Offering reliable and trustworthy information

water

There have been some serious floods in our area a few weeks ago due to heavy rainfall. Luckily the small village where we live is on a hill, so we escaped damage, but many towns around us have been flooded as rivers rose too high.

This weekend, we were confronted with an unexpected result of the flooding: our drink water has been contaminated as the sewer system couldn’t handle this much water. We can’t consume our water without boiling it first.

It’s a bit of a hassle that makes you appreciate the necessity of clean drinking water, that first and foremost. But it also made me ponder the importance of reliability.

I’ve always trusted our drinking water, trusted that it was safe, healthy and good for me. After this, that trust is somewhat damaged, although the water company did a great job in being open and honest and warning everyone about what’s going on.

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How to pray during a sermon

Prayer during a sermon is not a competition or a chance to show off. But that doesn't mean there aren't some advantages to preparing your prayer.

[This post is part of the series on Preaching for Youth] In many churches it is customary to pray during a sermon. It can also be something you want to do yourself for various reasons, for instance as an opening or a closing to your sermon. Whatever the reason top pray during a sermon, how do you go about it?

Prepare your prayer

It’s important to think about what you want to say in your prayer. That’s not because God only hears perfect well-formulated prayers obviously, because that’s just nonsense. God cares about your heart when you pray, but that doesn’t mean you should always do it spontaneously.

Prayer during a sermon is not a competition or a chance to show off. But that doesn't mean there aren't some advantages to preparing your prayer.

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Presenting the gospel in a five minute time slot

Is it true that young people have such a short attention span that you need to stick to five minute time slots, even when presenting the gospel?

[This is part of the series on topics discussed at the Youth Work Summit in May 2012] I’ve heard it when I was studying for my teacher’s degree (which was 15 years ago) and I’ve been hearing it ever since and in ever increasing intensity: young people can’t concentrate and if you want to reach them with your message, you have to do it in segments of five minutes, ten at the max.

Nonsense.

Kate John, one of the speakers at the Youth Work Summit, stated it as well. She said that the ‘standard’ for presenting the gospel to young people was by showing scenes from the Jesus movie accompanied by sad music, followed by a ten minute sermon on penal substitution. Obviously, that doesn’t work any more. Or so Kate John stated.

Is it true that young people have such a short attention span that you need to stick to five minute time slots, even when presenting the gospel?

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How paragraphs can help you structure your sermon better

Using paragraphs is a powerful tool to improve your sermon's structure

[This post is part of the Preaching for Youth series]. Paragraphs are the building blocks of any written material, including sermons. While you can’t actually hear the paragraphs when you listen to a sermon, they should still be there. Understanding how paragraphs function and utilizing them effectively, can help you structure your sermon better:

  • It will help you identify your key message and stick to it
  • It will show any unnecessary details
  • It will help you check your line of reasoning
  • It will trigger you to come up with beautiful and functional transitions

Let’s start with determining what a paragraph is:

A distinct division of written or printed matter that begins on a new, usually indented line, consists of one or more sentences, and typically deals with a single thought or topic or quotes one speaker’s continuous words.

In short, a paragraph:

  • Contains one or more sentences
  • Deals with a single thought or topic
  • Is separated from other paragraphs by identation or a white space between the paragraphs (like I do on my blog)

Using paragraphs is a powerful tool to improve your sermon's structure

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Preaching for youth: painting the bigger picture

One of the biggest challenges when preaching for youth is to paint the bigger picture for them.

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.

One of the biggest challenges when preaching for youth is to paint the bigger picture for them.

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Preaching for youth: how to be seeker-sensitive

There are so many aspects to the Gospel, that we should preach it differently each time...without ever watering it down.

This post is part of the series on Preaching for Youth. Yesterday we made clear what preaching seeker-sensitive is not. Today we’ll focus on what it does mean. How can you adapt your message to an audience that for the most part won’t be a committed Christian? Here’s what I do:

1. Depart from common ground

If you have many non-Christians in your audience, you’ll need to find common ground right at the introduction of your message. If you don’t emphasize that despite your differences you have something in common, you may lose their interest soon. The easiest way to find common ground is to tell a story, preferably a personal one, where you focus on an experience or emotion your audience can relate to.

Example: in a seeker-service about love I told the story of how I broke up with my first boyfriend. Heartbreak is something almost everyone can relate to.

2. Preach a varied gospel

Always, always preach the gospel, but don’t preach the same one every time. There are so many different ways in which to tell what God, what Jesus has done for us that we don’t need to use the same one every time. Here are some ideas:

  • focus on different aspects of God’s character and connect them with the Gospel e.g. love, righteousness, mercy
  • use the Old Testament Law to show why we need a Savior
  • teach on the old sacrifices that were needed and how they were a foreshadowing of what Christ would do
  • use the story of Adam and Eve as the very start of mankind’s descent into sin
  • concentrate on the concept of grace
  • approach the Gospel from ideas people have on heaven and how to get there

A wonderful example is the way Bill Hybels brought the gospel in his closing talk on the Power of Clarity at  the 2006 Willow Creek Leadership Summit (there’s no available video online unfortunately). He focused on the concept of substitutionary atonement. That doesn’t sound like a seeker-friendly approach, but we have used that actual speech in our small group a few times and it worked every time.

There are so many aspects to the Gospel, that we should preach it differently each time...without ever watering it down.

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What preaching seeker-sensitive is NOT

Preaching seeker-sensitive doesn't mean saying what people want to hear, preaching to make people feel good

This post is part of the series on Preaching for youth. I’m a big fan of adapting your sermon to where your audience is in their spiritual journey. It means spending time to analyze where the majority of my audience will be in their journey with God and trying to determine what they need to make the next step. That means that when preaching for youth, I often preach seeker-sensitive, because I know that a lot of students are at the very beginning of their spiritual journey.

But I’ve discovered that not everyone knows what preaching seeker-sensitive means. There are a lot of prejudices and wrong associations about preaching seeker-sensitive, although I must admit some of them are caused by preachers applying the principle wrongly. Let me try to make clear what seeker-sensitive preaching is not.

Preaching seeker-sensitive doesn't mean saying what people want to hear, preaching to make people feel good

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6 reasons why I still write out my sermons

Because I write my sermons out, I almost never run out of time or preach too long

This post is part of the series on Preaching for youth. When I was still in elementary school, we had to do these ‘presentations’ on a certain subject. I loved doing those! While many of my classmate trembled with fear at the thought of being in front of the class, I actually look forward to them. Doing research, gathering all this knowledge and then telling others…what’s not to love? And I usually did great. I only wrote down some bullet points to make sure I didn’t forget anything but for the most part I barely looked at them and just chatted away.

I still love being in front of a group. I love to teach and I love to preach. Only now I don’t use bullet points or outlines, I write my message out completely in a manuscript. I’ve done it ever since I’ve started preaching and I’m still doing it. It’s a decision I’ve had to defend a few times, as many people told me it’s better to preach from outlines only. You’re not tempted to read instead of talk, you’re not looking at your paper the whole time, you make more eye contact with the audience, these are just a few reasons I’ve heard for why you should use outlines only.

Well, I’ve always been a stubborn one and I kept using my own preferred method of writing the whole sermon out as a manuscript. I did however try using outlines a few times with some shorter messages and found out I had good arguments for using a manuscript. Here’s why I prefer to write my message out in a manuscript:

1. Accountability

My husband often reads my sermons to give me feedback before I craft the final version and this is very helpful to me. He’s very good at analyzing my reasoning and regularly finds fault with some of my reasoning, which I can then correct.

I have also on several occasions sent my message beforehand to people who needed to hear/read it before others. One instance was when I was about to give a very strong pastoral message and wanted people on the pastoral care team to know before hand what was coming so they could prepare.

2. Exact timing

With an outline, it’s a bit of a guess how long your sermon will be. I know that I need about 5 minutes for every 500 words I write (mind you, this differs from preacher to preacher depending on how fast you talk and how strict you stick to your text!), therefore I can time my message almost to the minute.

Because I write my sermons out, I almost never run out of time or preach too long

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How to prepare your sermon

sermon preparation1

This post is part of the series on Preaching for youth. When I started preaching regularly, I had to find a good way of doing sermon preparation. I must admit it took me a while to find a method that suited me. My biggest challenge was to let go of what I felt I was supposed to do, what others were doing and instead allow myself to do it my own way.

You see, there are lots of ways to prepare your sermon and there is no one right way. You’ll have to try different things until you come up with a method of sermon preparation that fits you. What works for you will depend on whether you’re a topical preacher or an expository one, whether you’re a last minute person or more of a planner and quite honestly how much time you can spend on sermon preparation. All I can do is tell you how I prepare my messages:

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Do you preach the rules or the relationship?

Without the relationship with God, the rules will be a dead end street

This post is part of the series on Preaching for youth. Growing up in church, I have heard hundreds, thousands of sermons over the years. Some were extraordinary, some were good and some were mediocre. But there’s one thing I heard time and again, especially when people were preaching for youth and that’s this: preaching the rules instead of the relationship.

When we prepare a sermon, we (hopefully) determine a key message that we want to stress. A lot of these key messages are about something we either should or shouldn’t do as a child of God. We want to stress that people should trust God, should pray, or should tithe. We want to make clear that you shouldn’t tell white lies, disrespect your parents, or have sex before marriage. In short: our key messages are about rules.

In itself, that’s not a problem. We are called to become more and more like Christ, to change and grow mature as Christians. And we need sermons and talks to teach us, to instruct and exhort us to do just that. But we need the relationship first.

Without the relationship with God, the rules will be a dead end street

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