overachievers-hateI have been teaching/speaking for a couple decades now, and I am still growing. While I have not figured out how to give a perfect talk week after week, I do have a list of misses to avoid when teaching. Here are 4 areas that might seem obvious but aren’t. We might get caught in the moment, rely too heavily on our skills, or think we are doing a better job than we are. A sad truth is, students don’t often complain about these things…they just vote with their feet. How are you doing in these 4 areas?

4 Things Kids Hate About Your Teaching:

Too Long
Here’s one piece of teaching advice I received years ago, “Brandon, if you end early it doesn’t matter how bad your message was, they will love you.” While I don’t think this is a teaching rule to live by, I understand what he was trying to communicate.
• I am trying to build trust with parents, getting out 10 to 20 minutes late works against that.
• I would rather have students get one or two points they understand than sit through a long talk and remember nothing.
• Short attention spans…enough said.
• We are gathering to make Jesus known, not to show off amazing speaking skills.

Suggestion: Get an app like SpeakerClock or T-Zero. You could also have a clock visible to the speaker, I like having one of these in the celling.

Too Boring
I am not one who pushes entertainment of edification, but let’s not use discipleship as an excuse to communicate without creativity. I have heard too many teachers say something to the effect, “It is God’s word, that should be enough.” I know God’s word does not need my creative touch to be better at communicating its truth. Jesus was perfect and gave the best illustrations. That being said, I do not expect teens to love God’s word as much as I do.

In a college class on teaching, we were discussing the “Learning Pyramid” and how lecture style was the least popular/effective form of communication for learning and retention. A classmate abruptly said to the professor, “If it’s the least helpful, why is it the only way you teach?” The teacher responded, “This is not a class of practice. It is a class of delivering information.” (That professor is no longer there).

Suggestion: If you have a hard time coming up with interesting stories and illustration get help. Read more (books, blogs, news, etc), start collecting compelling stories in an app like Evernote and tag each story. Try illustration books, videos, and websites like these.

Too Much Rambling
Ever go off on a rabbit trail? You’re talking and you feel like you are saying something, but you have left your message for another topic. Maybe you are just talking, and you don’t know why or what you are saying. I often write out my talks. This does two main things: it keeps me focused (no rambling), and it helps with time. If I only say what is on my script, I am not going to turn a 30-minute message into a 50-minute talk.

Suggestion: I like writing my talk with MS Word on my Mac, saving it to Dropbox, and opening it on my iPad with iAnnotate. Play with the font size on your document before you send it to your iPad, you want to be able to see it without squinting and losing your place. Be careful, the downside to a script is you are tempted to read. Know your message well enough that you are not tethered to your iPad and that you are not awkwardly reading word for word.

Too Unconnected
What does this have to do with my life? Here is a blurb from the post The Problem With Youth Talks by Rick Lawrence (read the whole post here):

Learning loses its value the farther away it gets from practical life application. My least favorite (but often used) teaching strategy is when speakers pelt people with broad imperatives (“We all should be praying more”) that are divorced from the practical “hooks” that would help people take the first steps toward change and growth. You are the bridge between “what/why” and “how.” Applicable is determined by the people we’re leading, not by us. Lots of times we assume what we’re offering is applicable because it’s applicable to us. The question is: What’s applicable to the people I’m leading?

Adult Leaders: Development: Speaking to Teenagers - Speaking to Teenagers: Physical
Suggestions: #1 Get to SYMC and dive into Rick’s workshop, “Jesus Centered Youth Ministry.” Come hungry, leave full! #2 Check out Speaking to Teenagers: How to Think About, Create, and Deliver Effective Messages by Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins. It is not a thin book but it is filled with decades of youth ministry teaching experience.

How to Create A Sermon

Tony Myles —  November 25, 2013 — 2 Comments

sermonA pastor was working on his weekly sermon one day while his son watched.

“Dad,” the boy asked, “how do you know what to say every week?”

“God tells me,” he answered, writing some more thoughts on his sketch pad.

The boy watched for a few minutes more and asked, “Are you sure it’s God?”

“Absolutely,” the dad replied.

Finally, the boy asked what he’d been wondering the whole time. “Then why do you keep crossing things out?”

I’m curious… how do you go about creating your messages?

I approach my process differently every time, but I did write down some common things I tend to do. Here are the first five:

  • Write down the themes of the past sermons your congregation has heard over the past 6 to 12 months. List the strengths and weaknesses of each message to determine how the people received or rejected what was shared. Pray and seek discernment regarding how your congregation needs to most be challenged by your next sermon in order to grow spiritually.
  • Expose yourself to an assortment of books, magazine articles, videos and other media that offer a variety of perspectives on your potential sermon theme. Evaluate the materials for insights and illustrations, then use a word processor to type and save what you’ve identified as relevant to your sermon.
  • Search the Bible for stories and verses that speak to your sermon theme. Use resources like Biblegateway.com to type in keywords in a variety of translations, then save the most relevant results in your file.
  • Dialogue with trusted members of the congregation or church leadership about the direction of your sermon. Ask for their input and any stories from their lives that may complement what you will be preaching on. Interact with other people you regularly encounter in your week, asking what their thoughts and questions are on the theme you’re exploring.
  • Write down a list of any thoughts or questions you have from all of your research. Refer to this list as you read the Bible passages you’ve previously identified while looking for the specific texts that you are most drawn to for your sermon. Deepen your understanding of these passages through the commentaries, word studies, maps and historical background provided for on Blueletterbible.com. Pray that God will help you understand His truth before you share it with others.

There are a number of other things I do after that, including how I approach actually writing out my sermon. (You can read the rest of the article here.)

What does your process look like? What’s working for you, and what could you do differently?

I remember when I first started in youth ministry, I worked super hard on preparing my youth talk for the following week. I would study, prep, illustrate and flavor a 30-minute talk every day, all week long. Over time, I got more comfortable with the audience size (25 students) and took less time preparing. At some point, I would even let myself slide with a “Saturday Night” special before teaching youth group the next night. And if I’m honest, I may have winged it entirely at some point!

There is a direct correlation between the amount of message preparation and the size of your expected audience. This isn’t a bad thing – makes sense even when you step back from it a little bit. If you are speaking to 30 students, you’ll prepare an hour or two probably. If you’re speaking to a 100 people, I’d guess you would prepare for several hours. Speaking to a 1,000 and it would take you all week. Speaking to a stadium filled with people and you’ll work harder than ever and invest a ton of time to make sure you deliver in front of them.

So … what if you prepped this week like you were speaking to 1,000 people? What would your messages be like if you were preparing to like you were about to speak to hundreds instead of a handful? Your students are worth it. God’s Word would be more presented more clearly than ever. Your talk would be tighter, funnier, clearer and richer.

No more Saturday night specials!


InstaLife Series Arc

Josh Griffin —  December 6, 2012 — Leave a comment

Excited to start a new series in HSM next weekend called InstaLife – it will use Instagram as a backdrop to teach biblical truths. Pretty excited about the series! I like it when we create an “arc” or journey we are hoping to take students through both in each message and the series. Here’s an overview of the next two weeks:

InstaLife: Jealousy – Wanting Someone Else’s Username
Being jealous shows that we are not satisfied with what God has given us, that what we have is not enough. The Bible tells us that we need to be content with what we have because God would never forsake us and leave us with nothing. In order to go head to head with jealousy we need to become more like Jesus and less like ourselves. We need to stop wanting and ogling what everyone else posts through Instagram.

InstaLife: Being Fake – Look Behind the Filter
We post pictures online for everyone to see. We will post pictures on this app to allow other people to get a little glimpse into our lives. Many post pictures of the life they wish they had or pictures from only the good parts, giving the false perception to everyone who sees it thinking that you are just fine and dandy when in reality you are truly hurting. It is time to stop pretending that everything is okay and come to Jesus get out from behind the filter.


We’ve all given that one message that got great reviews. Students were complimentary. They even laughed at your jokes – and those laughs weren’t even courtesy laughs. They said they liked it, so that means you did something right, doesn’t it?

Maybe not.

Your goal is a lot bigger than merely giving a message that people like. Your goal is to usher people toward Jesus.

I’ve heard a lot of incredible speakers and can remember a lot of their funny stories, but sometimes, the greater point they made about Jesus was lost in their ability to be entertaining. That means there’s a massive difference between being effective and merely being impressive. How can you make sure you’re doing the one and not the other?

Analyze your motives. If your goal is accolades, you’ll write messages that are designed to bring accolades. If that’s you, it might be time to ask God to break you down a little bit (that’s one prayer where I’ve found God is almost always faithful).

Provide students with a talking point. If you don’t prompt students with an idea, they’ll have nothing to say to you except, “Good message today!” Instead, leave them with a question to wrestle with. Then when you see them later, ask them how that wrestling is going. Make the conversation about their response and God’s call instead of your message

Identify the memorable moments of your program. A few years ago, our media team put together an absolutely incredible announcement video. It was hilarious and it was all anyone was talking about after the service. What got lost in that? Anything that had to do with Jesus.

Make Jesus the star. If the most memorable parts of your program don’t point directly to Jesus, rebuild your program. If your hilarious story doesn’t remind students of Jesus, frame the story differently or let it go altogether.

What do you think? Is it more important to be impressive or effective?

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – things like effective communication. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

Curious in this week’s poll – where do you do your best sermon preparation? Vote in today’s poll!


In December HSM is gong to do a series call Instalife about jealousy, pretending and bragging – talking through what the Bible says on these very important subjects. I happened to stumble on an article (poorly titled, but oh well) on the very subject on Gizmodo that is absolutely perfect research for my message. You can certainly read the whole article, but my favorite part of it being the list of questions the author put at the end:

  • Am I sharing this picture only because I want people to wish they were where I am?
  • Am I someplace expensive? Is it obvious?
  • Am I someplace nobody else was invited? Do they wish they were invited?
  • Am I posting this only because I want people to like it? Or like me?
  • Am I posting this only because it makes me look good?
  • Am I posting myself and explicitly stating how good I look?
  • Am I a nice person?
  • Have I called my parents lately?
  • Did my parents get divorced because of me?
  • Did my parents stay together because of me?
  • Do I know for sure that my ex follows me on Instagram and I want to make sure she sees this so she’ll regret it—oh, how she’ll regret it all!
  • If I saw what I’m about to share, would I roll my eyes?
  • Can I imagine anyone commenting, on this picture, “Ahhh I’m so jealous! I hate u!”
  • Is this an Instaboast?

Now … this is a completely secular article but points out some great truths for me to now use in my message. If I didn’t know roughly what I was teaching on I wouldn’t know to collect stuff like this right now. If I’m preparing a “Saturday night special” talk for my audience on Sunday morning, they’ll never be as good as when I prepare in advance.

Let me spell it out rapid fire if it isn’t obvious:

  1. Plan in broad strokes your teaching calendar for the season ahead
  2. Be a collector of what you read/stumble on
  3. Listen well to what you hear around you and in the culture
  4. Look for stories on your theme in your community
  5. Pray throughout the process
  6. Deliver a great talk

Good luck as you prepare your talk this week … and the one 2 months from now!


Here’s the arc for our series in HSM this month. Pretty excited about this series – we always try to hit on some felt-needs or hot topics

SEPTEMBER 15/16 | I AM… A GOSSIP (week 1)
James 3:1-12; Ephesians 4:29
GOSSIP. Everyone has said something about someone or something that they know they should not have. We’ve all felt the sting of being talked about behind our backs. It is taking a look how we talk to and about each other and how powerful what we say actually is. Looking at how we can turn gossip into encouragement and slander into praise.

SEPTEMBER 22/23 | I AM… A HYPOCRITE (week 2)
Matthew 23
Hypocrites. The dictionary definition of a hypocrite is “a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.” We will be looking at what this looks like in our own lives and what that means according to the teachings of Jesus.

SEPTEMBER 29/30 | I AM… A BULLY (week 3)
Bullying has no place in the life of a follower of Christ. We need to stand up for the forgotten and abused. The series will all be pulled together with a reveal that Jesus is the great I Am.