By Brandon F. Babcock
1. Speak the same language as your audience
To be clear, the students were not referring to someone speaking in Spanish to a Spanish-speaking audience. No, they were referring to the style and phraseology of communication. It is important for them that the speaker to knows what we might say is the contextual nature of their audience, namely the cultural language that the audience speaks (in their case, youth culture). This observation is important to remember, especially as you go further in education, and take undergraduate or even seminary-level theology courses. The youth group sermon should not be the place that you show off how much Greek or Hebrew you learned in class, or how many words you know that end in “ology.” Rather, to be effective with that all of that knowledge we learned in class, we must take what we have learned, and express it in a style and phraseology that the youth experience. Why? To them, that is a good communicator. Or maybe even more enticing, they might be more inclined to pay attention.
2. Look at the audience, not your notes
Eye contact. Eye contact. Eye contact. As a youth pastor, I often give some of the younger adult–leaders in our group a chance to preach with our youth, and in evaluating their sermons, the stress on eye contact is the one thing that I continue to mention, and apparently my students notice this too. Youth care about non-verbal communication. They believe a good communicator communicates with more than words. How can we improve on this observation? One of my professors in seminary said that if you need notes to preach your sermon, then you are not ready to preach. I would not go this far with youth. However, the wisdom in what he said is true. Preparation matters. As you prepare, make sure some of the preparation time is practicing the sermon delivery, especially look out rather than down. According to my students, they would rather I look at them when I preach than read them an essay.
3. Self confidence / self presentation
This last observation, like the one before, is really about non-verbal communication, and in this case, what the audience sees when you speak. All of the students stressed the importance of how one carries oneself when he or she is in front of the crowd. I will always remember wise words from a different homiletics professor: your sermon starts the moment you step foot on the stage. What he meant by this statement was that people are judging what you have to say by the way you approach the pulpit. They notice when you clear your throat, when your scratch your nose, if you are nervous, if you are unorganized. In other words, you are saying a lot before you even say one word. We must make sure that we are well-groomed and that our dress is one step above what we consider casual. Even if we are trying to stay young in our style of appearance, we can still make the effort to be a little more put together than our students. Why? They notice. Then, when we do speak, make sure your preparation was enough for you to own your sermon. After all, it is yours, so deliver it confidently.
Before your deliver your next message, make sure your words will speak at or with your audience’s style or phraseology, make sure you practice looking out not down, and take the time to present yourself well, verbally and non-verbally.