Our newly acquired daughter-in-law had not been raised in a Christian home. She joined in Sunday worship with a vigor and interest that thrilled us. Each Sunday after and during dinner she questioned us about the sermon. She lapped up information like a sponge gobbles up water.
One morning our pastor was away and a well-learned professor preached. At dinner we asked, “Wasn’t he great? We learned so much.”
The kids answered quickly “He was okay but we’ll be glad when pastor returns. He speaks so that we can understand.”
Simplicity is not a lack of knowledge. Communication of a pastor to a young person will open the way to influence.
Each young person is different. He or she will not be like the pastor’s children or others in the congregation. When placed in a box they come bursting forth with something we’ve never heard about before. Yet, in many ways they have problems in common. If young persons know understanding and acceptance they will listen and learn.
One college student said, “There are two things that will make us stop listening to a preacher. First, we can tell immediately when he is talking down to us as kids. He almost shakes his finger and uses words and phrases such as “when you grow up.” We can grasp that he looks at us as children he must command, frighten and talk down to. We love it when he gets down to our level and talks to us as young adults which we are. Second, his self-righteous and judgemental attitude is saying, “When you grow up, you can hope to be as holy or spiritual as I. We know he’s made mistakes too.”
You may not be a youth pastor and “tuned in” to children and young people. You may be the only pastor and laden with ministry to all groups and ages. You may have grown children and not even be particularly happy to preach to kids but feel a burden to do it anyway. How can you be more effective?
The youth groups and Sunday school classes I’ve enjoyed have had much to say about the pastor. There are ways to hear what they are talking about.
Go to the Sunday school classes, ask for fifteen minutes and sit down with them. Ask what they’d like to hear sermons about. Give out questionaires with places to record their fears, hurts, worries, inquiries and needs. They may feel better writing it than talking in front of their friends. Don’t ask for signed papers.
Be observant, listen to their conversation as you pass by in the hall. Ask your own children what troubles their friends. Consult the youth pastor, if you have one, about what he sees as good preaching material. Jotting down notes as you hear anecdotes and opinions and disagreements will add up to a volume of material that would otherwise be forgotten. Just listening to your own children or grandchildren when they are not aware will also add subjects you’ve not thought about.
Youth don’t need eloquent subjects. They need to be spoken to “where they stand today.” Our youngest college age son attended church one morning as usual. He did not normally discuss the sermon and looked quite bored throughout. That morning the pastor spoke on “lying.” All the way home our son raved about the sermon. “Boy, did I get a lot from that,” he said. “I wish more pastors preached on things we kids have trouble with.” The minister had used anecdotes from his own life. There is nothing more interesting than to hear how his own pastor had solved a problem.
Use stories from friends and family (with permission). Tell them how you did something as a young person to hurt someone, embarrass your family, broke God’s laws. Share with them your own hurt or suffering. As you admit you are not super-holy you will win them to listen and share too.
Sometimes a pastor can state his convictions but leave an open end for disagreement. He can quote scripture but add sometimes there are differing views on the passage. “I personally like this one and I’ll tell you why,” will catch the interest of the youth who has thought of it differently.
“Five Cries of Youth” by Merton P. Strommen shares ways youth express their needs. He explains that some youth “are extremely critical of everyone and everything around them; some plunge into a flurry of service activities or secede from the world by spending every possible moment before the TV. Some turn their backs on friends and family, seeming to shut them out. Others surround themselves with a screen of cheerful insults, jokes, and high-pitched laughter. Still others are caught in a new religious ardor that seems unnatural to their parents.”
Yet, they have needs that need to be spoken about. The time of sharing leaves little by little as small children become teens. Parents, pastors and teachers need to look for fresh ways to find out what troubles the kids in our churches. One day I remarked to my son, “You have so many things to be thankful for. I wouldn’t think you had cares about anything.” He replied, “Mom, you don’t know half the things I worry about.”
Strommen suggests several concerns of youth, including family unity, parental understanding, family pressures, life partner, lack of self confidence, academic problems and personal faults. Just recently our college son remarked, “Suddenly I realize I’m twenty two and I must make up my mind as to my future vocation this fall. I’m not married, I’m a long way from home, and it all scares me.” A sermon on how a college student determines the will of God when he’s about to leave school would be great for him just now.
Recently a young person I know said, “I love it when our pastor correlates his messge to my everyday living.” Sometimes that pastor thinks he might insult the Christian families if he speaks on the things of the world that have come into his church. Yet, they are there.
My son and our pastor’s son were best friends. They attended a weekend conference for youth. Returning home, my son said, “Mom, we could have had any drugs we wanted. The place was full of it and most of the rooms were full of partying kids at night.” Drugs are part of the church. One dear friend found her lovely, Christian daughter was having sexual relations with another boy in church. Fornication and adultery are carried on within our church families. A faithful family in our church returned home from church to find their son dead in the family car in the garage. Suicide takes place in our church families too. The summer camp was shaken by the fact that many of the kids brought beer for the weekend and gave it to others. Our pastors need to deal with these issues in the pulpit and in the classrooms so that young people are aware they are not purposely pushing it aside.
Six young people were on a TV panel I observed speaking on how to prevent pregnancy. Each gave his or her solution to the question of unwanted babies. Abortion and contraceptives were talked about. One young gal sat quietly listening. Finally, in the midst of the confusion she said simply, “It’s so easy. All we have to do is stay away from what is wrong. Don’t break God’s law.” All were silent. I wondered if her pastor’s preaching had helped her in her stand for right.
Many of our kids are leaving church and Sunday school because they find no friendship there. Yet, in seven moves about the country I’ve never heard a sermon on the subject. In youth groups and Sunday school classes I watch the kids who are “different.” They know they are just outside the inner circle, yet don’t know why. There’s a sermon here for both the in and the out kid. Christian kids can be the coldest, most uninterested people in church toward the outsider. They can turn that needy young person out into the world.
One young person recently told me, “I love it when the pastor cracks a joke and the congregation ripples with chuckles.” I’ve heard my own kids laugh aloud at a funny story the pastor told. Then, when the serious times came, they were prepared to listen.
Another young person said, “I don’t like my pastor to talk over my head assuming I know what he’s getting at.” Terminology is important.
There are many kids eager and even desperate to know what being a Christian means. My husband remarked, “It was over many sermons and talks that my pastor gave when I was a teenager that in one of them I knew I wanted to accept Jesus into my heart.” Kids need to be told simply and often this most important issue of life.
After the pastor has tried different methods of communicating with youth, there is one more way to receive support, information and love from them. Once in awhile you might suggest, “Hey, if you have any feedback on my sermons let’s hear it. Write me a letter. Call by phone or meet me somewhere. I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.”
This opens communication wide and along with the feedback will tumble out hurts and needs. A pastor can speak things parents and friends cannot. He is a messenger sent by God.

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