John Piper, Matt Chandler, and R.C. Sproul Were at My Youth Group Last Night

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John Piper, Matt Chandler, and R.C. Sproul were at my youth group last night (or so I preached like they were). If I’m totally honest, I have to admit that on more than one occasion I have aimed to preach to my students in such a way that if any one of those three guys walked in the room, they would’ve been impressed, and they’d also probably ask me to join their team on the spot.

I am ashamed to admit that there have been times when I have prepared my sermon and its application in ways that I hoped would impress or imitate my heroes in the faith. My sinful desire of self-exaltation and my need for affirmation have often taken this gift from God – ministry – and used it to prop myself up in hopes of preaching fame, instead of the means by which my students would flourish and grow more into the knowledge and love of Christ.

When it comes to preaching to students, I offer three areas I believe have helped me as I seek to exalt Jesus far above anything or anyone else (including myself).

1.It’s More Than OKAY to Just be You: God formed you in your mother’s womb in such a way as to first, glorify Him in all you do, but also to use your God-given life and voice to reach the people He has called YOU to reach. The temptation of our culture is to pursue the life and success of someone else. This is such a snare of Satan. His intent is to drag us more and more away from being conformed into the image of Christ, and thus, draw us away from our purpose of being who God has called us to be.

In my own life, striving to be more like someone else in my preaching and ministry ultimately declared that I would rather be formed more into the image of that person than the image of Christ.

I can remember times when I repeated an illustration from another pastor, whether comedic or serious, and it fell upon confused faces. The illustration wasn’t bad in and of itself, but while that pastor had probably prayed about how the illustration might relate to his own life, how it would impact his congregation within their current context, I had just ripped it right out of the “Apposphere.” My students didn’t need the latest Matt Chandler quote, what they needed was a Student Pastor who had spent time in fervent prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help him understand the passage in a way that communicated the truths of God’s Word through his own experiences, with “his” voice, all while keeping in mind the varying issues and lives of the students God gave him to shepherd.

Witnessing other pastors receive affirmation from their sermons or their well-formed statements of gospel truths, led me to believe the lie that I would be more affirmed and influential parroting them, instead of being who God created me to be.

At the core of my heart, I failed to believe that my identity in Christ was enough. I have the full love and affection of the Father through Christ Jesus. It is this God who has called me out of darkness, into His marvelous light to proclaim the Gospel using my voice, my experiences, and my prayers in order to – by God’s Grace – reach the people He has called me to reach.

2. Pray and Pray Often: This has been one of the biggest areas of my life where the Holy Spirit has shown me my desperate need for Him in prayer. I’m ashamed to admit that at times, my prayer life has been more about coming to the Lord at the last minute for “help” in preaching His Word, or for a quick illustration that would really “drive home my main point,” rather than for the purpose of spending time in His presence. I sometimes have the tendency to treat God like a sermon or teaching genie, who’s manifold wisdom would give me the proper words to succeed. God in his grace has been rescuing me from this temptation in prayer.

Over the past year and a half, my prayer life has become more about just being with God. A few months ago, I had the privilege of seeing Francis Chan speak at a church planting conference. He described the angels in Revelation 4:8, who day in and day out, 24/7, are in the presence of God and declaring, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” I had always viewed that passage and those angels from more of a functional role: “this is just what they do, the specific role God made them for.” All of this is true, but Chan really brought out the glory of the passage when he said, “where else would they rather be?” Meaning, where else in all the Universe would the angels rather be but in the presence of the Almighty God? He tied that to his prayer life.

This both rocked me and convicted me. There are so many other places I have wanted to be instead of in the presence of God. By God’s grace, my prayer life and my desire to be near Him through prayer have grown immensely over the last several years. I have found that these are the times that have come to bear weight in my sermons or teaching times with students. In prayer, the Holy Spirit has comforted me in who I am as a child of God; given me direction for my life, family, and ministry; convicted me of my sin; given me application for teaching or preaching; and put certain people on my heart to pray for and connect with.

My time of prayer has become one of my most coveted times.

3. Preach the Word: Our pastor, Brent Wildeson, often says that the only part of his sermon he for sure knows is perfect is when he reads from the Bible. We have the Word of the Living God, and He has seen it fit to use people like you and me to communicate the truths of His Word to the nations. What a blessing and honor to have this privilege!

Preaching God’s Word must come from reading God’s Word in our own personal lives. I have become a better preacher of God’s Word due to my time spent in His Word. My time in the Word is where the Holy Spirit tends to give me ideas for sermons, or reminds me about theology and doctrine that need to be taught to my students – theology that ends up being exactly what our ministry needed during that particular season.

The Word of God is the bread of life to a hungry generation, starving from the toxic waste our culture feeds them. Each student is different, each ministry and region of the world has different needs. But the root issue of sin is a global problem, one we all face, whether from Chambersburg, PA or Taipei, Taiwan. The Bible addresses our issue of sin and the hope we have in Jesus of being rescued from that sin.

Preach the Word with the voice God has given you.

My prayer is that Student Pastors across the world would to seek to be who God has created them to be, humble themselves in fervent prayer before the Father, and boldly declare the Good News of Jesus. I pray that a generation would rise up to proclaim what Paul says is of first importance, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Jesus is our only hope in life and death. May we proclaim Him and Him alone all the days of our lives.

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