7 tips for preaching to young, old and not-yet Christians
Preaching is a central part of the pastor’s life and maybe the one thing that cannot be delegated to someone else. The preacher stands in front of crowds that have come with an open invitation. They are young and old. They are seasoned saints and those who have never heard the gospel. So, how can we preach meaningful messages to all these people, week after week, at the same time? As 1 Corinthians 1:21 says:
“For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of what is preached.”
Here are seven things to reflect on that can help.
I have been preaching for 40 years, and I have traveled to almost 40 countries. I have preached in half of them, and here’s one thing I know—people are people. Regardless of nation, language, culture or age—everyone has the same human issues. Grief, guilt, hope, happiness, love, loneliness, disappointment, death—you name it. We are all fallen creatures, created in the image of God.
Another reason to relax is because the reason people made their way to the place where you are preaching is because they are hoping you will succeed and bring a helpful word from the Lord. They did not come hoping you would fail at the task. As the message begins, they are on your side; relax. The preacher is simply the herald of the eternal truth of God.
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.” —1 Cor. 1:17
The power of the message is in the Word. I have at times watched in amazement as preachers messed up everything in this article, and yet God moved in amazing ways. Remember 2 Corinthians 4:7:
“Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.”
3. Repeat, Rehash and Rehearse.
Repeat the basic Bible stories, word studies, and doctrines. Never assume people already know them. I remember one of the pastors at the church where I grew up had a habit of skipping the Bible story in his messages. He would get to that point, name the story, and then skip over it saying, “You know the story …” Each time I wanted to jump out of my seat and yell, “No, I don’t know the story!” The fourth verse of an old hymn says, “I love to tell the story; For those who know it best, Seem hungering and thirsting, To hear it like the rest.” You can never go wrong repeating the words of the Bible stories. The old saints appreciate it. The young and not-yet Christians need it.
The story may be old, but your presentation should never be. Use up-to-date illustrations and occasionally old ones. Use lyrics to popular songs that are less than five years old, as well as an occasional golden oldie. People need your help in seeing how the ancient text connects to our current reality. Hearing the connection to today helps people know the Word of God really is “living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12).
Understanding the generational differences is critical. The sermon, intentionally and unintentionally, is designed to reach the target audience in your mind. Jesus said He would make us fishers of men, so think about a sermon like you would think about fishing. Different fish require different bait and techniques. For some fish, we use blood worms; for others, squid. For some, we troll on the top of the ocean; for others, we use a weight and fish at the bottom of a lake. You get the picture.
Spend time with the different age groups in your congregation and community. Ask them questions about how they view life and events happening in the world. Be a visiting teacher in different age level Sunday School classes. Listen to some of their music. Learn about their current life stage challenges and how they are being impacted by them. This is incarnational ministry. It is in the same pattern as Jesus:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” —Hebrews 4:15
Stay up-to-date with your use of technology, techniques and visuals. The act of walking into a church should not feel like one has walked through a time warp—not if we are called to serve this present age. Some years after we had installed our first LCD projectors in the sanctuary, one of the bulbs went out during worship. One of the senior saints inquired about how long it would take us to get it fixed. I was surprised, thinking her generation only tolerated this new technology. She said, “We can see the writing on the screen. We cannot see this,” pointing to the hymnal.
Interestingly, just after the senior saint left, Gen X and Gen Y saints approached me with the same question. I again asked why. The Gen Xer had a Ph.D. and was working in our local school system. She went on to give me all the latest data on learning styles, especially visual learning and how we were no longer an oral society. The Gen Yer was my daughter. She declared how much more she got out of the message and how easy it is to take notes, as she followed my PowerPoint slides each week.
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and teaching.” —2 Timothy 4:2
We have less control over this than we do over any of the other items in this article. Leave the results to God. Think of areas of faith in each person’s life not as an on/off switch, but as a continuum. If “A” is, I know nothing about Jesus, and “Z” is, I am saved and fully committed to Jesus, each message moves a person toward “Z.” We may not always see the move because that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Trust God for the results. 1 Corinthians 3:6–7 reminds us:
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
Thank you so much for your service and your desire to do the task to which God has called you to the best of your ability.
“Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” —Galatians 6:9