I’m a person who struggles to go outside in the sun without my sunglasses. It’s frustrating when I walk out the door and slide on my sunnies only to find that the lens is all smudged with fingerprints!
This distorts how I view the world (and makes me grumpy about having blurry vision), but it’s my own fault as I don’t take enough care and end up mishandling my glasses.
When we teach the Bible to young people, it’s like we’re handing out ‘gospel glasses’. Our teaching can have a big impact on their worldview and if we’re not careful we can inadvertently hand out gospel glasses that are covered in our smudgy fingerprints.
Indeed, Paul encourages Timothy, and the rest of us in teaching roles, to do our best to correctly handle the word of truth: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).”
Here are six ways to work towards teaching the gospel clearly to young people.
Work hard at context
Understanding the context of a passage is so important because it gives you a clearer understanding of what the author was intending to teach. When we neglect this step, we can end up placing our own meaning on a passage and applying it in a misdirected way.
Context is crucial for clarity when it comes to teaching the Bible! This doesn’t mean our youth need us to bore them with the geopolitical context of each passage we teach them. It does mean, if we’re going to avoid accidentally distorting their worldview, we need to do the work on context to be clear on what the passage intends to teach us.
Be creative, but not at the expense of clarity
Creativity is a gift from our creative God. Everyone loves it when the preacher shows a little extra creativity in communicating their message. Giving young people visual and tangible ways of engaging with the Bible teaching can really help them connect the truths of the gospel with their head, heart and hands. But sometimes, in our well-intended efforts to be creative, a mistake we can make is to be creative at the expense of clarity.
When our creative ideas are too complex it can be confusing or distracting for young people, making it harder for them to clearly grasp what we’re trying to teach. When it comes to teaching the Bible both creatively AND clearly, simple is just about always better.
Have one big idea
When I was still learning to teach the Bible as a youth ministry trainee, there are two things in particular that my boss said to me that have stuck in my mind. The first was in a conversation that went like this…
Boss: “Matt, if you throw five tennis balls at a young person simultaneously, will they catch them all?”
Me: “Ummm … I doubt it … Maybe some people will catch one or perhaps two if they’re good.”
Boss: “That’s right! But if you throw one beach ball to them, is it more likely they’ll catch it?”
When teaching the gospel there are all sorts of interesting and good points you could make in your 10-15 minutes, but if they are unrelated it can end up being confusing, and chances are that only one or two of them at the most are going to be remembered by your young audience. There’s a much better chance of the listeners going away having clearly understood something from the Bible if you have one big idea that all the supporting points you make are designed to affirm.
Cut it out
The second lesson from my boss was, “The clearest and best Bible talks are determined by what is on the cutting room floor”. So, don’t be afraid to cut out superfluous material from your teaching!
So many times, I have spent hours crafting an element of teaching only to realise upon reflection that though it sounds good, it’s superfluous. Just extra words that don’t achieve much beside fogging up the gospel glasses I’m trying to hand out. We’re often loathed to hit the delete button after spending so much time and energy crafting our teaching. But at the end of the day, my boss was right—if it’s only clouding the message, we need to cut it out.
Be clear what the gospel actually is
Whenever we’re calling young people to respond or engage with the gospel, we must ensure that we clearly communicate what the gospel actually is.
A few years ago, I took my youth group to a local youth event where the people up the front kept reminding us that “We’re here tonight for just one reason! There’s only one name under heaven by which we can be saved”. The problem was they never got around to telling us whose name it was! Of course, we know that it’s Jesus who saves us. But assuming all 400 teenagers who were there on the night understood this meant those who didn’t fully understand were either left in the dark or left to insert whatever name they thought best.
For the sake of handing out clear gospel glasses, we need to make sure we always articulate what the gospel is.
Trust God’s ability to speak more than your own
The best thing we can do to ensure clarity in our teaching is to rely on the words of the Bible as they are written. We need to trust less in our own ability to explain the gospel clearly, and more in God’s ability to speak the gospel clearly in the first place. After all, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)”. It doesn’t become useful once we explain it clearly, it already is.
So, as you seek to help the youth in your church be clear on the gospel, what areas do you need to be conscious of in your teaching to ensure the gospel glasses you’re handing out aren’t inadvertently covered in smudges?