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Preaching for youth: Sermon Language

This is part four in a series on preaching for youth. Today we will focus on language. What guidelines are there with regard to the kind of language you have to use when preaching for teens or students? Here’s my list of three things you should avoid.

Don’t try to be hip

It can be like, you know, really irritating if you are trying to be down with the lingo, you know? Like, really irritating. Enough already.

Don’t start using words you wouldn’t normally use, just to appear hip and happening. You’ll come across as fake and sort of desperate. Trust me, not the kind of image you want to project. You don’t need to be anything else but yourself to connect with youth.

Avoid church words

Sometimes I feel like we’ve developed our own language in the church with all these ‘buzz words’ that you never come across outside of church. For older generations, these words are pretty common and standard, but even there not everyone know what justification means or how salvation relates to redemption.

When preaching for teens or students, you have to be extra careful in using these words. Chances are they won’t know what you mean by them, or have a incomplete or incorrect understanding. Best-case scenario: they will misinterpret your message.

But it can get worse: use too many of these words in your sermon, and they won’t listen to you at all anymore. If they don’t understand it, why would they listen? They’ll mentally check out in the beginning of your message and you’ll never get their attention back. And they might just walk away feeling (once again) very dumb and maybe even too stupid to ever ‘get it’. I’m guessing that’s not what you want to happen.

Does that mean you can’t use these words at all? Not completely. You can use them, but first try and see if you can find an easier synonym, and if that doesn’t work, explain them. Just give them the meaning and the context in a few words.

You know what I discovered? Sometimes it’s too easy to use these words, they’ve become a sort of clichés. The restriction of not being able to use them can really force you to find other ways of explaining the gospel for instance. I know it worked that way for me. I discovered new meanings of all-too-familiar words, just because I couldn’t use them and I was forced to think about what they meant exactly.


Here’s a quick list of words you shouldn’t use without explanation:



Reconciliation, reconcile

Salvation, to (be) save(d)



The ‘Law’

Sacrifice, sacrifices


Works (as opposed to faith)




Sanctification, sanctified

Holy, holiness




Immorality, immoral






And should you preach in outreach services, I strongly recommend that you think hard and long before using anything having to do with blood and lambs without fully explaining yourself. Really, for the uninitiated, this just doesn’t make sense.

Keep it simple

Aside from not using church words, it’s in general a good idea to keep it simple. Use the easiest synonym you can find to avoid confusion. Don’t make sentences with four or five commas that just go on forever. Chop it up in several separate sentences so your audience has no trouble following you. If you’re one of those people that completely writes out his/her sermon, have someone else read it and ask them to underline any difficult words you’ve used. You’ll be amazed at what they still come up with.

So that’s three things to avoid language-wise when preaching for young people. Did I miss anything? Do you know any more words to add to the list of ‘forbidden words’?

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0 thoughts on “Preaching for youth: Sermon Language

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