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Bridging The Age Gap: How to Preach When You're Younger than the Congregation

By Peter Theodore
Be Yourself: Don't preach yourself, but be yourself (cf. 2 Cor. 4:5). A yielded, natural vessel is more impressive than a contrived image. While "being real" is especially crucial to today's youth, authenticity is a requisite for addressing all ages. A superficial and insincere performance is easily detected. Besides, preaching inherently involves proclaiming God's truth through a preacher's unique personality.

When I hear a good speaker, I ask myself, "What makes him effective?" Perhaps it's the crisp transitions, poignant truth, measured inflections, or vivid wordsmithing. I used to focus on incorporating the best qualities into my own speaking. It was a compliment to hear, "You sound like ____________ (insert name of favorite preacher)!"

I've since realized that great sermons flow from great preachers. I want to be known for who God made me to be. Although we should learn from others, we shouldn't robotically emulate them any more than Paul did John.

The break-through came after delivering a particularly lucid sermon. As customary during the drive home, my wife and I candidly discussed the sermon. "That was your best! You were totally yourself ... your personality and passions came through!" I was able to connect because I was being real. Preachers don't need to portray themselves as older, more mature, or more experienced. In fact, as we carry ourselves into the pulpit, we should forget ourselves and thus find the freedom we need to bridge the age gap.

III. After the Sermon

Evaluate Rigorously: Thorough self-evaluation can't be over-emphasized. The tendency after a sermon is to file it and dive into the next text. But Sunday's sermon isn't over until you've assessed it while it's fresh on your mind. All preachers should regularly step back and assess their preaching. When you have a particular challenge like adjusting to an age discrepancy, it's even more important.

Like preaching, football's post-game comment isn't as exciting as the pre-game show, but it's more effective in pinpointing ways to improve performance the next game. An audio or video tape, sermon notes, memory, and a favorite checklist are the only necessary tools to facilitate this process.

Based on the points of this article, you could explore several areas as a starting point: Is there evidence of personal spiritual growth? Was a relational element involved? Did I demonstrate familiarity with the congregation? Was there solid biblical content? How did my manuscript help me and how should I adjust? Is there something I can learn from another's experience? Did I display humility? Were my illustrations effective? Was it apparent that I was being authentic? What can I learn from this experience? How did others perceive me? The hour or two invested in this weekly assignment will reward you and the congregation.

Solicit Input: Since we can never be entirely objective in self-evaluation, other mature believers should be sought for formal or informal evaluation -- something more than the customary "great sermon" on the way out the door. It was a help to me when I could ask for honest input from an older man and woman in my former church. Even when guest speaking or as an associate pastor, I sometimes ask other ministers for their comments. A gracious spouse, of course, is a valuable asset too. She should know you intimately and be honest, but don't rely on this alone.

It impressed me when a gifted pastor once gave me an evaluation form and asked me to critique him during a series of messages. That pastor wanted to know how he was connecting with the teenagers in his flock! I've also given out copies of that same form. Not everything is useful, but outside perceptions are good to know. It can even build a bridge with the eldest skeptic.

Don't worry that your evaluators aren't seminary trained or haven't read the latest issue of Preaching. All you need to know is if the Word of God is being delivered in a way that is clear and compels people toward growth. If so, the age barriers have been broken!

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