of context and using them to fit my message. Even when I wasn’t using these verses in the wrong way I was still just serving appetizers.
How do you serve just the right amount of appetizer and make sure students are still hungry for the main meal? It might be easier than you think. Let me suggest a few things:
- Use what you are studying personally for your messages.
When I was in Bible college I had professor after professor tell me I needed to have personal study that was different from what I was teaching or preaching on. Fortunately God designed me to be a rebel. I just couldn’t figure out why this was a good idea. Now I study a text and it is both personal and it is what I teach on. This is better because the text hits home with me first before I teach on it. It is better because I am not trying to study two things. I can combine my efforts.
- Read the text when you preach.
Maybe your students are different than the ones in my youth group, but mine barely know where the New Testament is and they often are confused as to whether a book is in the New or Old Testament. Reading the text and having them actually open their Bibles is important. The word of God is what is sharp, living, and useful. My stories, jokes, and illustrations are only useful as appetizers. God’s word is the main course. If my presentation is terrible, but I got students to open up God’s word and actually read it, that’s a win!
- Teach through books of the Bible.
It sounds boring and irrelevant to teach through a book of the Bible. Well, it is old but it is definitely not irrelevant. We make a big mistake if we think we have to make the Bible relevant, it doesn’t need our help. Our job is not to make scripture relevant, but rather to help people understand it so they can see its relevance. Last fall I did a relationship series using the book of Ruth. The students who were there could probably still tell you the basics of that story. Not only did they learn about relationships, they learned God’s word. I just finished up a series on Haggai. Most of them didn’t even know Haggai was book in the Bible and now they can tell you the basic premise of the book and probably a little about its historical context. They are building a foundational knowledge of the Bible and learning to go deep in their faith.
- Use stories and illustrations strategically.
I have not always done a good job of using illustrations. It isn’t because I forgot to use them or I didn’t tell the story well, but because I would find a funny story and force feed it into a message because I wanted to tell the story. If you want to tell funny stories, be a comedian. If you want to preach the word of God, be a pastor. Stories, jokes and illustrations are helpful as long as they don’t become the focus.
As youth leaders we need to always point to Jesus. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…”
Pastor of Student Ministries
The Rock of Southwest