How To Write a Youth Talk

 —  December 20, 2011 — 2 Comments

Every youth worker is going to be a little different when it comes to preparing a talk — but hopefully this week we can challenge you to try some methods that really work for us as we do our best to teach God’s Word each week in our youth ministry. So please know this certainly isn’t THE way to write a talk, but it is one way. When I (Kurt) was in college my homiletics professor forced us to master the art of writing the classic three point sermon. He said that when we were through with the class we could write sermons however we wanted, but his job was to make sure we knew at least ONE way. The key isn’t to do it our way, but to find a process that helps you best prepare to communicate God’s Word to students.

Know where the lesson or series is heading
What are we trying to say in this lesson or series of lessons? Where are we trying to move students with this talk? Before you start driving, know which road you are traveling down.

Whiteboard everything you can capture in a brainstorm meeting.
Almost all of our talks begin on the whiteboard using lots and lots of collaboration. Students are there, volunteers are there. There is no such thing as a bad idea (although we’ve been doing this long enough to know that isn’t entirely true). Take a picture to make sure it is captured and not accidentally erased by the church janitor before morning.

Pray over and crank out the 1st draft
What started on the whiteboard now makes it into a Word document and becomes digital. Points, passages and illustrations start to take shape. Maybe you’ll write the talk out word for word, more of a speaking transcript like I (Josh) like to do. Maybe bullet points like I (Kurt) prefer. Just make sure you’re making progress on the message God wants you to share with your students.

Another day, another draft
This collection of thoughts and ideas needs to be honed into a discernible message — so you refine it into the 2nd draft. This is really the beginning of the shaping process. Ideally you’re fairly happy with the talk by this point — some weeks you’ll be ahead of the game, other weeks you maybe won’t have even started it yet. Either way, press on.

Stop, collaborate and listen
At this point, send your message out to a few close friends to review – don’t create your messages in a vacuum. Let a few creative/discerning friends talk through it with you for clarity, perspective and editing.

Use the feedback and you’re ready to go
Done. Deliver the talk and ask a few friends for specific feedback on the delivery and clarity of the message. Over time, you’ll become great at both the preparation and delivery of messages in your youth ministry!

Share how you prepare a talk in the comments!

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

In the past few months I have had the pleasure of visiting several different youth groups, some of them big and some of them small. As I sat and enjoyed listening to the various people who took to the platform to speak and share, I noticed two distinct value systems around pulpit ministry in youth groups.

The first was a very calculated and intentional approach to selecting those that would speak to the students, the other was a much more casual approach, allowing students to speak as well as leaders. I am not totally sure where I lean to, because I think there is tremendous value in both and perhaps the answer lies in the middle.

This idea would place high importance of having only the best, most well spoken speaker in front of your students. Choosing those who have the most thorough knowledge of the Bible to be the core speakers to your students. These people are effective and deliberate communicators.

I love the idea of always bringing the best to students and choosing to only put the best most qualified people in front of your students means that they are going to get a solid, scripture based message every time they come to youth. Students deserve the best leaders and that includes preachers and having someone communicate a message well increases the likelihood that the students will remember what was said.

If not balanced out, it may seem as though pulpit ministry is only for those who are well polished “professional Christians” who have a clear calling to preaching ministry. This approach can come at the detriment of students and leaders who might be called to the same, but have not place to explore those gifts and can make attaining that level seem out of reach.

The idea of students and leaders sharing the things that God is teaching them; to me, is inspiring. Allowing students to be a part of the preaching and exploring their gifts and potential calling, it is just so real.

There is honesty, transparency and raw faith when students come share about what God is doing their lives. I have seen so many times where a student’s testimony has had a greater impact than the best-crafted sermon. When students share about their faith journey it comes across real and authentic and for the audience, it portrays a faith that is relatable and attainable.

If unchecked this can be somewhat of a disaster, where students are allowed to teach, or share their testimonies it can quickly go from God entered to “me” centered. I once found out afterwards that a student told multiple lies in his testimony just to impress our group. If we are not careful, and expecting students and leaders to be prepared to share, the pulpit can become a soapbox for anyone who wants to talk, which can compromise the purpose of the teaching time.

My encouragement to you is to find ways to keep the pulpit open, open to those whose desire is not to glorify themselves, but glorify God through their speaking, those that want to bring a word, a truth. It is up to us as youth workers to make sure that when someone takes the stage, they are prepared and ready. That does not mean, perfect and professional but sharing a Christ-centered message that is from the heart.

Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? See how right here.

This weekend we wrapped up the You Own the Weekend series in HSM – here is the video calling for unity at the end of the series, preparing us for what God would do with a student ministry TOGETHER committed to Him. Had some fun with the teaching time in this one, I think it was pretty fun.


I’ve blogged before about how I create my entry-level sermons each week for our high school ministry – how I start with literally a blank Word document on Tuesday morning and follow My 6 Steps to Writing a Youth Talk. Then, after the 2,000+ word manuscript is complete and I take the stage, occasionally making notes and adjustments to the talk for the remaining 3 times to deliver it on the weekend. Many of these notes are inspired by ad libs, tweaks from my team or inspiration/ideas in the lull between the 1st and 2nd service.

A few other things you might be interested to note:

  • I call out all media/slides/object lessons in yellow highlight. Timing is critical on these elements, so I try to make it clear for the students and volunteers involved.
  • Sometimes, I make a significant edit to the document, cutting out a whole section, deleting a line, replacing a joke or drawing arrows to fix the pacing.
  • I’ve never once delivered a message without some notes/adjustments on it – seems I’ll tweak to the last minute and then some.
  • I prefer the manuscript form for teaching to this crowd/audience, but use other styles as well.
  • I practice the sermon 2-3 times alone in a room before I give it. Let’s me hear it out loud and make sure it flows well.
  • This is for our entry-level program, a discipleship talk would look very different.
  • This particular week I didn’t have fill-ins, just the verses and some space for them to write down the different attributes of the foundation of sand or rock. I also had them write a couple key thoughts/questions off to the side in their program as well.

So here’s an example of what it looks like after a weekend … this talk was our new year kickoff message about Doubting Thomas (you can read the full weekend in review here).

One last thought … posting my message notes is a very vulnerable moment for me … play nice please. Thoughts and questions? Would love to hear how you craft a talk, too!


You may be good, but you are not that good.

Profound words spoken to me the other day, by our Pastor of Adult Education when were talking about laying out the Youth preaching schedule. He followed it up by saying “I don’t care if you were the Apostle Paul, you should not be preaching every week”. As youth pastors, it’s really easy to get into the ‘just do it myself mode’, we know your students, they know us, we are paid to work with them, why find someone else or pay someone else to do our job?. Here are a few things that I am considering.

Students learn differently: If you have been around students long enough you know that there are no two that are the same; the same goes for how they learn. Some might engage with your stories, some with the Word itself, some with your practical application of the Bible. Bringing in someone else to teach will give your students a new perspective. I have experienced first hand seeing that ‘Eureka!’ moment when a guest speaker explains something I have been trying to get across in a new way and it clicks! It is powerful to sit and watch your student engage, to see them hearing, see them processing and see them get it!

Preaching takes a lot of time: If you write your own messages, it takes significant time to outline, research, and, in many cases, rewrite. It is time consuming when you give the process the time it is due. Prepping to speak to 15 students, or 1500, requires the same level of preparation, and to do that week in and week out takes a lot of time and can become exhausting. Take a week off, bring in someone, take that week to refocus, spend time with your students and enjoy the break, it’s a great time to evaluate things.

Students might like them more: This is the single biggest hesitation I have seen, the insecurity that your students will compare you to the person you bring in. Please hear my encouragement that being the guy people bring in is in many ways easier. Recently we had a guest preacher in our Sunday services, he was talented, hilarious, his stories were new, likely true (we didn’t know him) and he didn’t use any notes! It was a home run, but likely a sermon he shared 20+ times, refining the jokes like a stand up comedian. It’s easy to think that the congregation liked him better, but the reality is that he did a great job, but he doesn’t have to speak every week and come up with new ways to communicate to the same people. You love your students; you know their names, their story and that means a lot more to them than a one off great message.

I am working at preaching no more than 75% of the time, bringing in talented speakers, Youth Pastors, volunteer leaders, para-Church organizations who bring the Gospel in a way that I can’t. New voices bring a fresh outlook, a unique perspective and give the students and you a break. In High School you likely don’t have the same teacher for 6 years, then why should you in Youth? What does your preaching schedule look like?

Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. You can, too! See how right here.

This weekend for week 2 of the Happily Ever After series message we had a separate outline for guys and girls.

I Twittered about it last week and it got a good reaction so thought I would post a little more about it here. Basically the top half of the student outline was the same (a review and a lesson on Samson from Judges 16) , but the application of the message was divided into two parts. The pink outlines, given to all of the girls who came to the service, focused on what girls should “beware of in a guy. The blue outlines, given to all of the guys as they came in, had fill-ins that helped guys set a goal for what to become. Our Shake-It greeting ministry kept things straight all weekend, and students seemed genuinely interested in seeing things from both perspectives. A simple idea that helped break the typical and gave us to focus more directly on the students themselves. Fun!