Preaching and Application to Various Ages and Stages of God’s People

Greg Strand – June 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Cameron Cole, director of youth ministries at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, and the chairman of Rooted: Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry, writes to all those who are serious about passing on the gospel to the next generation. In light of this he asks, “what do we need to learn from youth about how we preach?” And he follows with “six suggestions youth would offer to their pastors.”

  1. We don’t know what sanctification means, but we know about the process of growing in grace.
  2. If you are personally vulnerable, we will listen to what you have to say.
  3. We can’t hear you when you’re yelling.
  4. Sometimes you talk as if we are not in the room.
  5. We are all postmodern, unlike many of our pastors.
  6. Tell me how this affects me right now.

Two extremes that ought to be avoided: 1) to think that one cannot learn anything from youth, while the other is 2) to attempt to become one of them, to be hip or cool.

What is one to make of these “six suggestions” when preaching considering there are young people present in the congregation? And remember, since this is the gathered people of God, the church, and not just youth group, there are also old people, which means all ages and stages are represented. I asked a young person who is engaged in vocational ministry (music/worship and youth) to give me his thoughts about these six suggestions. This is the way I framed my question.

As you know, I am concerned about the many who are raised in Evangelical homes and churches that leave the faith completely once they leave home. I don’t want to suggest that if we simply follow a formula we are guaranteed that young people will be Christians. That is contrary to what we believe about the need to be “born again” (Jn. 3:3, 5). But then again, God uses means, and two essential means are the home and the church. We need to consider seriously what we are doing and how we are doing it that either builds into or establishes a trajectory away from the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3).

This is his response:

I agree-and I think many churches do need to realize they’re aiming at a target that’s 30+ years old. I read that one earlier this morning as well, and appreciated it. I think it’s part of the reason the Sr. Pastor wanted me to come here. I’ve noticed the younger people do a much better job listening when I’m preaching. I don’t think this means every point should be aimed at young people, but some of them need to be if we are really going to preach to a whole congregation.

To which I gave a final reply.

It is a matter of being sensitive to the people with whom you are ministering and to whom you are teaching/preaching. It is the same truth from the Bible, but it must be appropriately applied based on the ages and stages of life, both physically and spiritually. Biblical truth is “one size fits all,” while application is not. Most are unaware of the necessity of distinguishing between the two or they are too lazy to do the hard work of thinking through the truth specifically in the lives of those who make up the congregation.

This also means that preaching that applies to specific people of the local congregation requires that there be a pastoral relationship with them so that the pastor who is preaching knows the ups and downs, the joys and struggles of specific people at various stages of life and maturity. Though teaching in a seminary classroom focuses on the “one size fits all,” with forays into the application, preaching requires both. This is why conference speaking/preaching, as good as it is, is always general in its application. So while these conferences are good and helpful, they are not very good exemplars of preaching in and to people in a local church.

Take a look at William Perkins’ extremely insightful and helpful “Use and Application” (Chapter 7)  and “Varieties of Application” (Chapter 8):  from his book The Art of Prophesying, by which he means preaching.

What do you think of the article? How would you respond? What would you add to this dialogue?

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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