So you have been asked to preach. Pretty exciting, isn’t it? Unnerving too. Most kids pastors don’t get to preach very often, if ever. What you may have learned about preaching in seminary has either been forgotten or become quite rusty. If that’s the case, here is a primer featuring six key steps to take as you prepare to preach, and then as you preach, God’s Word.
1. Choose Your Approach
One of your first, and more important, decisions is the approach you will take when you preach. You have two options: a kids ministry approach or an adult approach. Here’s what I mean.
In a kids ministry approach, your goal is to give the adults a snapshot of what happens in kids ministry. Your sermon that day would therefore be full of illustrations, visuals, and even group participation. In essence, you are crafting a typical kids experience, just with adults in the place of your kids. The advantage of this approach is that it helps cast vision for your kids ministry. But there is a downside, and it is a big one. A worship gathering is not designed to be a commercial, no matter how noble the reason. Worship and preaching are weighty. Unless you have been asked to take this approach by your pastor, I would opt for the next approach.
In an adult approach, your goal is to preach God’s Word as your pastor would any other week. This approach honors the intent of a worship gathering and the preaching of Scripture but it also has another important secondary win beyond that. In many churches, the kids pastor is seen as a second-tier pastor—not a “real” pastor. The more your people see you handling the Scripture seriously and demonstrating love, wisdom, and passion as you preach, the more they will come to see you as they should—as a “true” pastor. Plus, it will help parents trust and appreciate your spiritual leadership over their children all the more.
2. Choose Your Text
When you sit down to decide the text you will preach, it is so tempting to think through recent lessons you may have taught in your kids ministry, find a good one, and preach that. Resist that urge. While you may end up with that text, there is a much better approach.
Preaching is not about the one preaching; it’s about the ones hearing the preaching. In other words, the congregation must be our starting point. That lesson you recently taught may have been great for you. It may have been great for your kids. But it might not be what the congregation needs. Spend time praying about that last part: what does the congregation need to hear? What gospel truth do they need to understand better or be reminded of? Let that drive the text that you select.
I need to mention one other major caution here. Whatever you do, do not start with an illustration and design a sermon around it. We are called to preach the gospel using illustrations, not to preach illustrations using the gospel.
3. Discover the Meaning
This is where the hard work—and the great fun—of preaching begins. Once you have selected the text, it is time to discover its meaning. This should not be foreign to us; we should do this whenever we teach anyone of any age.
First, you want to read the surrounding context of the passage you are preaching—preferably the entire book it is in. This is important because the Bible is not a collection of stand-along passages, grouped randomly. The writer of each book had a purpose in writing—he was crafting an argument. Our goal is to understand what that goal was and how the passage we are preaching fits within it.
Second, you want to understand the three “worlds” of the text: the world behind the text, the world of the text, and the world in front of the text.(1) The world behind the text is the context that the original audience may have understood that informs what was written. For example, if you are preaching from 1 John, you need to understand the Gnostic threat to the church. If you are preaching from Matthew, you need to know that this Gospel was written to a Jewish audience. The world of the text concerns the text itself. The grammar and vocabulary used. The argument being made. The basic meaning. The world in front of the text is what is most often neglected. This is the ideal world that the writer presented. This is the reason the writer wrote what he did—what he was doing with the text. Every passage is calling our attention to the ways of God—His intention for how we are to live. This is the world in front of the text.
An example might help. Think of Matthew’s genealogy at the start of his Gospel. The world behind the text would include knowing the Jewish audience and understanding as much as we can about the individuals mentioned in the genealogy. The world of the text would notice the cadence of the genealogy and how it is broken five times to include women. The world in front of the text would then ask what Matthew’s purpose was in beginning with the genealogy and structuring it the way he did: to link his Gospel to the Old Testament and to highlight that God has always used all people—men and women, Jew and Gentile (three, if not four, of the women mentioned were Gentiles—even broken people, in His purposes and that he will bring all people together in Jesus. That message is important because it sets the stage for all that follows in the Gospel.
4. Follow the Text
You have the text and you know what it means—what you need to communicate to the congregation. Now it is time to structure the sermon. The temptation is to break the sermon into three parts, and then add an introduction and a conclusion. Once again, resist the natural urge. You might end up there, but you might not.
Don’t force the text into a generic sermon structure, no matter how common it is. Rather, structure the sermon around the text. If the text drives to two parts, have two parts in your sermon, not three. If you are preaching a story, don’t structure the sermon around ideas at all; structure the sermon based on the movements of the story. Follow wherever the text leads.
That includes your tone too. If the text is one of joy and celebration, let that drive how you preach. If the text is one of lament, preach with a disposition that aligns with that. The Bible includes different genres and moods for a reason–match your sermon with those of your text.
5. Find Your Voice
A common mistake among preachers is to copy the style of their favorite preachers—the ones they listen to regularly. Once more, resist the urge to do this. There is nothing wrong with listening to great preachers—they are a gift from God. But don’t be them; be you. Appreciate others. Learn from others. But let others be others. You be you. Bring your own personality and style to your sermon.
6. Exalt Jesus
I would be remiss if I failed to remind you of the most important part of preaching—making much of Jesus. Care for the congregation and serve them well. Let your own personality shine through the sermon. But when it is all said and done, you want the congregation to leave in greater awe of and with deeper love for Christ. That is the beacon you are pursuing. Let all of the journey—preparation and presentation—drive toward that lofty goal.
- For more about this, see Abraham Kuruvilla. Privilege the Text: A Theological Hermeneutic for Preaching. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2013.)
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to Lifeway. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.