I was speaking recently to a group of youth leaders and children’s leaders that were feeling the heavy pressure of having to decide week after week what to talk about in their ministry. They were feeling desperate to have something fresh, new, engaging and relevant each week.
This is a lot of pressure for any preacher or teacher.
They wanted to know the nuts and bolts of how to decide what to preach, week after week.

So here is some advice from the trenches:

1. Pray
God is faithful, He’s got something for you and His people, His creation. He’s got a word for us. Therefore, pray God would highlight what word you are to share. Tell God you will be faithful to share what He shows you.
Ask yourself these questions:
What’s God been highlighting to you in His Word?
What’s God teaching you or revealing to you that you could share?
What’s God highlighting about “your” people and their needs, their dreams, their reality and how does God want to speak His love and truth into this?

2. Ask the people what they want to talk about
This can lead to engaging sermons and devos! Put out a question box for people to anonymously share their questions and topics they want to see addressed, use a survey (e.g. survey monkey) to poll your audience, ask them for ideas and get them to write them down and put them in the offering plate, get them to share ideas with you on social media, in small groups and one-on-one ask them what they want to see addressed during services, youth group or kids’ ministry.

3. Involve others
Behind the scenes – invite the other leaders around you (volunteer, paid or from other churches/ministries) to share their creative ideas, their insight to topics, articles they’ve read and ask them what needs they see in your kids, students, families, and community. In addition, share the microphone, allow leaders to take turns preaching and teaching, invite students to try out speaking with support from you. You don’t own the microphone, you are a steward of the microphone.

4. Look at culture
Look at the issues, news, local events and media around you. What are people Instagram-ing about? What are current music and TV shows saying about the longings, desires, and hearts of people? How can you speak God’s love and perspective into these current happenings and longings?
One my favourite things to do with youth and kids is to take a popular song and help them think it through in terms of how it lines up with God’s Word and God’s ways.
Another idea is to use the international justice and celebration days for topics – International Women’s Day, Universal Children’s Day, Black History Month, National Aboriginal Day…

5. Have a plan
Having a schedule for your sermon/devos series greatly helps. It takes a lot of the pressure off because you know what it coming ahead of time – in terms of the upcoming Bible passages and topics. This allows you time to gather ideas, resources, background information, and your thoughts. I find just knowing what is coming up for a sermon/devo series allows my mind to be percolating on the Scripture and topic. My mind will often turn it over while I’m out on a run or when a surfing through social media and I see a quote or article that relates to the topic. I have a document where I gather and save those ideas ahead of time.

Make sure to keep track, over time, of the topics and Scriptures you’ve covered to ensure you’re not getting stuck on your “pet” topics or Scriptures.
In the high school ministry where I served the leaders and I, after much discussion, came up with seven bedrock areas we want to make sure our students were solid in by the time they graduated from high school. On a spreadsheet, I kept track of those seven areas – each time a devo was given I’d check off which of those seven areas it fit into, so I could make sure we were actually covering all seven areas well. I also kept track of which Bible passages we were covering to make sure we were giving students a good, solid overview of Scripture.

In addition, don’t be afraid of using a kids’, youth or even church-wide curriculum. You can find some curriculum recommendations from Atlantic Canadian leaders here, click on the “give me some curriculum” button: http://cbacyf.ca/resources/. In these curriculum people have already done the work of decided the topics and thinking through a scope and sequence for you. Here’s a previous blog on how to select good curriculum for your context: http://cbacyf.ca/oneneighbourhood/2015/09/10/which-one-selecting-curriculum

Bonus – Two really quick preaching tips…

1.  Understandable – make sure your language and explanations are understandable to someone who doesn’t know Jesus and is unfamiliar with the faith. I remember one night at youth group a kid responding in shock and horror because I said the name “Jesus Christ.” This young man had only ever heard those two words as a swear word, so I had to explain I wasn’t swearing and took the time to explain Jesus a little more. God wants to use you to reach people that don’t know Him, so start using language and explanations that will make sense to someone that knows nothing about church, the Bible, and God.

2. Application – All our teaching and preaching should help people see God more clearly and know how to join God in their lives – internally, externally, individually and communally. The goal is to allow God’s Sprit to transform peoples’ lives, it is to help them not just be hearers of the word, but doers of the word. Please make sure all your sermons and devos help people with the application. In other words, having heard you message, answer the questions – “So what? What difference will it make to my life and to those around me tomorrow? How will this change how I live?”

I always have “joining God in our neighbourhoods” in mind as I prepare, and ask “How will this help people join God in their lives?”

Hope this helps.