Less Message Writing and More Relationship Building by Phil Bell


Recently, I was reading back through Generation iY by Tim Elmore. He convicted me that I spend too much time writing my messages. Here’s why:

They [students] want a guide on the side before they want a sage on the stage. … Keep in mind that young people today are not necessarily looking for experts, especially if they are plastic and untouchable. They would rather have someone authentic come alongside them. When students were recently asked about their heroes, for the first time in twenty years they did not list an athlete at the top of their list. Their number one response was “mom and dad.” They hunger more for relationship than information—even relevant information. They are accustomed to learning on a need to know basis—but their need to know will increase if a person they trust and know well is the one sharing the information.

For anyone working with students today, this is a challenging statement that requires us to pause, reflect, and consider how we can best reach students with the life-changing message of the gospel. Tim Elmore is making a case for less message preparation time and more relational investment in students. But what would that look like? 

1) My best message preparation time is “contact time”: Of course I need to sit down, seek God, and create effective messages that communicate God’s truth to students. However, I wonder what impact would you and I have if we cut back on our message-planning time to meet with students in their world. You see, our messages hold more weight when students know and trust us. And our talks will break through to their hearts when we know them better—their cares, their concerns, their guilt, and their dreams. Trust comes from relationships formed over time. There are no shortcuts.

2) I don’t need to be perfect, but I do need to be authentic. Our students would rather we be authentic than polished. I would even go as far as to say that students don’t trust speakers who are too polished. It can cause them to doubt our authenticity.

3) Authentic messages are best prepared in our own hearts first. Authenticity comes from passion—in the topics we engage, in our students’ lives, and in our own spiritual development. Are we honestly growing in our own faith walk before we expect it from our students? They will sniff out a bogus faith walk in no time at all. How are you actively pursuing God in your daily routine?

4) Volunteer youth workers have always been important, but now their influence is essential! Since Millennials would rather have a “guide on the side” than a “sage on the stage,” it’s more important than ever that we teach, train, and encourage volunteer youth workers like never before. Many of us know that we can’t do ministry without great volunteers. But if we are honest, our ministries still revolve around the paid worker or workers. This needs to change. As a paid youth worker, I need to cut back on my message prep time and invest more time into my volunteers.

5) Mom and Dad are not just the greatest influencers, they are heroes! If you have been around the Sticky Faith movement or family based youth ministry models, you know that parents are still the greatest influencers in a student’s life. But that still doesn’t quite get to the role parents play in their kids’ lives. Parents can be heroes to students. Yet I often hear youth workers casting the parents as villains (sometimes for good reason, but not always). What would happen if we saw parents as heroes, too? What would happen if we were to publicly and persistently hold parents up as heroes, especially to our students? What would happen between students if their parents played a crucial role in our ministries?

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