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Why Your Students Should Preach and How You Can Make Sure They’re Successful

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Something interesting happens when you believe in your students…

They believe you.

I have ten interns. They’re all juniors and seniors in high school and most receive school credit for their internship. It’s not an easy gig though. I ask them to do some pretty significant things. Like plan and lead a community service project, organize a bible study for their peers and preach a message in our weekly service.

That’s right. My students preach! And when I say preach, I mean, they preach! We’re talking about a thirty-minute exegetical message that’s practical, illustrated, rehearsed, and ends with a powerful altar experience.

Sound daunting for a high school student? It is.

It’s also messy, thrilling, raw, fun and highly experimental.

I freaking love it.   

Have you ever seen a student preach with fire in her eyes and authority in her voice?

I have.

Caroline’s Message

One of my interns named Caroline Harrington shared with our group recently about the power found in God’s promises. Here’s a snapshot:

“I have some experiences from my past that make me struggle with trusting people. That’s why I find such great comfort in the promise-keeping nature of God. I can trust him over my circumstances. Promise contradicts circumstance.”

Are you stinking kidding me? Who says stuff like that?? She came up with that line on her own, and many more. Can somebody say Christine Caine 2.0? #worldchanger #theyrenotready #letsgo

I sat in the front row and watched Caroline speak with crazy passion. I was glued.

You know who else was glued? Her friends. She was anointed. Our students heard her heart, heard her story and heard her excitement for Jesus. They heard her talk about her daily prayer time on the drive to school. They heard about her struggles and her mistakes, and they heard about the faithfulness of God.

She challenged them to take it to heart, and they did. They flooded the altars.

It was beautiful.

That night all I could think was “This is unreal. And I couldn’t have done that.”

We can do so many things as youth workers. But we cannot share the Gospel from the perspective of a student, a native to the public high school, a friend and a trusted voice that’s in the trenches with their peers.

And I’ve quickly realized that I’m not the only one hearing from God.

My students are praying. Praying hard. And they’re hearing God speak to them clearly. Who am I to discount that God may want to speak through them instead of me?

When I read scripture, I see Jesus using others all of the time. And he loved to throw his disciples into the deep end. Oftentimes they sank…literally. But that would lead to a teaching moment, and then another…

Could it be that we don’t give our students the mic because we don’t trust them? Or maybe we don’t trust the Holy Spirit? It’s almost as if we’re depending more on the person speaking than the Spirit of God that will speak through them.

There’s No Jr. Holy Spirit

Bill Johnson has a sobering quote: “There is no such thing as a Jr. Holy Spirit.”

The same Spirit that speaks through me speaks through Caroline. The only difference is that Caroline gets to be apart of the story and gets to grow in her faith and her gifts.

I’m not expecting perfection from my students. I’m expecting miracles.

Jesus used the unexpected and the unqualified to do the unimaginable.

Peter’s heart was pounding out of his chest as he preached to a bustling crowd of thousands in a foreign city. Terrifying! I can’t imagine… The nerves, the anxiety, the personal insecurities and the identity crisis going on inside of his head…

But then thousands surrendered their lives to Jesus. Thousands! With Peter at the “mic.”

What. A. Moment.

And Peter had that moment because Jesus believed in him, because Paul believed in him, and because the Spirit of God spoke through him.

Do you believe in your students enough to hand them the mic?

Do you trust the Holy Spirit to speak through your students?

What if our students are bored with Church because we keep telling them to sit down shut up and take notes?”

Our students spend the majority of their time sitting in a seat watching us lead.    

What if it should be reversed? What if our students should be the ones on stage and we should be the ones sitting down watching them?

Oftentimes the youth worker functions like the quarterback instead of the coach. But when the game-winning pass gets thrown, who would you want on the field?

I’m not advocating that we give the mic away to random students. I don’t. Only my core students speak. I believe the preaching of the Gospel is a special and precious opportunity that should be taken seriously. But with the right training and preparation students can preach effectively to their peers.

HERE’S HOW I GIVE THE MIC AWAY AND HERE’S HOW I COACH MY STUDENTS SO THAT THEY’RE SUCCESSFUL WHEN THEY PREACH:

(1) I ask my students to pray over their message carefully

They ask God what they should share with our group in the context of our monthly series.

(2) I ask them to plan their message around their passion

They join us in our message planning time at the start of the year. They share their thoughts and ideas with us and then we plug it into our calendar. Our students are given months to prepare their message.

(3) I ask them to prepare their message intentionally

I meet personally with each of them three times for at least one hour. You may think “how do you find the time for that?” When you aren’t preparing messages every week, it frees you up to coach others with theirs.

Here’s the layout of our meetings:

Meeting #1: I assign them a passage and instruct them how to prepare. I then schedule a second meeting and request their manuscript two weeks prior.

Meeting #2: We walk through their manuscript and I help them clarify their message. “What’s the main idea? How do you want to end? What do you need from me and our team to be successful?” We then schedule our third meeting, and I ask for footage of them preaching (to a camera) two weeks prior.

Meeting #3: We walk through the footage together and focus on refining their presentation and delivery.

I also ask my intern to meet with me for 1-2 hours before they speak that night. I help them work through all of their nerves and talk them through any hang-ups they may still have in their message. By the time they get to the pulpit they’re chomping at the bit and can’t wait to preach!

Here are some common tips I give students when it comes to presentation:

  • 90% of communication is body language. Preach with your face and your body.
  • Vary the tone of your voice. Be loud and be soft-spoken. Speak quickly and slowly. Pause for effect. Never be monotone.
  • Act like the mic is an ice cream cone, it should be close enough to take a lick.
  • Memorize the first five minutes. Make them answer the question, “Would I want to have coffee with this person?” If the answer is yes, you’ve won them.
  • Memorize the conclusion. Know exactly how your message will end.

We promote our interns the same way we promote a high-profile guest speaker. This year, I can’t wait to hear my interns speak! Their messages are my favorites. Would you believe me if I told you that I’m a different person because of the messages my interns have preached to me?

When my next intern speaks, I’ll be in the front row again with a pen and paper. But I won’t be there to critique them. I’ll be there to hear from Jesus.


ROB GILLEN is the High School & College Age Pastor at Christian Life Assembly in Camp Hill, PA and has served in student ministries for 10 years. He has his Masters in theological studies and he’s an Adjunct Professor at the University of Valley Forge. Rob and his wife Kara parent a son and two beautiful daughters.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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