Tom French is an experienced and gifted Bible teacher, who has been a speaker on PY camps numerous times. He’s currently a youth minister for a combined church youth group in Melbourne, and has worked and done talks for lots of big parachurch organisations in Australia.
But even the most experienced givers of Bible talks had to start somewhere, and Tom remembers the first time he was ever asked to preach. It didn’t go well…
“I was so intimidated by preaching that I decided not to preach. So I played a piece of music and told people to think about God, which is not a good talk. But it was a nice piece of music!”
Many youth leaders feel similarly intimidated when asked to give their first talk at youth group.
But as Tom told PY when we spoke recently, it doesn’t have to be so scary. It is possible to prepare and give a talk without totally freaking out! Here’s how he goes about it – maybe we can learn from him?
Where do you start?
Tom starts his talk preparation in a great place – with the Bible.
“I’ll get the passage and I’ll read it in lots of different translations, because I’m not very good with the Greek. That helps me figure out what stands out to me. What are the big questions?”
After Tom has wrestled with the passage himself for a while, reading and praying through it, he’ll then turn to what other people have to say.
“I’ll read a bunch of commentaries. And at that point I revisit my big idea and what I think the talk is going to be about. Then I’ll listen to a bunch of sermons and then I might revisit again. And then once that’s done, then I get down to actually creating a talk.”
This might sound like a lot of work, but Tom says that even consulting just one or two books on a passage is a great way to make sure that you’ve got the main ideas of the passage clear in your head. He recommends the Bible Speaks Today or the For Everyone series of commentaries as a good starting point. (Youth leaders: your minister is likely to have a number of great books they could lend you!)
Getting it written out
Next, Tom does something interesting: he goes for a drive.
On that drive, Tom will speak out loud about the passage to himself. “I figure that since a talk is a spoken medium, it’s better to start by speaking than writing,” he explains. After that, he’ll come home and start putting ideas down on the page.
Tom does initially write his talk out in full, but with over a decade of experience behind him, he’s now confident to reduce his talk down to just the key points. But he says it’s totally fine to need to rely on a full manuscript – it’s better to be confident than try and push yourself to just go off notes.
All up, Tom estimates he spends eight to ten hours on preparing a talk these days, but he does think it probably used to be closer to fifteen hours.
Busy youth leaders, who may have university or work commitments on top of their voluntary ministry, might think these sounds like a lot of time. But with plenty of notice and advance warning, this might break down to just a couple of hours a week over a few weeks to get a solid talk written.
How do you relate to the teenagers?
Some youth leaders worry that even if they themselves are only in their early 20s, they’re already considered ‘old’, ‘irrelevant’ or ‘uncool’ by the teens they’re speaking too. But Tom has words of assurance for those who worry about this.
“Once you’re about 21, you’re just stalled. And so I don’t think you should worry about whether or not you’re going to be cool, because you’re not going to be cool! So one of the best things you can do is actually before you even get out of the front. Be genuine with the young people. Join in the games, chat with them in small groups, and get to know them. Then they’re going to be excited that you’re giving the talk even if you’re not the most exciting person in world. Don’t try to be cool – be genuine.”
Getting up the front
What about when it comes to actually standing up and giving the talk? Many people struggle with nerves and ‘stage fright’ at this point, especially because teenagers aren’t always the most forgiving audiences.
Tom never used to feel anxious about giving a talk, but recently he has had to deal with some new feelings of fear about standing up in front of a crowd.
He says what has been helpful for him is to remind himself that when his heart races and his adrenaline increases, that’s actually his body getting ready to respond.
“So I think, I can channel this energy into the ‘fight’ of giving a good talk, rather than flight. Now when I get nervous I say to myself, great, your body’s getting ready.”
Trust in the Spirit
Not sure if the talk was good, or feel like you really missed the mark? Above all else, Tom wants you to remember that God will do his work anyway.
“Ultimately when you give a talk, it’s the Holy Spirit, who’s going to do the work and not you. So your job is to be faithful as you teach the Bible and the Holy Spirit will convict people and apply the Bible to their hearts. And so if you do a terrible job or a great job in the end, it’s the Holy Spirit who’s going to be at work.
So you don’t need to stress too much. Just ask the Holy Spirit to get to work and trust that he’ll do it.”
Want to learn more from Tom about writing and delivering great Bible talks?
Tom has written a book all about this topic, called Talks That Don’t Suck – and he’s giving it away for free on his website! Simply pop in your email address and you’ll get a copy of Tom’s helpful, practical and entertaining book.
Thanks Tom for sharing your ideas with us, and for offering this free book up to youth leaders!