Effectively preaching to all generations

Most pastors know there is not a target audience when it comes to preaching God’s Word. It is our job to preach to all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even so, preaching in ways that feed all our sheep, regardless of age, takes intentionality and effort. So how can we, as pastors, accomplish this? Here are a handful of things to keep in mind as you plan and prepare your sermons:

God’s Word is living and active.

Preacher, we can take great comfort in the fact our message does not originate with us. We have all preached a clunker of a sermon and been beyond surprised when someone approaches us and says, “Pastor, the Lord used that in a mighty way in my life.” I am always grateful for moments like this, as they remind me God’s Word is living and active. As we craft sermons for all ages, take comfort in knowing God can use all of it. Be faithful to the text and watch what He does.

Stages and ages do not always match.

We recently baptized a 72-year-old man who came to know the Lord out of agnosticism. The man knows very little of Christianity, but he knows the Lord. In the same congregation, we have a 15-year-old student who could teach deep theological truths to some of our adult classes. What does that tell us? Many of our older members need to hear simple truth, and many of our children need theological depth.

You or we?

Seminary professor Greg Wills once told a pastor friend of mine he could tell he only thought about his own generation when he preached and that he was missing a chance to communicate to the older generation. Wills explained that older generations respond more to preaching delivered in the second person (“You need to do better” or “Jesus loves you”). Younger generations—millennials and Gen Z—are more responsive when addressed in first person (“We need to do better” or “We are loved by God”). As a result, I will alternate point of view based on which age I want to communicate to in any particular moment.

Hide a few ‘Easter eggs’ in your sermon.

I have four kids under age 10. We also have 1.2 million kids at our church each week (or so it seems). It is not only hard for parents to keep their elementary kids quiet (I thank the Lord for these kids every time I hear them, by the way), but to keep them engaged. So I started hiding word Easter eggs in the sermon and telling kids about it. I will tell the kids something like, “Hey I am going to say ‘booger’ in the sermon today. See if you can find it.” This has worked really well. Kids victoriously come up to me all the time to tell me they heard my word, and when I ask them what part of the sermon it was in, they can usually tell me.

Provide varied application for the same point.

Demonstrate how truth affects different generations. For example, when talking about trying to find hope in the wrong things, you might say, “Teens, we may think that sitting at that other lunch table will fix us. Parents, we may think that if we just had a little more cushion in the savings account, that will fix things. Older brothers and sisters, you may think, ‘Things will be better if all my grandkids come home for Christmas.’ But Christians know the hope and fulfillment we are all seeking can only be found in Jesus.” Changing perspectives like this does two things. First, it provides specific application for each generation. Secondly—and this is powerful—it allows each generation to realize it must depend on Jesus Christ at every stage of life and reminds each generation about what the other generations might be thinking. Parents and grandparents are reminded how hard it is to be a teen. Kids hear that parents struggle as well. Our older generation is reminded how stressful it is to be a parent.

As ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are called to serve and preach to all people. As we craft our sermons, we should consider how the text can best be heard and applied by all generations in our church.

Senior Pastor
Matt Bowles
Ovilla Road Baptist Church
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