Millennial Preaching in a Traditional Setting

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It shouldn’t be working.  Yet work it does.

There is nothing flashy about Sundays at our church.  We sit in pews, surrounded by stained glass, singing hymns, and listening to a sermon usually delivered without slides or video.  It is all rather traditional.   Yet, week after week young adults, Millennials, fill our sanctuary.  It shouldn’t be working.  Yet work it does.  And when I ask why, they often tell me it is because of the preaching.  Please note, it’s the preaching, not the preacher.  Here are some things I have learned:

1. Be biblically and theologically sound.

Those of the Millennial generation will respond to preaching that is biblically and theologically sound. They are diverse with regard to worship styles and ministry interests but they respond to preaching that is rooted in Scriptural truth.

Not long ago a young woman, a visitor, was waiting for me after services, She and her family were searching for a new church after their preacher and congregational leadership had declared the view that the Bible wasn’t their rule of faith. She stood in front of me in tears and said, “Please tell me there is a church that still believes in the Bible.” I was able to assure her our congregation certainly did and that (by the grace of God) I was getting ready to launch a new preaching series about Basic Christianity with a sermon entitled simply “I Believe in the Bible.” They ended up joining and are now teaching those timeless truths to our children and youth.

People will tell you that these younger adults are shallow and unfocused. Don’t believe it.  They want depth and substance.  They are smart and engaged.  They ask serious faith questions and don’t accept simplistic answers.  If we want them to listen, our preaching must take the Bible seriously and the preacher should be knowledgeable and well prepared. As preachers we need to bring our “A Game” because quality matters.

2. Be authentic.

In addition, these younger Christians value authenticity in preaching.   Most of us who are preachers also serve as pastors of local congregations. When our congregation sees us out in the community they want to know that we are the same person they see at church. Millennials, in particular, seem to have a finely tuned “fake” radar and will know if that isn’t the case.   The way we live brings credibility to our proclamation by demonstrating that we truly believe the things we say. We need to be open and honest in our preaching; sharing our own joys and sorrows.   I tell our people constantly that I apply the sermon to myself before share it with them. We want to convey a sense of preaching “with” and “alongside of” not preaching “at” or “to” our congregation.  Being genuine trumps being cool every time.

3. Offer a challenge.

Finally, Millennials want to commit their lives to something that has meaning.  Our preaching must challenge them accordingly.  They want to be inspired to worship a great God and be motivated to live out their lives in honor of that God.   Preachers need to make an appeal for a specific response, not a vague attitude.  The sooner the action can be taken, the better.  For example, recently we have followed the sermon with opportunities to personally identify someone to share Christ with during the coming week, to pray for forgiveness and reconciliation, to participate in a mission project, and certainly, to receive Christ. The invitation varies from week to week but we try to keep immediate opportunities in front of our people and are working at doing more. Our preaching must be transformational, not merely informational.

The great thing about these concepts is that they apply in most settings.  They also apply cross-generationally.  They aren’t just for Millennials, they are for the millennia.  For thousands of years people have been responding to faithful preaching of the Word of God.  As Paul reminds us: “Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:21, New Living Translation).”

It shouldn’t be working.  Yet work it does.  Thanks be to God.

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Jim is the Senior Pastor at Madison United Methodist Church in Madison, MS. A second career pastor, he previously worked in disaster response and Emergency Management. A native of South Florida, he is a University of Miami Hurricanes grad and also holds degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi and Asbury Theological Seminary. He is married to Margaret and they have one son Mike and a new daughter in law, Kailey.

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