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Preaching for Youth: Painting the Bigger Picture

This post is part of the series on Preaching for Youth. When we are preaching to young people today, we’re preaching to a postmodern generation. We’re preaching to teens and students who do not believe in absolute truths, who for the most part consider all religions to be equal and who see no harm in cutting-and-pasting from different religions to create their own belief system.

But we’re also preaching to the most relational generation ever. We’re preaching to a generation that’s genuinely interested in God, in all things spiritual and mystical. When we preach to this generation, we have wonderful opportunities to reach them with the gospel of a God who loves them more than anything. That news, that message, is a gospel that will appeal to them…we just have to find a way to get through to them.

In my experience, one of the most important things to do when preaching for youth is to paint the bigger picture. We all know how little young people nowadays know about the Bible, even the ones from Christian families. Things that may have been completely normal to you and me, are an unknown and unfamiliar topic for them. But it doesn’t just apply to knowledge of the Bible books, memorizing verses, or knowing who certain Biblical characters were. This generation of youth doesn’t really know the gospel.

They can’t see the bigger picture.

It’s something that hit me for the first time after reading Josh McDowell’s book ‘The Last Christian Generation’. It was this statistic in the book that really opened my eyes to what was happening:

64% of young people believe Christ came to earth to teach bad people how to live better

Even though young people believe in Christ as the Son of God, even though they ‘accept Him as Savior’ and ‘ask for forgiveness of their sins’, they still don’t get it. They think it’s all about performance, about doing the right things. They still think one can earn his/her way into heaven by doing good works.

After reading this, I paid real close attention to what the students in my small group, in my youth ministry were saying. It didn’t take me long to realize McDowell was right. My students weren’t any different, they were expressing these very same views. They didn’t really know the gospel.

I wondered what had happened, what our youth ministry had been doing wrong. We had good, solid, Biblical teaching in the youth services. We had good small group materials. We had great leaders who were genuine Christians themselves. What had we done wrong?

We never showed the bigger picture.

This is how McDowell states it: ‘Our kids often fail to see the connection between the mix of disparate topics and the ongoing love relationship with God that Christianity is supposed to be. (…) It’s as if we’re attempting to train our kids to live by a set of Christian rules and do the right things one topic at a time. We often fail to tie the rules to the relationship which gives us the motivation to follow them.’

We have to show the bigger picture.

It’s one of the biggest lessons I learned and applied to my preaching: always paint the bigger picture. Connect the dots for the tees and students in your audience, because they won’t be able to themselves.

Here’s how to paint the bigger picture when you preach for young people:

Put Christ at the center

Whatever the topic of your sermon, Christ has to be at the center. If you preach from the Old Testament, always draw the big red line to what was to come, to what Jesus would do. Connect God, Jesus and The Holy Spirit, make sure the kids know these Three are One. ‘When we fail to emphasize Christ and our relationship with Him as the centerpiece of Christianity, the entire foundation of Christianity crumbles’, says McDowell.

Always preach the gospel

I’ve made it a personal ‘rule’ to always preach the gospel whenever I preach, no matter what topic I preach on. I always take 3-5 minutes to explain the gospel in easy, non-church terms. Usually I present it as a logical part of whatever I’m preaching on, so it’s always different. But I always cover the basics: holiness, sin and punishment, love, grace and atonement/redemption (and do you see how many church words I just mentioned here?).

Tie the rules to the relationship

It’s perfectly okay to preach the rules, just make sure you always tie them to the relationship. Students have to understand that keeping the rules won’t get them anywhere without a relationship with God. As I said before, this is the most relational generation ever, so stress the wonderful relationship their loving Father wants to have with them! I’ve explained this in more detail in a post titled Do you preach the rules or the relationship.

Preach the context

Part of painting the bigger picture is to share some context of whatever you’re preaching on. If you want youth to become convinced that God’s Word is holy, infallible, powerful and perfect, than use it as such. Explain a little bit about the author, book, date, history, etc each time you preach so they know this book is different from any other they’ll ever encounter. Preach, teach and show them love for God’s Word.

What do you do to paint the bigger picture for your students?

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Rachel Blom has been involved in youth ministry in different roles since 1999, both as a volunteer as on staff. She simply loves teens and students and can't imagine her life without them. In youth ministry, preaching and leadership are her two big passions. Her focus right now is providing daily practical training through www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com to help other youth leaders grow and serve better in youth ministry. She resides near Munich in the south of Germany with her husband and son. You can visit Rachel at www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com