There are great talkers… and then there are great talks.
As a director of a student environment, I want our ministry to have both. I want great talks, delivered by great talkers.
You might be a great talker, but that doesn’t mean you always give a great talk.
You might be entertaining.
You might be funny.
Your middle schoolers might have listened.
They might have even applauded as you walked off the stage.
Those things might be good qualifications for a good Vegas show. But they do not mean you did a great ministry “talk.”
So let’s talk about how I judge the quality of a “talk” in one of our environments.
I believe great talks are 80% prep and 20% execution. With that in mind, I’m looking for three main things in a good “talk”: Build the Tension, Give a Clear Answer, and Give a Meaningful Challenge.
#1 BUILD THE TENSION
Back in my teaching years, one teaching strategy we learned was the “Anticipatory Set.” Basically, this means that we give kids a problem that is challenging enough to make them want to learn how to solve it. We can use the same principle when we’re building a “talk.”
How? First, ask yourself “Why do they care to hear what I’m about to say?” This is the hardest part, at least for me, because, as an adult, it can be difficult to get inside a middle schooler’s head!
Then, tell a good story. (Hmmm, storytelling tips would make a great series of posts, too!) Everyone loves to hear a story – especially when it’s about you! So tell a story. Tell it well…. draw it out… build the tension… and then…
#2 GIVE A CLEAR ANSWER
When you’ve told your story, presented your problem, built your tension, and finally get your audience in the palm of your hand… don’t blow it! Give them a clear answer.
You’ve got to use this crucial moment to bring them back to Scripture and give them a clear answer to take away from your talk. You’ve built up to this moment with your storytelling… now don’t blow it by making a loose connection to Scripture! Have you ever heard a talk where it seemed like the speaker was more interested in telling a cool story than teaching kids what God has to say? (Yeah. Did I punch you in the gut there? Just so you know, I just punched myself too.)
Your Scripture for the day should be the clear answer to the tension you build during your talk
Your truth of the day should be the thing you are most excited to tell them about.
Your point, your clear answer, your resolution of the tension, should be clear and memorable.
If you’re still unsure of how exactly you are going to land your message… don’t you dare grab a microphone yet! You still have work to do.
(And, listen, don’t tell me you’re just walking onstage, expecting the Spirit to lead you. He will lead you during your prep time! Don’t use “the Spirit” as an excuse to be lazy as you prepare your talks.)
#3 GIVE A MEANINGFUL CHALLENGE
So you’ve presented a problem. You’ve built the tension. Your audience was waiting with baited breath to hear your big answer to the problem. And now… well, now it’s time to remember that Middle Schoolers aren’t the best at applying what they have learned. Check that… people aren’t the best at applying what they have learned.
Don’t be content with just presenting an applicable truth. Challenge them to do something with it.
Make sure that the challenge you give them is difficult. If it’s easy, it won’t inspire them. It needs to make them a little uncomfortable. God does amazing things with uncomfortable people! But the challenge also needs to be possible. Make sure it can be done. Then, when they succeed at your challenge, it will actually stick!
The challenge should also be objective. You should be able to measure it or now, clearly, whether or not a kid has accomplished it. Did you, or didn’t you? Don’t challenge them to “lean into God’s word.” That’s too vague. Challenge them to “read the Bible for 10 minutes a day, 5-6 days a week.” They can do that. That’s measurable.
I hope this quick two-part series has been helpful. Here at North Point, we think it’s so important to prepare great talks that actually connect with middle schoolers. There is so much more to say about this subject. But we’ll get to that some other time.