I haven’t heard of the groundSWELL online conference before today – an email was just forwarded to me by a friend – but I sure love this bold idea they’re trying. All of the speakers at their event will be between 13-19 years old! You can fill out the nomination form here (the event is sponsored by Leadership Network) if you’ve got a student who would be perfect for it!


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.

My first time preaching was like hanging out with death. I was absolutely scared. After it was all said and done, I preached for about 55 minutes! My original target was 20 minutes. I was all over the place. Not only did I speak FOREVER (I was 17), but I came around my small church and SAT down on the communion table. At the time, the communion table was in the center of the worship center (what we call the Sanctuary in East Tennessee). I walked in front of it and plopped down with legs swinging. I’ll never forget the gasp coming from the congregation that night and nearly killing that one old lady in the back. Ok, I didn’t almostkill anyone, but I might as well have.

As leaders, it’s our job and joy to find future leaders and invest into them. As a pastor, sometimes I’ll have a guy come up to me and explain how he wants to preach a message. What we do next shows how we truly approach discipleship. For me, that was meeting with the youth pastor once and giving him my rough outline. He left the topic up to me. I had no idea what I wanted to preach on much less how write a sermon. Looking back, I believe that he offered the best advice that he could, but I can’t help but think that as pastors we need to be more intentional.

For those students that do approach us, we should give them the opportunity to preach. We cannot stop there–that lets us off the hook.

As intentional leaders, we must search for new preachers/leaders.

More times than not, I will approach a student and ask them to preach. They typically freak out and say no. I’ll then use that opportunity to tell them that I’ve been observing them and believe that God could use them proclaim his goodness. I promise that I’ll be there every step of the way. I won’t leave them alone and they won’t look stupid.

Here is my process for teaching a student how to preach. It’s not the gospel of preaching, but it’s been very effective at training young men to preach.

1. Set up a meeting
Please meet with your student preacher. Nothing says, “I don’t really care about you” than scheduling someone to preach and then communicating everything over email/text. Schedule a time to meet with them. I promise it’ll help them! It’ll also give you an idea of where they are at in the process.

2. Give them a topic
As a kid, I hated selecting topics. How on earth did I know what I was going to preach on? Even though I’ve had students approach me with a topic they want to preach about, I’ll typically tell them no for their first message. Why do I do that? I want to get their agenda out of the way and teach them that preaching is more than about picking a topic you want to rant on. What I find helpful is to pick a topic in advance. I’ll typically pick something that already fits in with our scheduled teaching calendar. This will stretch them because they’ll have to prepare and throw out everything they were wanting to “tell everyone about.” Do them a favor…give them a topic!

3. Help them research
The worst thing that we can do in training potential pastors is give them a topic and then expect them to do all the work. Sit down with your student and teach them how to research. Go over how you prepare for a message and then show them the websites you visit. I useLogos Bible Software, so I’ll typically print a package of material for them on their topic.

4. Give them the opportunity to sketch a rough outline
Allow them to formulate an outline and then go back over that with them. I never give a student, who’s just starting to preach, the option to form the sermon in a vacuum.

5. Meet with them again
At this meeting, you need to see a copy of their message. I would suggest not teaching them to manuscript. From my experience, students who manuscript a message will READ it instead of preach. Have them show you their final outline and write out any statements that they are going to make that are doctrine related or controversial. It’s important for you to “vet” their message.

6. Practice the message
This is the biggest single key in successfully teaching a student how to preach. The Friday before a message, I’ll reserve our student center for the student, me, and our preaching interns. I set the stage, lights, and sound exactly the way it’ll be Sunday morning/night. I want them to see the environment that they’ll be preaching in. I also wire them up with the microphone. I want the student to be as comfortable as possible when they actually preach. I want their minds to be clear of everything except their message. We practice coming up on stage (even bringing their stand up, holding their Bible, reading Scripture, etc), the introduction, the entire message, and the conclusion. It’s our time to break down the message and to see what works. Like I said before, this is when students learn not to read a manuscript, but preach a message.

I also use this time to find their “thing.” I believe that each person has a specific thing that they do. Most of the time, we’re not aware of it. Practicing the message in a “live” format always reveals the quirk. I’ve had students who drag one leg while walking, jump up and down as their preach, speak in the “preacher voice,” have Ricky Bobby hands, etc. I don’t make fun of them, but I will reenact what they are doing to show them. Sometimes I’ll even record their quirk on my iPhone and then play the message. Doing all of this keeps them from looking like a newb. I promise, they’ll love you for this. Do everything in love.

7. Pray. Pray. Pray with them!
Lay hands on them. Pray with them.

8. Take a picture for memory
Mom and dad will want a memory so take a good “action” shot. I always post it on Facebook so everyone can tell them that they are proud.

9. Schedule a follow-up meeting
It’s easy to forget this last step, but it’s important to their learning process. Go over ways they can communicate better, use hand gestures better, etc. Whatever you do… encourage them!

By the age of 30, Nick has served as a missionary, creative arts director, student pastor, graphic design, and photographer. I’m married to an amazing woman and have one daughter. I’ve never looked back since my first mac and am a closet Star Trek fan. He regularly blogs at http://www.everythingpastor.com

I recently contributed to the SLANT33 blog when they asked the question – How do you decide what to teach? I gave a wide variety of answers from where I find my inspiration, here is a selection of them, head there for the complete article on the subject:

Create a focus group and run your ideas by them. Every Tuesday during the school year at 4pm, you’ll find me in my office surrounded by a select group of high school student leaders who are my focus group. I run everything by them: rough drafts of sermons, object lessons, ideas, icebreakers, series ideas. They give invaluable insight into what they and their fellow students need to hear and how the message can best be shaped to meet them where they are living. And yes, they have veto power. It kills me when they use it, but I know it is for the greater good.

Be inspired by others. I love nothing more than devouring sermon and series ideas from other people! Youth pastors are creative, so if your idea well is running dry, find some people out there who are killing it. Stolen ideas I’ve had recently: a series on Facebook and a question/answer message where students text in questions to be answered live in the service.

Hit the majors. There are certain topics we are going to cover every year in our youth group. The majors for us would be things like friendship and purity. We make sure that specific perennial topics are being covered, though we might change the number of weeks or the voice speaking so it always feels fresh.

Excited to unpack these and much more at my NYWC seminars this weekend, too!


There’s a great new app I just downloaded that was created by a youth pastor for youth pastors. RJ is a middle school youth pastor who has come up with a great way to use his iPhone for ministry. He’s the creator of YS’ MyGuitar app and just released Clips, an app with you in mind. I got a chance to talk with him about this project and future stuff he’s got cooking for us next:

Can you give everyone a 15-second description of Clips?
My new app (check it out right here on iTunes) is all about helping people engage with the Bible by using scenes from great films. It’s an app for pastors, small group leaders, youth workers, and parents. Clips tells you what scenes to use, what topics you could teach, the verses you could use, and even some potential discussion questions.

Where did you get the idea for CLIPS?
I always love when I can use movie scenes in my message. The Videos that Teach books have been one of my most used and most given away resource. I use it; our small group leaders use it. With the iPhone, I thought that an app like this could actually be even more helpful because leaders could have it with them wherever they go.

You’re a youth pastor. Tell us how someone might use the app in the trenches of their youth work?
This fall our middle school ministry is doing a series called “Now Showing:” where we take movies and teach through big ideas from the scripture using movie scenes. I often use the app when I’m writing a message and feel like it needs something else to help illustrate a point. In the next school year, many of our small group leaders will have the resource as an option for curriculum leading their small groups. I’ve even had one student leader use it in his school-led bible study groups to help with the discussion. Pastors, volunteers, and students can all find use from the app. I’m also hoping to see parents begin using the app as a tool for discussions with their families while they watch movies.

You can’t actually watch the videos from the device with a simple touch which is the only part I didn’t love about it. Is that a feature that is coming by chance? What other kind of updates are you working on in the future?
Unfortunately due to licensing, I can’t actually have the videos on the device. I’m working on figuring out some creative solutions to that problem, but at this point it’s still trial and error.

The updates that I’m working on right now … for sure the movie library needs to grow so I’m working on building that app as much as possible and we’ll be adding a “suggest a clip” feature so users can help me generate ideas. In one of the next versions Scripture readings will be built into the app, too.

As for updates that are further down the road I for sure want to find a solution for watching the movie scenes right on the device and also making Clips a universal app for iPhone and iPad.

That’d be awesome – I’m iPad2 all the way so universal is a must. So it costs a couple bucks to get Clips – any chance you’ll give me a few free codes to giveaway on iTunes to whoever reads this first?

Yes. It’d be cool if youth pastors gave the codes away to their volunteers. First come first serve on these: FMF9N9JP7KK3 and T99RT3MHJ7RH

*codes expire after 28 days or as soon as Clips gets updated

Thanks for that, man! I’ll save one for Twitter randomly this afternoon, too. So Clips is incredible, what’s next for you? Got another cool one cooking?
I’ve been trying to focus on ministry-related apps since its a niche that my code skills intersect with my passion for youth ministry. At this moment, I’m focusing on some of the bigger updates that I’d like to see happen in Clips so that it can become one of the go-to resources on the iPhone. There are also some cool apps that may be coming for potential clients, but I’ve been asked to not share those. I try to primarily do my iPhone stuff on days off from church-work so between updating Clips and client work, I haven’t worried much about turning my other ideas into apps.

Shameless plug: I also blog (www.rjgrune.com).

Dude, I’ll subscribe to you right now. Thanks for your time!


Last night as I was blowing up balloons for a game, setting up chairs, and looking for one final illustration for my lesson, I had a weird thought — Did Jesus ever have to prepare a lesson? Seriously… Jesus is one of the greatest teachers ever and gave us history’s most enduring sermons. Yet you never see Jesus writing out his lessons or sermons. You don’t see Him looking up on the internet for the latest illustrations. So how was his teaching so amazing?

It wasn’t just that He was the Son of God. I think we just dismiss the amazing things Jesus did because He was fully divine. To excuse ourselves, we conveniently forget that He was also fully human. He did not come to wow us with his divine-ness, he came to show us the way through his human-ness. So, how did he teach so well?

1. He was intimately connected with the Father
He knew what was on God’s heart. His speaking came from that relationship, to the point where the words Jesus spoke were not His words but God’s. His relationship with the Father was so close that his teaching just flowed from that.

2. He cared about the listener’s needs, not his needs
We see time and again Jesus addressing what the listener needs to hear, not what would make him a popular speaker. Many times he said things that alienated people, but they needed to hear it. Other times, he said seemingly random things that addressed needs that people didn’t even know they had. Its not that He was being “seeker-sensitive”, its that He was being “needs-sensitive.”

3. He spoke with authority
He didn’t need to impress or convince, his words were authoritative and final. Even those that disagreed with him could not merely dismiss him.

4. He used illustrations from stuff around him
From a mustard seed to a withered fig tree, He pointed to everyday things and shared deeper truths from them. It wasn’t complicated, it was simple.

5. He stayed on mission.
Jesus did not get sidetracked by unimportant issues. He didn’t follow political debates. He didn’t discuss random bits of scripture. Everything he talked about pointed to the cross.

My point in all of this is that maybe we are focusing on the wrong things when we teach and preach, and instead look at how Jesus approached his teaching. I don’t think he spent much preparing his lessons. Instead, they flowed out of his relationship with God, were honed by the needs of the people he was speaking with, supported by the authority given to him by the Father, used common illustrations that his listeners could connect to, and always pointed back to the true reason he was here. We need to keep those ideas in mind as we prepare our own sermons and lessons.

Bill Nance is the Minister to Students and Families at Amazing Grace Christian Church in Grove City, OH. Read about his life and learnings at http://billnance.org or on Twitter @YMConvo.

Here’s the #1 reason that people attend a particular church – based on a survey of over 8,000 people upon the completion of Saddleback’s new members class.

#1 — Preaching and Teaching
THIS is the biggest reason people choose one church over another – the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. I’m sure it has some to do with content and some to do with style – but regardless it is the most important distinctive between churches. The conversations “how was the pastor’s message” isn’t just dining room table talk – its real and it matters. It certainly isn’t fair … but this list is just a presentation of reality and nothing more. So according to this research – the teaching at church is the central strength or weakness.

Youth ministry application: You don’t have to be the world’s best communicator, but you need to be good and getting better every week. Use volunteers who are solid communicators. Don’t be afraid to use video curriculum or try a style way outside of what is normal. The preaching and teaching of God’s Word is central in the health and growth of the church. Sermon preparation and your personal time with God are critically important to success.


Doug Fields, Josh Griffin, Katie Edwards and Matt McGill return for episode 160. The gang quickly jump into your questions about: Doug’s blog, a volunteer dating students, teaching help, picking volunteers for events, student leadership conference, depression and suicide, and feeling bad about leaving a ministry.