When we are preaching to youth, the stakes are high. We don’t preach just any message, we preach a gospel that has the potential to change their eternal destiny, to change their lives from that day forward and to bring them into a relationship with their heavenly Father.
So when we’re speaking to youth, we’d better be as effective as we can be. But unfortunately speakers way too often make mistakes that discredit them, that make the audience question their credibility and thus question their message. Never forget that an audience has to like you and trust you before they’ll accept anything you say.
No matter how powerful and life-changing your message, if you can’t hold your audience’s attention it’s all in vain. Here are 6 common ways speakers can discredit themselves:
1. Clear lack of preparation
It’s not only important to prepare your sermon carefully, but to demonstrate your preparations as well. We once had a young preacher speak in our youth service who had forgotten to bring a Bible and only discovered this when he was already on stage. He needed the borrow one from someone in the audience. It was really a shame, because he had a good message to share, but this lack of preparations made him appear unfocused and unreliable.
Another example is a preacher who guest preached at our church and started her sermon with sharing that she’d given the same sermon before in another church and that she’d edited it a little bit the day before. I have nothing against recycling sermons, but this clearly isn’t the right way to do it. As a listener, I immediately felt ‘cheated’ that not only was she using an old sermon, but she’d only revisited it the day before. In my eyes, this discredited her. It was a big strike against her from the very start of her sermon.
2. Self-deprecating humor
It may be your style, but too many self-deprecating jokes or remarks will leave your audience feeling uncomfortable and unsympathetic towards you. Humor and jokes are a good method of getting your audience to open up towards you and to start liking you, but when your humor is constantly aimed against yourself, it will have the opposite effect and you will discredit yourself as a speaker.
Also, too many jokes won’t work either. We once had a wonderful young guy speak in one of our teen services. He really had something to say, but out of nervousness he kept making jokes. Funny ones, I’ll grant him that, but in the end they remembered his jokes more than his message.
3. Obvious mistakes
Everything in your message, including every example or illustration you use, but also your line of reasoning and logical build-up, should be correct and timely. Nothing will make your audience ‘switch off’ faster than obvious mistakes.
Again, it comes down to preparations. Know how to pronounce difficult words or names you will be using for instance. Check the source on any illustrations or quotes you use and make sure you know something about whom you’re quoting. And above all: make sure your Biblical facts are indeed facts, to avoid bloopers like the preacher who mentioned at least three times that Paul wrote this and this in Hebrews…
Notorious ones occur when you recycle old sermons for instance. We once had a somewhat older preacher preaching on the end times in our church who in the midst of his sermon, exclaimed ‘that the signs of the end of times were clearly visible in the year 1979!’. After a brief silence, the youth section roared with laughter and it was pretty much a lost case getting their attention back after that.
4. Being patronizing or trying to be cool
These two I’ve seen way too often with people not experienced in speaking to youth. They either try to be cool by dressing hip or using certain words they think youth will appreciate or they take the patronizing road and end up telling youth what to do. Neither one works and will discredit you as a speaker in youth’s opinion.
When preaching to youth, try to be yourself and to stand next to them, not above them or opposite them. Don’t pretend to be something or someone you’re not, you don’t have to be hip or cool to be accepted as a speaker. Authenticity is more important than anything else.
Oh, how I wish speakers would stop apologizing for being late, for not having the time to prepare a Powerpoint, for any and all technical failures, for the stain on their tie nobody noticed until they mentioned it, for anything and everything.
The worst timing is when they do it right at the sermon’s introduction, for example by beginning their sermon with: “I’m about to preach on a heavy subject, I apologize in advance it of will bore you.” Unrealistic? Unfortunately not.
If there’s a number one rule about public speaking and how to stay on your audience’s good side, it’s this: Do. Not. Apologize. Just don’t. You either tell your audience something they already know and don’t blame you for anyway or something they didn’t notice yet but now have and can’t forget till way after you’re done talking.
Which one of these is your weak point? What can you do to improve in that area?