This post is part of the series on Preaching for youth. In prepping your message for youth, it’s essential to spend some time tailoring it to where your students are at, spiritually speaking. If you don’t, you may end up with a beautiful, well-written message that completely misses its purpose because your audience doesn’t recognize it’s spiritual ‘level’ in what you’re saying.
A beautiful way of looking at these spiritual ‘levels’ is to see it as a spiritual journey (1). As we all know, becoming a Christian isn’t a matter of one decision, it’s a longer road filled with several smaller steps and decisions, and sometimes also roadblocks and wrong turns. The spiritual journey of youth then, is the route they take from being spiritually dead (unbeliever) to spiritually fully alive (believer and disciple).
Everyone we meet, including our youth, is at a certain point in his or her spiritual journey. Some may be at the start, barely acknowledging the possibility that there is a God. Some may be at the point where it all starts to make sense and they’re almost ready to commit. And some may be at the point where they’ve decided to follow Christ, but struggle with putting that into practice.
Spiritual journey and preaching
What does this have to do with preaching? Well, for your message to have impact, youth needs to recognize themselves in what you’re saying. It has to be tailored to the point they’re at in their spiritual journey. Your central message has to resonate with issues they’re struggling with, with roadblocks they’re facing or detours they’re about to take. If your youth doesn’t recognize themselves in what you’re saying, you’ve lost their attention. You have to tailor your message to their spiritual journey.
Example: let’s say you (unconsciously) assume all your listeners will be about ready to make a decision for Christ, but are convinced they’re not sure it’s worth it. So you try and convince them that God is trustworthy and list every reason you can think of why you should put your trust in Christ. But your students are for the bigger part not convinced God even exists and if He does, that He cares. Your arguments will fall on deaf ears, because they don’t speak to where your youth is in their spiritual journey.
What you’ll need to do then when prepping your message, is take some time to reflect on your student’s spiritual journey. Where are they? What could convince them at this point to take the next step, to walk the next mile towards becoming spiritually alive?
This implies that you’ll need to know your audience. If you’re speaking for youth you don’t know personally, check with whomever invited you to speak and get this information. Ask them about the spiritual journey of their youth. They may not know the term (and learn something fro you in the process) but if you explain it, they will hopefully be able to give you a general rundown of where their students stand spiritually.
Differences in spiritual journey
What to do then when the youth you’ll be speaking to varies widely in their spiritual journeys? You have several options:
- Choose the point where the majority is at
- Choose a point slightly ‘further’ then where the majority is at, in the hopes of speaking both to them, and to the youth slightly further than them
- Pick the two biggest groups and put something in your sermon for each group
This may seem like an incredible challenge to you, but remember this: it’s ultimately about youth connecting with what you’re saying, about creating common ground and getting students to care. So try to get a clear picture of where they are in their spiritual journey and address the needs, questions, fears and issues they may have at that point.
And if you’re smart, you’ll do this in your message introduction, so your students will be hooked from the start. You could even share some stories from your own spiritual journey or ask other to share their personal testimony. Stories will captivate your audience when done the right way and getting personal also makes you audience connect with you more easily.
Tailoring message to spiritual journey
How then to tailor your message to your youth’s spiritual journey? My advice to you would be to ask yourself these questions when you prep your message:
- Where are the students in my audience in their spiritual journey?
- What issues would they face at this point? What could encourage them to walk the next mile?
- Does my topic and central message address what the youth is facing in their spiritual journey? Do I speak to felt needs, emotions, and thoughts?
- How can I connect with them in my introduction so they see their needs and emotions addressed and thus care about what I’m saying?
- Do I use any words that they’re likely to misinterpret or not understand at all? (for a lists of ‘church words’ see this post on language when preaching for youth)
- Does the end of my sermon inspire and encourage students to take the next step in their spiritual journey?
Do you consider your students’ spiritual journey when you prep your message? How do you tailor your message to where they are?
(1) To be clear, I didn’t come up with this term, I read it in a wonderfully inspiring article ‘Prayer, evangelization, and spiritual formation’ by Richard Peace, which used to be online but I sadly can’t find a link anymore.