Two routes to find a topic
There are two ways of ‘discovering’ a topic you can preach on for youth. I’m not denouncing or advocating either way; I’m just going to describe them. And just to be clear, I have used both ways and they both have their merits and their weak points.
The first route to get to a topic for a youth sermon is to start with analyzing where your students are and what they need to make the next step. That then is the starting point for a topic and a key message. This often results in topical preaching.
The second route is by choosing a verse or passage to preach on and then determine its key message. You then translate this into a key message for your students. This is what’s known as expository preaching.
No matter which route you prefer, your first action when trying to find a topic to preach on should be prayer. You need to ask God what He wants you to preach on, in the form of a topic, a central message or a passage of Scripture. I’ve experienced all three, I’ve had instances where God gave me a specific passage, but I’ve also felt led to preach on a certain topic or to stress a key message. Make sure that you’re preparing whatever God wants you to say.
The topical preaching route
When you’re a topical preacher and you want to find a topic to preach on for youth, start with asking yourself this question: what do they care about? What are issues they are facing at home, in school, or with their friends that you could offer good, Biblical advice in? Where are they in their spiritual journey and what do they need to take the next step? Their wants and needs are a perfect starting point for you to find a topic.
This method has three important risks that I want to mention here: the first is that you’ll need to know the Bible well to prevent using the same passages over and over again. Because you start out with a topic or a key message and then come up with a passage that fits, you’re more likely to use well known passages. So dig a little deeper to find a surprising topic and even more important: a surprising passage.
The second risk is that you will make you passage fit your message. When you’ve already figured out your key message and only then come up with a passage that ‘supports’ it, you’re gonna have to make an effort to make sure the passage does indeed lead to your key message and that it’s also supported by other verses in the Bible. There’s a risk here for ‘eisegesis’: falsely seeing your own ideas supported in a Biblical text.
The third risk is that you’ll put the rules before the relationship. Topical preachers tend to focus on giving good advice, ‘rules to live by’ so to speak. But if you don’t preach the gospel with those rules, if the students don’t have a relationship with God, it won’t make a real difference. Be sure to always preach the gospel, no matter what the topic.
The expository preaching route
This route starts with finding a passage you want to preach on and then deduct its central message. How you do that is a different story (one which we will discuss in another post) but let’s give a brief example here. Let’s say you want to preach on Psalm 23 for youth and you’ve determined the central point of this passage is ‘The Lord is my shepherd’.
What you need to do now is to translate this point into a key message that will speak to youth. They don’t really know what a shepherd is or what he means to the sheep, they have never seen a sheep in real life and they may have heard this Psalm a 100 times without ever understanding its meaning. So you’ll need to explain the background of the Psalm and how David knew what he was talking about. You’ll need to reveal how God’s character is shown in this Psalm. You may end up with a key message like ‘God takes care of you’ or something along those lines. That is a message youth can understand.
Like topical preaching, expository preaching has its risks. Let me name the two I’ve seen the most often. The first is that there is no key message in the sermon, that the preacher just walks through the passage, explaining everything without ever making point. You have to have a key message and it has to be understandable for youth.
The second risk is that it becomes too abstract and too theoretical. Preachers who love expository preaching often love digging deep into a text, finding all kinds of wonderful insights and wisdom. And then they want to stuff them all into a sermon for youth (which then tends to run 10 minutes to long, boring everyone to death). Keep your key message clear and cut out everything that doesn’t support it, relate to it or underscores it.
If you’re looking for practical ideas for topics for youth sermons, check out our Youth Sermon Topics page where new sermon ideas are added regularly!
Which ‘route’ do you prefer when finding topics to preach on for youth? Do you see any other benefits or risks that I haven’t mentioned?