Mark Driscoll recently invited readers to send in questions about preaching and teaching. In the first post in the series, he wrote about good resources for young preachers. In this edition, he answers a question about teaching students. Got a topic you’d like to see Pastor Mark address in future weeks? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I just finished my first year as a youth pastor in Yakima, Washington. Do you have any strategies for preaching to a younger crowd?
If you can teach students, you can teach nearly anyone.
As the father of two teenagers, I want to sincerely thank you for serving students. I did not become a Christian until college, and I never was part of a junior high or high school ministry. I wish I had spent my teen years learning about biblical wisdom, rather than living the way that I did.
I personally love teaching students—I still do, most Wednesday nights and at the occasional school chapel. I won’t pretend to be the world’s best student ministry teacher, but here are nine things I’d suggest from my experience as a pastor and a dad.
1. Start strong
You have to get their attention the moment you step up to teach if you want to keep their attention. Start with high energy, a big question, or a big concept. Don’t ever, ever start with, “Hey, how are you guys doing?” Your lead pastor probably does that, everyone does that, and it’s nearly always the wrong way to start. We don’t ask people how they are—we tell them what God has said, which then changes how they are. Start strong. Nail your first word or line in your prep.
2. Teach one concept
Students are not stupid. They can learn more than is often expected. Don’t dumb it down, just focus it in. Give them one big idea—sin, Scripture, the cross, Jesus’ divinity, the resurrection—something to focus the entire message around.
3. Ask a ton of questions
Make your lesson interactive by calling on kids. Unless you have a large group of hundreds of students, ask questions throughout the message to keep students engaged and see what they are thinking. I throw out giant candy bars to kids who give me good answers, which keeps it fun and light. When students ask a question, I let other students try and answer it. If they don’t get it right, I then answer it. But I want to get students thinking and talking about faith.
4. Be enthusiastic and keep the room alive
Students don’t just believe what you teach. They get excited about what you get excited about.
5. Make it fun
Have a sense of humor when appropriate. Get students up front to lead worship or share their testimony. Plan activities to develop relationships outside of the big group meeting. Use interesting props or anything else that might help keep it fun yet still reverent toward God.
6. Allow time for Q&A
After you teach, open it up for a focused Q&A session to gauge where the kids actually are. Students have questions, so invite them to ask them. For students who may be shy or have a private question, invite them to find you or another leader after the teaching time. Be around and available following the lesson in order to talk with students and answer their questions.
7. Connect everything to Jesus
The whole Bible is about Jesus. Say the name of Jesus, point to Jesus, honor Jesus, and focus on Jesus.
8. Give away nice Bibles
Many students, even those from Christian homes, don’t have a decent Bible. Tell them about the YouVersion Bible App and show them how to start a Bible reading plan on their phone. Fundraise money to give away decent Bibles to students. A good Bible can change a student’s life. They might consider it such a great gift that they take it seriously and start reading. I give away leather ESV Study Bibles to our students who need one.
9. Take a parental tone
Pray for the students all week. Ask God to keep giving you the Father’s heart for the students so that when you get up to teach they see you in a parental role, loving and leading them. Even if you are not much older than the students, you can at least be like an older sibling. So many students do not have an intact, godly, helpful home; more and more, student ministry needs to pick up a lot of what the parents used to teach but no longer do about the practical stuff of life.
For more on leading kids and youth, download a free pdf of Pastor Mark’s book, Pastor Dad.