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Four risks of making your sermon too practical

[This post is part of the series on preaching for youth.] we’ve all heard it at some point: teens don’t have the abilities yet to deal with abstract concepts (or more accurately: some do and some don’t and even the ones who can, aren’t able to ‘go abstract’ all the time). That means our messages for teens need to be concrete, practical.

However, there are several risks involved in making your message too practical. Yes, there is such a thing as too concrete and too practical…

Milk vs solid food

There’s the risk of only serving up ‘milk’ when there are also kids who need solid food. We keep repeating certain subjects and messages over and over again. Do we really want a year of youth ministry messages to be summed up as: read your Bible, pray every day and don’t have sex before you’re married?

The solution is to put a little solid food in each message, just one or two paragraphs for those students who are more mature and can handle it, for those who are further along in their spiritual journey.

Let’s say your topic is prayer. Do cover the basics, but also include something on different kind of prayers (like silent prayer, writing prayers down or listening prayer) for your ‘toddlers’ and ‘elementary students’. They will love you for it and will keep growing as well. And the ‘babies’ will at least know that there’s more to come.

milk

Applicability vs knowledge

A second risk of making message only practical, is that we sell our teens short on knowledge. They also need to know the Bible, to learn what’s in there and not just the parts they can apply to their lives right away. We shouldn’t shy away from using verses that they may not be able to apply yet or that have no easy application, but that contain truths they do need to know.

Take the book of Romans for instance, or the whole Tabernacle. Both are wonderful and incredibly rich in content and meaning, but there are no easy, practical applications for the every day life of a teen. Yet there are truths in there, that they need to know.

I remember a Bible study we did with my small group (20-24 year olds) on the Tabernacle…they were simply wowed at the details God had included and what they all meant. It was a wonderful eye opener for them, though mostly about knowledge and far less about practical things.

Simplicity vs complexity

Another risk is to make the Bible seem completely understandable, which is isn’t. There are parts that I wrestle with, that I don’t get. There are parts that make me wonder why God included them and parts that seem to be included just to frustrate me. There are contradicting parts and parts we will never truly get on this side of heaven.

If we make it seem like all parts of the Bible are easily understood, kids will get frustrated if they can’t grasp it. Also, we create a false picture of God’s Word and consequently, of God Himself. He is never easy and neither is His Word. The Bible can be a tough book and we should tell teens that that’s okay, that we don’t understand everything either.

Rules vs relationship

And last but not least, there’s the risk of focusing on the rules instead of on the relationship. Of course we want our teens to lead godly lives. But all their efforts in that department will be useless if they don’t have a relationship with God first. If we focus too much on the practical part of our messages, we might just give them the idea that what they do or don’t do matters more than where they are in their relationship with God.

In every sermon, we should stress that it’s about the relationship, not about the rules. Let’s not be guilty of putting another yoke on them, or worse: make them feel like they’re required to hold ‘the law’. There should be freedom in Christ.

In each of these four aspects, you need to find a balance. It’s okay if you lean more towards one side in one sermon and more towards the other in another, as long as the whole picture shows a healthy balance.

How do you balance out these aspects? Do you agree with the risks I’ve described? Do you see any other ones? I’d love to hear your input!

[Photo credit: N.K. Zsuzsa, Free Images, Creative Commons]
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0 thoughts on “Four risks of making your sermon too practical

  1. Great post Rachel! I resonated with your point about over simplifying the Bible in preaching to youth. Sometimes, I get the feeling that youth workers believe that good communication means simple rather than accessible. We can deliver messages that are in accessible language but have a richness that pull youth into wondering about God.

    1. Thanks for your comment Paul, I strongly agree with you. We shouldn’t skip the hard parts, because they’ll need those as well for when life gets tough…

  2. […] We started with some thoughts on what you can preach about and next up is a post on identifying four risks of making your message too practical. Today we’ll discuss the key message of your […]

  3. Thanks for the reminder! We have to strike a balance.

    1. Thanks for dropping by, glad you liked the post.

  4. […] preach on difficult parts, as long as you can translate these into a message they can grasp. But making your message too practical also has risks, you don’t want to offer ‘just milk’ for […]

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