During my time in college I served as an interim youth minister at Kingsville Baptist Church in Ball, Louisiana. I previously served as an intern at my home church, so I had an idea of what it took to be a youth minister. I took on the task eagerly and had as much fun as I possibly could while I invested my life into the students that were under my care.
During my junior year, the church hired a full time youth minister, so I stepped aside to let him take control. I resigned my position so that the students would change their leadership focus from me to him. In the spring semester I enrolled in Introduction to Expository Preaching taught by Jason Meyer. Since I had been preaching (or what I considered preaching) for over a year I thought this would be an “easy” class, but I was wrong.
As Dr. Meyer taught the theology that drives preaching, I began to realize that I failed miserably as a youth minister to the students who were under my care. I saw for the first time what preaching truly is, how serious it should be taken, and what is at stake. After my third class I went back to my dorm room, sat down on the floor, and wept.
I had failed.
I spent much time in prayer, pleading with God that if I was given the opportunity once more, I would not fail again. It was there that I committed myself not only to expository preaching but also to take seriously the task that was (and still is) set before me: the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I have often heard well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ candidly rebuke a type of ministry that gives a greater portion of time to the Scriptures. Now, there are hardly any evangelical churches that would suggest we don’t teach our youth the Bible. But our methods speak louder than our words.
People are often quick to point out that teenagers today live in a visual world that is filled with short videos and posts of 140 characters, so their attention span is lacking. Through weaving together stories, games, illustrations, and jokes we are able to teach students the Bible in a way that is relevant to them so that they can understand.
Youth Are Smarter Than You Think
Through some circumstances, the Lord granted my request and I returned on staff once more. On a Wednesday night in March 2009 I began to walk my students through the book of James, and we finished in April 2010. I took my students verse by verse, line by line, word by word through a book of the Bible. Through this method, something amazing started to happen: they began to understand the Bible.
Now I would be wrong to say that when we got to James 1:9 the group exploded and we began averaging 100+ each week. To be honest, some students began to dwindle in their attendance. To my recollection, we went from averaging fifty each week to thirty. Should I have changed something? Some would say yes (and they may have been correct), but I was committed not to fail once more. I continued preaching through James verse-by-verse, and the students continued to come.
I do not base my success as a preacher on the number of people who attend. It is God who gives the growth. But each week the students attended, they began to see the big-picture of this short epistle. They began to see that Christians will experience tests, but that it is namely for our good (1:2–4). They saw how similar the teaching of both Paul and James were on justification by faith (2:14–26) and how our deeds and words (3:1–12) are both issues that stem from our conversion, or lack thereof. When we finally finished the epistle, I challenged them to consider those who had wandered from the truth and bring them back (5:19–20), and I will never forget the look on their faces as nearly every student saw a friend at school who quit attending church altogether.
A Plea to Preach Expositionally
Brothers, our main task as ministers is to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. Now we may claim this mantra all day, but our methods will prove ultimately what we believe. When we preach expositionally through books of the Bible, I am convinced we are communicating to our people the authority of the Word. As evangelicals, we believe each and every word of Scripture is God-breathed (theopneustos) and is profitable for teaching. In my opinion, the expositional model of preaching makes this available.
There are many advantages to preaching expositionally, but I will list five.
1. We are forced to preach the difficult texts.
2. We know what text we preach next week, and so does our congregations.
3. Our congregations become familiar with different books of the Bible.
4. Our knowledge of a particular author/theological theme is expanded.
5. It teaches our congregation how to read the Bible in context.
I was reminded of my commitment to the Lord on my dorm room floor in 2009 after I received confirmation of my election to serve in my first pastorate. Because of my commitment to expository preaching, I am taking my congregation through 1 John on Sunday mornings and Exodus on Sunday evenings.
Brothers, I encourage you to evaluate your youth ministry and seriously consider preaching expositionally to your students.
Here are some resources I have found helpful:
Preaching & Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
Preaching: A Biblical Theology by Jason Meyer
Why Johnny Can’t Preach by David T. Gordon
Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit by Steven Smith