5 Ways to Ruin A Lesson
I remember once, after working with a volunteer to create his first youth message, standing in the room with nervous anticipation. We had extensively tweaked and re-tweaked his points, application, etc. He was kind of an awkward guy, but I had high hopes that this message would hit home with the kids.
And then he went completely off script. He didn’t do a thing we had talked about.
He told personal stories that seemed completely made up. He didn’t use Scripture at all. He babbled some, telling the kids everything he could think of to say. He ended playing what he called a “relevant” song, and then turned on Carman from the 90’s. (Not to knock Carman, but, by that point, those kids had lost their patience and were not having it.)
Poor guy. He had worked really hard on this message.
We’ve all seen messages that have knocked it out of the park and others that have fallen flat on their faces. With so many teachings out there about homiletics (speaking styles) and exegetics (bible study methods), it can get overwhelming on how to give a good message that will impact our kids’ lives.
Instead of a comprehensive look at how to do a message, let’s look at some of the easy ways to mess one up.
Joel’s 5 Ways to Ruin a Lesson
1. Make Lots of Points
“And now, let’s look at point four, subsection c.”
So…you want to make an impact on a kid’s life, and when you look at the story of Jesus turning water into wine, there are all sorts of things you can tell kids about: God’s care of the little things, family relationships, alcohol use, miracles, biblical culture, weddings, the Holy Spirit, God’s timing, faith and action, etc., etc.
I think sometimes we try to say as much as we can and hope some of it sticks. That approach usually leaves our kids not remembering anything at all.
The more you say, the less is heard.
The best practice is to have one major point that is repeated throughout your message, within your stories, examples, and applications. One Main Point! (And no, it is not ironic that I have more than one subpoint in this article…so….leave me alone!) 🙂
2. Use Church Language
“Thus, we receive sanctification and atonement because of the righteousness of our High Priest.”
It is not that I think our kids are dumb and can’t handle a word or two that stretches them. Just understand that many kids don’t know our common church language. And most of them won’t ask you what a word means – they will simply stop listening.
While I would question the use of the word atonement in a message, I would equally question the word “disciple” or “revelation” or “Scripture” or 1,000 other common things we say without an explanation.
The next time you talk about Jesus’ disciples, go ahead and use the word – then just pause and explain what the word means. Limit it to just a few of those per message.
3. Only Focus on Theology
Yes, I believe in studying about who God is and the complexity and depth of His Word. I even think that is appropriate with youth at the right time. But do not focus on theology in a way that becomes detrimental to your relationship with the students.
It is your relationship with your youth that allows you to talk about theology. It is in relationship that your youth see how the Bible works in real life. It is in relationship that your youth understand that Jesus is a real person that really wants to be in their lives.
Relationships are built when two people each reveal something about themselves. When you go in front of a group of students, this is a key time to build relationships. You can tell stories, interact, and laugh.
In my local ministry, it is a requirement that every youth talk we give includes a personal story. Every single message, every single time.
4. Rush the Response Time
Allowing a kid to pause and interact with what you have been saying can become the most important part of the message. It gives the Holy Spirit time to speak to them and solidify whatever you have been saying.
I pass out notecards and ask a few questions for them to write down. Sometimes I have them imagine the Bible Story and how they would interact with it. Sometimes I have them pray for two minutes (in silence!).
Whatever you do, give the kids an opportunity to respond. Don’t rush it.
5. Prepare as Much as You Can
A common teaching is to prepare, prepare, prepare. You should be studying every day, praying every day, looking for object lessons and real-life examples – every moment! You don’t want to misread the Bible or say something wrong!
And while the last part is true, let me say this: a message in youth ministry is a great tool, but let’s put it in its proper place. How many messages in your life can you remember clearly?
Likely just a few. Messages give key understandings and opportunities to build relationship with the youth leader and to step forward in a relationship with God. Yet, the biggest impact on your youth has more to do with God’s intervention and relationship than studying what that Greek term really means.
So, while I strongly believe that messages have an important place in ministry, I’d rather spend two hours in message prep (or use a ready-made resource like a Music Discussion with the small group questions already written for me) and then spend eight hours taking kids out for a pop than the reverse. It simply has greater impact.
6. Create False Expectations
“Joel’s 5 Ways” I said…thus adding a number 6 is annoying, and maybe even a little cliché. So don’t do that in your messages. Don’ tell kids it will be a 10-minute message when it is 12. Don’t say “Today we are going to talk about how to stop sinning,” and then spend the time telling them why they should stop sinning. Do what you say you are going to do.
Crafting a good message is important for youth ministry. It allows an opportunity for the kids to hear God’s Word and respond in a practical way. I’d love to hear your comments…what rules would you add to “help you ruin” a message?
Joel Williamson has been working with young people for two decades leading a non-profit reaching at-risk youth. He loves youth workers and is passionate about equipping them for effective, transformational ministry. Joel currently works as the Chief Strategist and CFO for Youth Core Ministries, serves on his church's youth team, and lives with his wife and daughter in Noblesville, IN.