An important topic to consider when preaching for youth is what to preach about. As always, there are different ways of approaching the choice of a text (and yes, I’m assuming you will use the Bible when you teach!). Some people pick a verse or more to preach on, and then study it to derive its message. Others prefer to come up with a theme or topic first, and then study the Bible to find appropriate verses. I’m not denouncing either method, they both have their distinct advantages and possible down-effects.
What is important to keep in mind when choosing your subject and your verses is this: the younger your audience is, the more trouble they will have with abstract thinking. Teens are simply not capable of much abstract reasoning, so you’ll have to keep your message concrete. That also impacts the verses you want to talk about.
If you’re stuck in a rut and are looking for fresh, new topics to preach on to youth, then check out our Youth Sermon Topics page where new sermon ideas are added regularly!
Pick a surprising topic
I’m a big believer in teaching the whole Bible. Too often we only choose those parts that we like, that we can handle, that are safe and comfortable. But God didn’t give us just a few parts, He gave us the whole Bible, including parts that we don’t understand, that we need to wrestle with, that confuse us or make us plain furious.
As a matter of fact, I’ve seen too many pastors make the mistake of preaching only from the New Testament when teaching teens. Young people, like all people, need all of the Bible and no one can truly understand God or His message without reading His entire Word. Try and pick the unfamiliar parts or topics. Dare to be different! (Did you know teens actually complain about getting the same messages over and over again?)
My first sermon for the ‘adult congregation’ was on heaven and hell (I know, quite popular now after the whole Rob Bell thing, but it wasn’t a few years ago). It was completely new for many people and I got very positive feedback, because people loved hearing and learning something new.
Translate the message
However, when giving a talk to young people, be aware that they don’t know what you know and they can’t reason like you can. So pick parts that you can explain to them. That doesn’t mean that it all needs to be simple, cookie-cut easy. You can 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 instance.
Let’s say you want to give a message on David en Bathsheba. That may get sticky for teens, all this sexual stuff. But you can translate it into concepts they can understand. What are they willing to do to get something they want? Like an iPad, or those new shoes, or…How far would they go if they really wanted something? And how does God feel about it when that is more important than what He wants? That’s something they can understand.
Preach the context as well
Also, it’s important to remember that the current generation of teens and students knows little about the Bible. It’s sad, but it’s a fact. Don’t assume that they know who Paul was, or David, or that they know the meaning of concept like redemption, forgiveness, and grace. Whatever you teach, teach the context as well and use language in your sermon they can understand. Explain where it is in the Bible, who wrote it, what period it was, etc.
You can do this subtly, but effectively. Here’s how you could introduce Paul for instance, in case you’re using one of his letters:
The verses we’ll be reading today were written by Paul. He was a Jew who at fist wanted nothing to do with Jesus, he even killed Jesus-followers. Until God opened his eyes. He became a great missionary who lived in the first century after Jesus died and who traveled all through what is now Turkey and Greece to tell everybody about Jesus. He wrote these letters to the churches he founded and today we’re going to read from one of them he wrote to the church in Ephesus.
In a simple way, you’ve established setting, date and told a little about Paul himself. It’s enough to create a little background for kids who’ve never heard of him, but not so much that it’ll bore those who know about him already.
These are just some things to consider when choosing a topic and a Bible part to teach on. How do you come up with topics or verses for your messages? Do you have any other advice?