Written by Nathan Huff
Writing is difficult, especially when it comes to putting your words to something that impacts the Kingdom of God. I have a friend who, in our third-year class on the gospel of Mark, was so nervous to do the weekly reading write-ups because he said, “Who am I to summarize and present God’s Holy word?” Although this may seem silly at first—it’s just writing 2-page summaries of a chapter in Mark—there is some thoughtful reflection behind it.
When approaching God’s Word, we must do so carefully and from a posture of respect—and as youth leaders and pastors we should do so even more. Scripture warns us, as those in leadership, that we should be careful, for God will judge us more harshly. Why? We are the presenters and holders of His holy word and command.
With all this in mind, I am proposing 5 steps on how to prepare a devotional message for youth and young adults. These steps are not the “be all, end all” on how to approach and prepare Scripture for a youth and young adults setting, they are just a few tips I have found useful over the past years of my own ministry experience.
Step 1: Pray
It seems redundant and common knowledge as Christians—let alone leaders and pastors—but I don’t think it happens enough. Prayer is so important when approaching a devotion or message. Think about it, shouldn’t we have God’s direction, guidance, and approval on what we are sharing? Especially seeing as it is His words and all? I usually start praying a day or two before I even touch my study Bible or lay my hands on a keyboard, and I also pray through the process. Each step I take should be in consultation with the Lord.
Step 2: Context is key!
If I learned anything from my four years spent studying Scripture and theology at university it can be summed up as, “CONTEXT CONTEXT CONTEXT!” This is crucial no matter what you are doing, from personal devotions, group devotions or a message in front of people. I try to always keep three contexts in mind to help me navigate through Scripture.
1) Jewish/Early Church Context: What was the original audience hearing? How would they view this passage? This causes you to take off your 21st century Nikes and slip on your 1st-century sandals.
2) Jesus Context: If Christ is the climax of Scripture, then all is either pointing to Him or looking back at Him.
3) My Context: Knowing and keeping in mind the past two context perspectives, how then do I apply this passage to my life and the life of the Church, His bride and People?
Step 3: Walk through the Scripture (aka verse by verse)
This step is simple. Sit down and walk through the passage, writing out notes on what you see. Take each verse one at a time and just jot down 3-5 points on each verse. This will help you see the overall collective idea of the passage and how it all fits together.
Step 4: Consult other sources
Don’t be afraid to look at commentaries. They are there to help you and not to harm you. The people who have written them have spent a lifetime studying God’s word, and in my case they know the OG languages way better than I ever will. So just use them, please. And reach out to a few people in your circle of ministry who you see as spiritual mentors or advisors, send them what you are thinking and writing, and see if they can track what you are saying. I have a couple close friends who look over everything I do before I do it.
Step 5: Write it all out!
I have found that after a day spent praying it is extremely helpful to simply spend a couple hours just pounding out the generals of what I am going to say. By getting it out of my head onto the page, it makes my thoughts flow better and I can see if it actually makes sense in physical form rather than theory.
Now, like I said, these steps are merely suggestions—they are not written on tablets engraved by the holy hand of God. They are just some steps that I have found useful when approaching God’s Word in order to share, teach, preach, and shepherd. I hope you find them useful, and most of all, make them yours. If you tweak them or add some more to the list, that is totally fine.
And most of all may we continue to seek to be God’s children of love, citizens of His Kingdom, messengers of His glory, His grace, and His gospel. May we live in the shadow of His cross, filled by His Spirit and shaped by His hands.