source: | 2000 Games, Devotions, Themes, Ideas and more for Youth Work
only for private using

Devotion - yes.... but how?

How to talk*, or how to prepare devotions?

In 1995 I was asked by a camp team to present a little seminar on the theme: "How to present a devotion!" Devotion is known as a "talk" here, which is why I gave the seminar the title "How to talk".

While writing down everything which is important to me and everything I must be aware of, the script just grew and grew and grew ... none of the members of staff probably read the script ... now they have second chance to read it on the internet:

*Note: This script is really worth reading and is perfect for staff training in a staff circle. This is why it is worth reading through.

Jesus died for you The aim of this seminar is not meant to be that everyone copies the “Ralpf style” of presenting a devotion but that everyone develops their own personal method of presenting. It takes a long time and many devotions to develop your own devotion presentation style but that is not important. In contrast to an artist where the oil painting or picture is at the centre of attention and is evaluated and decided how much money it is worth at the end, our objective is different: Our presentation may be forgotten and we may be forgotten ourselves but maybe you have sown a little seed of faith in the hearts of the youths. That may be invisible but exactly that is the important thing. Therefore if we have the possibility to present a talk to 10-30 youths (which unfortunately happens far too seldom) the only thing which is important in the method is the best way to reach their hearts, how we speak their language and how we bring it across. In doing this, lots of mistakes must be made personally (everyone has to make a real mess of a talk at some time); however you can learn from lots of my mistakes. I would like to split this seminar into two strictly separate sections: On one side, the things which apply to all of us because they are based on the biblical truth and on the other side everything which has become important along the way and has helped me a lot.

1. The Jesus Training

If the aim is to teach other people how to reach God, obviously you will not get around using the bible. How did Jesus do this with his members of staff? Did he teach them? The bible tells us that the disciples almost always accompanied Jesus. They saw his miracles and his authority and listened to his sermons and talks. They experienced God intensively in this time. Mark 6, 7-13, 30-33 (Matthew 10, Luke 9) now tell us that Jesus trained his disciples. Mark 6, 7-13, 30 -33 7Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil[b] spirits. 8These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, and no money in your belts. 9Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. 10Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them." 12They went out and preached that people should repent. 13They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

30The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." 32So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. Jesus did not just carry his disciples around as appendixes or Sherpas, but prepared them specifically for the task ahead of them: when he ascended to heaven.

The astonishing thing is how Jesus goes about doing this:

He takes them everywhere with him.

They see how to speak to the people through Jesus and how to exorcise the bad spirits. Jesus includes them in everything. Even an uneducated fisherman can learn how to preach! How many more opportunities do you have? Jesus believes in you. Jesus could have probably offered a better service in the villages but he trusted his members of staff that they would do a good job. Jesus also believes that you can speak to others for him! (Keith Green once said: "Lots of Christians say that God never explicitly told them to be missionaries. However Jesus gave is the missionary command and I ask the question the other way round: Did Jesus tell you that you should leave it be?")

Jesus gives his members of staff concrete instructions.

Jesus tells them what they have to be aware of in detail: It starts with the underpants, through the back pocket, into the rucksack and down into the shoes. He also gives them instructions about what to do if people do not take them seriously... Jesus prepares his disciples thoroughly and does not leave out any difficulties.

Later he will tell them that there will be difficult times ahead: Persecution and death. Jesus does not leave out any uncomfortable things. The disciples know what to expect: + and -.

Learning by doing

Jesus sends his disciples off on their way. They can only learn by practicing. The disciples are also sent off in twos. Jesus makes sure that they have company. This is why all of you need a Christian community where you can learn about corrective measures and build confidence (circles, Habakkuk...). In L'Amelie you have it even better- You are already in a team of 10-12.


They tell Jesus later how it went. Jesus as God obviously does not need a report, he knows everything anyway. It is therefore more probable that the disciples received corrections from Jesus while telling their stories. Then they can do it better next time. You can only learn from mistakes if they are criticised truthfully and constructively. If you do not receive any resonance ask, otherwise you will not learn anything.


After the assignment Jesus sees the tiredness among the disciples. At the end of the camp at the latest, you will have experienced what it means to carry responsibility for two weeks and to give everything. However Jesus does not now say: "Boys, you have to recover. I’ll invite you all to Club Med! Then you can relax a little by the pool." Jesus knows what they really need. He goes to a bleak place with them. There is absolutely nothing in this place. No pool, no bar, no people! It’s ideal for finding calmness, to get new energy from God and to give thanks for the assignment. This is surely a place of prayer. (What does this mean to the camp leader?)

Jesus trains his disciples with a hard training program.

It does not only last two weeks, but a lifetime. It is filled with challenges and new tasks. Every disciple reaches his limits (think about Paul!). God would like to educate, train and equip us for life as a Christian. On this camp maybe you will experience for the first time ever (or 20th time) what it means to give 2 weeks of your life 100% to God. This requires energy and challenges everything, but it is probably the best time in the whole year.

2. Why devotion (talks)?

The main question we have to ask ourselves when appearing before people to tell them something is always: what do I want to achieve? We will therefore also ask first of all: what is my own personal goal when presenting a talk on a camp? What do I want to achieve? Do we only do these talks because they are simply part of a Christian camp? Then it will be difficult to bring across any sparks of enthusiasm among the youths (in the sense of: Other things are more important!) Something which I force myself to do will hardly come across positively. However if we are in the same boat as the disciples we have a good starting point: I have experienced big things with God - I know that my life can only be fulfilled if Jesus is in it - a life bursting at the seams! - I know that only he can set us free from everything which drags us down. I believe that he died for me so that I can a new faith in life through him. I have the guarantee that he is always there and that Jesus is my rock when everyone else has left me. Jesus loves me and treasures me; I am worth a lot in his eyes - so much that he gave up his life for me. Jesus believes in me and gives me a lot of homework. Since I belong to him I do not need to have any fears because everything which happens is better for me.

If your listeners feel that there are deep lying experiences behind your talk, then it is a thousand times more inviting than every well formed sentence because they notice that you have something which they are lacking. We cannot do any more or any less, than to invite people! God wants to present them with something and we give them the invitation. Once again: We cannot convert anybody! Each person decides on a change deep in their own hearts! This is why this is not a seminar in: "Converting people made easy".

We should however invite people and show them how they can find a fulfilled life with Jesus by being an example. "Inviting made easy", but with the most adventurous means and all summoning love!

3. Who will be listening to the talk?

If we want to invite a Czech to our birthday party then we obviously won’t invite him in Spanish! The best intentions and the most fantastic words don’t work if the other does not understand the meaning! It is elementary that we speak in a language and with pictures which the others understand! Church English is probably more foreign to the youths than Czech! We now have to ask ourselves the question: Who is my target group? What type of people do I want to tell about God and what do they think? What is their language and their world? (This is why we always buy a copy of the BRAVO, in secret of course, so that my friends do not see. Embarrassing, embarrassing...)!

A nice example of how to tune into the listener’s world can be found in the Acts of the Apostles:

Acts 17, 22-25: 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. 24"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

Paul went through Athens looking for connections so that he could tell the educated philosophers of Athens about Jesus. He watched out and found a statue called the “unknown God”. That would become his link.

1. Then people of Athens would understand this, it was their statue after all.

2. Paul spoke to the people of Athens in their philosophical language.

A super example of the various ways in which we can reach people with the Evangelism. We therefore need to know our target group! If this is bible work for youths, children or adults then they are usually Christians and you can introduce a bible text without any worries. If I preparing a speech for a church service then I need to reach a wide spectrum of people who probably aren't adverse to the church! In our case this is a talk on a youth camp?

Most of the people we are speaking to are not Christians and don't have a lot to do with the church! It will therefore be evangelical, spreading the joyful message and invitation. If I start off really devout they will start running! Maybe it will be enough for them if I just read a passage from the bible and they will shut off. You must find a way of making the talk exciting, interesting and colourful so that the youths listen to you.

For the participants who have already accepted Jesus, the devotion will not be a new thing but it always does good to hear the joyful message once again. How such a talk should be presented is open to options: It might be a talk where everyone just listens, you might use pictures, and it might be presented outdoors (a starry night sky has a tranquil effect), it might be a drama piece or a puppet theatre.

4. What can we expect?

Lots of Christians today shy away from telling others about their faith because they think that it is unfair to put their own beliefs onto others. This shows intolerance. All well and good but if the first Christians had had the same opinion there would probably just a little sect of people of Nazareth in Jerusalem today and we wouldn’t be sitting around a Christmas tree but would be celebrating the winter solstice with Thor (the Germanic guru). Apart from this, with all respect to tolerance, that was not Jesus’ will because he said in:

Mark 16: 15He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Jesus wants his message from the cross, the reconciliation between God and the people, his resurrection, the infinitive victory over death, the possibility of a fulfilled life and an eternal life with God, to be carried throughout the world. Yes, God places the destiny of these youths on the L’Amelie camp a little more into your hands. How can we carry this message across to the people? No mystical acts or rites are required; the only thing that counts is telling, annunciation and preaching:

1. Corinthians 1, 21 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him; God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

According to Paul we do not have to be clever and wise to find Jesus. A silly simple sermon is enough. God to the people in devotion – talks to them.

Romans 10, 17 consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

In long realisation about the folk of Israel Paul works on the Roman letter stating that faith grows with annunciation. God wants to use your talk to present people with a new life. He wants to save people from being spoilt and he wants youths to be led towards faith and to grow in their faith. And God surely plays as large a part as you. You have the most important and largest job in the history of the world in front of you and the largest power in the world has promised to help you and do most of the work. What alternative do we have than to do our smaller part well with all of our effort? It will not be like Billy Graham that everyone jumps to the front and is converted (I don’t know if Alfred would be strong enough to withstand that - in his team!). Maybe only one youth will trust Jesus in peace and in his heart and say a prayer, and then the whole camp has been worth it. Jesus was also teased and Paul was thrown into jail several times but a few did find their faith and it was therefore worth it.

The sheer weight of the job lies in front of you along with this heavy promise. The motto of a Younglife Camp is: We want to acquire the right to be heard! The youths should experience the fantastic program and listen with interest when we tell them why we have put ourselves out for them for months on end and then paid for the camp as well. They will already notice a member of staff’s faith. However the whole program comes to the crunch in the 10 minutes of the evening in which Jesus is announced. With the help of 10 -15 members of staff we have finally managed it: The youths are finally listening to you.

You now have the right to talk. What shall we say then? The annunciation is at the heart of the day!

It is no wonder that more preparation is required for these 10 minutes than any other 10 minutes in the day.

5. Preparing a talk

Devotion / Subject order

On a camp we have the chance to lead people towards Jesus in the 1-3 weeks. This happens in little steps, in small portions so that everyone has enough time to work through what they have heard and experienced. This is why the subject matter of the talks is split into a certain order. The individual talks build on each other. This obviously makes sense because how can I talk about the fact that Jesus died for us when I have not explained what sin and separation from God means (death!)? How can I say that Jesus will take you sins away if I have never said that he himself was without sin? It is therefore important that the talks are strung together like a pearl necklace. The spiritual team usually uses this type of sequence: e.g.:

1. Evening – does God exist?
2. Evening - Jesus was a very special person!
3. Evening – sin means: "separation from God"
4. Evening – Jesus died on the cross for you
5. Evening - Jesus conquers death – the resurrection
6. Evening.....

That is the work of the spiritual team. It is now important for the members of staff that each talker formulates the main subject of his presentation for all members of staff (writes them down on a piece of paper). This message must come across in the talk and secondly, it gives you the chance to come back to your talk and link it to the next evening.


Even if I have prepared the best talk with great pictures after which all of the participants come and pat me on the shoulder and say "that was great, Ralpf!" if it has not stayed in their hearts 6 months later it wasn't worth it! Who can make it have an effect??? God alone! What did Jesus do before he spoke to the people? Jesus went up on a mountain to pray!

He prayed that he would receive the strength to carry out his job. However prayer is not only important so that God gives us strength, examples and a group of responsive listeners. What we want to achieve is that people recognise deep in their hearts what an unusual offer makes to humans and the great price he paid for this.

The best way to make the youths understand what we want to say is with words and lively examples. However the recognition and faith in their hearts can only be done by God.

If I leave the prayer to one side (pray every day for your talk in L'Amelie!), then I really don't need to sit at my desk and work out which fantastic hook I should use. Prayer is the only preparation which can tell us about Jesus and when the son of God seeks contact to the Father we need to do it even more.

Maybe there are those among you who found my talks quite interesting. I would like to let you into a secret: I believe that the most important aspect of preparation for my talks is that I start to pray for all of the individual presentations everyday for weeks before the camp. I also pray for God to prepare the youths for the message. If someone recognises that what he is listening to is the answer to a question which has been busying him for a while, then he is open to God's word.

Time investment

How much time do I need to spend preparing a talk? Do I need to sit down at my desk at the weekend; is an afternoon enough, do I do the talk on the afternoon of a camp or do I invest weeks of working on the preparation? The spectrum is wide! I know MA's who prepare their talk on the camp (which annoys me personally) and I know talkers who prepare the work weeks beforehand.

I would like to make a definite split here: There are no rules in the bible. If I argue for a certain way, then it is my own personal style. A little pretend scene should help us find the answer. Let's assume that a community hall is being opened and not only the deacon will arrive but also the Prime Minister with cameras and TV reporters There are discussions back and forth in the community and they come to the conclusion that a youth work representative should make a speech and you are chosen for the job. You are given 10 minutes to prepare. How would you go about it? You surely won't be able to put the preparation back until the afternoon of the visit! You will probably think about what you want to say for weeks. You will think it over again and again. You will write it out word for word and then screw it up into a ball. You will read it out to a friend and ask: "Can I really say it like that?“ You will practice your speech in front of your teddy bear and even record the time it takes. If you would invest so much time and effort for the Prime Minister how much more effort is it worth to represent the eternal God? I have taken a look at how real Evangelical professionals prepare a sermon:

Konrad Eißler needs 2-3 days for every normal Sunday sermon he takes. According to Theo Lehmann himself, he needs at least 3 days and formulates every single word. Both of them are professionals and we are entitled to take a little longer. In the words of Theo Lehmann: Those who can prepare in a short time are either lazy or a genius!

However as I said before, everyone has their own style; we can probably see how valuable a talk is through the time investment.

The hook

As the next stage everyone should think of a talk which has stuck in your memory!

Can you remember the first talk – which one is furthest back in your mind? It is probably that the talk had some kind of extra: A funny impressive story, a joke, a puppet theatre, a game, a movement, a string puppet, an object or a gift which you received, This situation is nothing new in psychology: Gestures and pictures are a thousand times more memorable that the spoken word. Interestingly Jesus also knew this which is why he told the parables which were easy to remember and stories with an “AH-HA” effect.

Jesus chose stories relevant to the listener’s environment. He speaks about sowers to the farmers, about the rich boy, about the compassionate Samaritan ... These are situations which the listener could find themselves in. Jesus gives us acts (The last supper, baptism, washing the disciples feet, laying hands on wounds,), which we can remember. No disciple will ever forget how Jesus, the living God, kneeled down and washed their stinky cheesy feet.

It is of utmost importance that you find a way of impregnating the youth’s minds – something which sticks and is still remembered weeks afterwards. If you are loving and creative your effort will be acknowledged. They will notice if a talk has been developed for weeks or if you have thrown the idea together in an afternoon at the beach on the camp. This is also a way in which the participants can feel how important your message is. This is how they can see how important they are to you.

In connection with this, one thing has become important to me with such a hook: The joyful message is at the centre of everything. It isn’t enough for a super picture to stay in their minds – it must have a connection to the joyful message. Try to keep the connection between the talk and your hook. (The hook should fly loose around the room!) An example: The subject of a devotion with a puppet theatre was a deep gorge and on one side three brothers were held prisoner by the devil. Because the king had used a CORSE-TV sign (in the form of a cross) to cross over the gorge I could use this picture directly afterwards:

Only by using the cross can we get over the distance between ourselves and God (sins) and remain eternal. Therefore when the puppet theatre in front of the listeners again they will automatically remember this message: Marco has understood!

In principle Jesus did exactly the same thing when he told the disciples about the parable of the sower (Luke 8, 5-15), because he talks about all of the details point for point: The sower who failed on the path means ... the sower who failed to sow on cliffs means ... Jesus also explained the meaning of the last supper to his disciples and they didn't just remember a great evening meal with the Rabbi.

Preparation style

Due to the fact that we have little knowledge about how Jesus and the apostles prepared a sermon, I can only talk about with good experiences I have had. As a role model I would take something from a different area:

A cabaret star. When Uli Keuler, Dieter Hildebrandt, Matthias Richling or Harald Schmidt gives a scene their best shot we are doubled over laughing at their play on words and funny comments. Even if it sounds totally relaxed and obviously comes across their lips very easily, the truth is quite different. Every word and every Pointe is planned, thought through and practised. Harald Schmidt did not write any material himself. Herbert Feuerstein wrote the material for years for him. You will notice that not everything is improvised if you go to the same show twice. Something which had the effect of quick joke suddenly seems studied.

Because Jesus is just as important to me as a boring Saturday TV evening program, I will proceed just like them. I think the devotion through again and again and go through it in my head. If a new way of saying something, a picture or a play on words comes into my head a take a piece of paper and jot it down.

I treat a talk for a camp like a pregnancy. It grows inside me, thrives and slowly takes shape. This cannot be done on a weekend which is why I always need 2-3 months before the camp to let a talk grow. I am neither a benchmark nor a role model with reference to this. Others manage to prepare a talk much more quickly. The talk grows until it has been fully formulated.

I then present my talk without any script and that is no problem afterwards because if I have thought a 10 minute speech through so often I know it inside out anyway! Beside this you also have the script at home if you want to use the talk again.

Length of a talk

How long should the whole talk last? There are vicars who talk for 45 minutes: YAWN. However they aren't sticking to the most important vicar rule: A sermon may talk everything over but not over 20 minutes! Biblically there is no limit. Jesus even preached for so long that everyone became hungry and they had a real hunger problem in the place. Mark 6, 34-37 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd and he had compassion on them: they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things....

If we want to bring the evangelism closer to youths in the 2-3 weeks then we don't need hours of sermons in one day - they would probably get up and leave. Apart from this, the youths are a different audience (we wouldn't hold a sermon with a baby for hours).

We have always had good experiences on camps with the following: You can say a lot in 10 or maximum 15 minutes. This is the length of time a 15 year old can listen attentively for. If the talk runs any long most of them shut off and what you said concisely and well and full of information at the beginning becomes watered down and becomes a bunch of words which the youths no longer listen to.

Just because a sermon is long doesn't make it good. The reactions among the youths have always been good after 10 minute talks. If we want to bring our message of love over to the youths within 10 minutes then the 10 minutes must be well planned and crisp.

The subject of the talks in the moment where God's word is placed in front of the youths is a large responsibility placed on our shoulders. God places what we tell the people in our hands. Are we leading the people towards God or just talking rubbish? Unfortunately it is a sad, biblical truth that Christians manage to pass on untruths among the community despite good intentions.

The problems of the false teachings by a teacher, whose own good thoughts got mixed up in the joyful message, can be found throughout the letters in the New Testament. Due to the fact that we have a big responsibility, the Epistle of James warns us in James 3, 1-2 1Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2We all stumble in many ways.

School teachers are not warned here. It refers to the responsibility we have as a talker. How do I deal with the job? So that I do not present my own opinions I try to support the points in the bible with stories, pictures and tales. In my preparation I search for the passage in the bible relevant to the point and document it in the script for my talk. This has the advantage that I can answer any questions if a youth asks where I have my information from and also that I can be sure that I am only telling the truth. (Little test: Where can the point that sins mean death be found in the bible? Have you read this before?) With this approach we are sure to find ourselves in Jesus' footsteps who always referred to God's word in his sermons and talks (even with the devil in the desert)! A very helpful experience which lots of members of staff have already made is the following:

Personal experiences are more interesting than theory. If you want to explain some theory to the youths, none of them will listen. However if you give your best presenting a personal experience their ears will be attentively flapping. That is just as valid for a talk: What will the listener understand better,
1. The theological term of sin or
2. My experience as a shouted at a salesman?

If your own personal experiences are presented it becomes interesting for the listener. Paul often told about his encounter with Jesus! About his experiences in prison, the shipwreck ... To speak about personal experiences is always a bit intimate because you throw something personal down to a bunch of wild delinquent youths. However I have always had good experiences with it.

6. A practical example of the subject

E.g. Corsica camp (24.July 93)

Theme: Jesus is God in the flesh

What have the people experienced up until now? On Thursday 22.July 93 Ingrid will take her first talk. She will drive the youth’s view towards God. At the centre of her talk there will be a story about a Beduine in the dessert who discovers God’s footsteps in a sunset. She will present this with a puppet show. On the next day, Friday 23rd July, Petra does her first talk where she presents Jesus as a special person. She wants to let different people appear in a talk show to show that Jesus loved children, took care of the sick and helped people...a very special person. On the 24th July 1993, a Saturday, I have the subject: Jesus is God.

How is the day planned? A peek in the camp timetable tells me: On the morning there is a big adventure game (gold digging game), there is swimming at midday, Anja if offering body-painting and on the evening there is a playback show. My first talk is on the program at the very end: Jesus is God in person. The youths will probably accept that there is a God (Ingrid); they will also say that Jesus was surely a great person (Petra)! But my talk is the first real blow: God came to earth and became a person - most won't swallow that!

I consider what I really want to say! The result should be that not only was Jesus a great person but he was actual God and can still have an effect on my life and I can still have a relationship with him today. The good idea is missing - the hook. As I take a few peaceful moments a word comes to me which Jesus said to the storm:

"Be still!" (Mark 4, 35-41). (Another reason to read the bible everyday!) I know that will be my hook. The word moves me. Jesus has power over the elements, he must be God! He had the storm in his command with two words. Now I have an idea! I now want to find a couple of stories which build up to this. In each story Jesus should do great things with few words. I found three good stories.

Jesus says "Follow me!" to a customs officer in Luke 19, 1-9 and it changes his life. Jesus can change people. The youth's conclusion will be that Jesus was a man with charisma, a man with a strong charm. Now I want to slowly build up! The second encounter (Luke 5, 17-26) Jesus says "stand up" to a poorly cripple and he jumps up and puts his bed under his arm and walks off. He says the same to a dead child (Luke 8, 49-56).

In the third encounter, the story with the storm should come. Jesus must have been more than a human being then! Jesus is God! I go through the building up of the talk in my head again and again (usually when I lie in bed) and pray for it. I come across plays on words, formulations e.g. most people will probably say "that can't be true, no one can do that!" - And they are right; a person really can't do that!

Once the youths have taken that on board I want to tell them what this has to so with them and that Jesus lives as God today and wants to have a relationship with them. I want to say what Jesus means in my life then they will listen. With a few examples I want to present a life with God as a life where we aren’t simply seeking replacement gratification...With bible in hand and staring at the ceiling (in bed at night) the contents of the talk are growing. I am only missing a good introduction and a hook.

An introduction comes to me while preparing the talk as I notice the babbling on the radio: Blah, blah, blah. That is exactly the right introduction for the talk. Their parent's babbling probably gets on the young people's nerves: Blah, blah, blah and the politicians: Blah, blah, blah and the teacher going on and on: Blah, blah, blah. If Jesus says something I can rely on him....good introduction.

However at the moment the talk is just a lot of dry words. There is nothing which sticks and as a think about things the idea with speech bubbles keeps coming back. Using these I could make the few, strong words from Jesus visible and lasting.

So I get some cardboard and make 5 oversized speech bubbles. I want to start off with a bubble which says blah, blah, blah, I pray that God prepares the youths so that they have an open heart for this good news...I time how long the talk takes. I might even record it onto tape. I talk it through with Petra and Ingrid and we pray together. I let myself be corrected........and the talk grows for weeks.

7. To do a Talk

The preparations for the talks have been done. We have really made an effort. The camp has gone well up until now and now it’s my turn, in 10 I’ll be standing in front of the youths. Whether you believe it or not, I am very nervous! If I botch everything up will they listen and will they understand what God has to say? I have read my notes through once again at lunchtime.

The calm before the storm

You should take a step back from the program for the last 10 minutes. No more sketches, no playback numbers, no explaining games,... if the others have not remembered this, let them know and ask them for a few minutes to find a quiet spot. Choose a couple of other members of staff and pray together! That is not over exaggeratedly devout! A special promise is made when 2 or 3 people ask together. To know that others are praying for me is also a big help. I have often silently prayed for no one comes along after the talk but that in exchange, the youths take the words to heart. Even if this is not so easy for me, it is a thousand times more important. I say to God that I want him to use me as his tool so that he can talk through me. To say it with a biblical picture: I ask God to place the words on my tongue. Something which has become important to me is: If something stands between myself and God, if I have just had an argument with someone, if I have sinned, then I try to clear it up before my talk service. I speak with God about it and ask for forgiveness and if necessary I even speak with the person who I disagreed with. Then I can serve God freely and he can have more effect through me (I had to learn this!). After this prayer maybe I am not calmer but I have the knowledge that God is behind me.

The son before the talk

While you are outside sitting among the dunes and preparing yourself for the talk, the way is being paved for you in the recreation tent. The other members of staff now have the task of soothing and calming the participants down. They are probably all still wound up from the day’s program and you have to get them quietened down. The program leader should therefore choose a song to sing which gradually becomes quieter. It is recommended that you choose a peaceful song directly before the talk which the youths will know after a few days and which will prepare them for the talk (“Sing Hallelujah to the Lord”, “Humble thyself”, “Blessed is the Lord”...are all particularly nice because they have two singing parts).

The talk begins

The first minute of your talk is probably the most important of all. If the kids listen for 30 seconds and it bores them, they will switch off! Catch them with the first sentences – with a gripping start. Here are a few stupid starts: "Well..." (I do this often!) "We have come together today to…" (sounds too devout) "I would like to read you a story from the bible!" (and everyone suddenly needs the toilet). Make sure that you are straight into it, that it starts off excitingly. How do I speak to the people? An important question is how I speak to the listeners. There is no secret recipe. However each time it sounds a little bit different:

One should take more time for God!
You should take more time for God!
The group should take more time for God!
We should take more time for God!
I should take more time for God!

Think about it beforehand how you want to speak to the youths. I personally believe that the best way is to put yourself in the shoes of the participants in your mind. God did the same as he became a person, Paul did this as he went to the Greeks... this is why I never try to come across as the big Ralpf who wants to present the stupid little kids with wisdom and recognition and that I am light-years ahead because I read my bible like a good person. It should come across as someone who is the same as them and someone who has already found what they are searching for: Peace with God through Jesus. I believe this is the only way they will listen with an open heart!

8. What to avoid!

Because this is a seminar from staff member to staff member, we can be totally truthful. Yes, it is true that it is fun to hold a talk. It is nice (but totally unimportant) if people come along afterwards and say that it was a good talk. You can get used to this role. Everyone is listening to me. I am the centre of attention. At this point the first problem can arise:

I am at the centre of attention!

What happens if everyone is looking up at you in admiration and you have placed yourself at the centre of attention and then something goes badly wrong? What if you say something personal about God to let yourself look big in front of the listeners but aren’t true to yourself? A friend of mine told me about his first talk where the rector came to him to say that he was the best scholar in the school. He really meant it well because he wanted to point out that he was grateful to God for the fact but it came across quite differently to the participants: "Another A level student who can boast about his grades!" The main focus of the talk suddenly slipped away and became “I represent my own views” instead of “I represent Jesus".

The language of Canaan

Another mistake which can quickly happen is that we use the wrong language. In devout circles this is called the language of Canaan but in our language it means: As Christians we use vocabulary which no else uses anymore. Who say things like: "Thou shall stand up!" or "Thou shall go home!" Who remains "eternal?" And what on earth does “beneficed” mean? With these types of bible words which quickly fall on our lips (as a fan of the 1700 Luther translations) we scare the youths away. According to them you are totally nuts and you have a speech problem! It doesn’t have to be like this!

Let’s start over again at the end

An absolute cracker is something with which I wrecked my first talk with (however it did fit in well with the fringe program: A living room talk on “total boredom”) and the problem still crops up every now and again. At the end of the talk, we have said everyone important which we wanted to say and now?....We start to repeat everything. We don’t mean anything by it but we start at the beginning again. It is O.K. to summarise the central points of the talk at the end to underline them, but please don’t repeat the whole talk!


This is a fact which seems obvious but it can totally bury your worthiness if it happens. Be truthful at all cost! If you make a claim and someone finds out that it is not true then you are completely unworthy from now on. You have done more damage to God’s work because the people have met another high and mighty Christian and say “I knew it, there’s no truth in it all." People who have not found God yet are looking for this type of confirmation. They don’t trust the whole thing! Therefore be careful with statements which are not 100% the truth. An example: If you say: "Since I have been a Christian I don’t need any alcohol and cigarettes to feel good” in your speech". What effect will this have if someone sees you smoking cigarette later on?

The frills

It is almost too trivial to say but the best talk isn’t any use if no one understands it – so let it be said! Here are a few simple things which damage a talk which are:

You speak too quickly (On a good day, Sven can get over 300 words per minute.)

You do not speak clearly (mumble, mumble, at least I’m not growing a beard!)

You use foreign words (secular, semantic.... most people can’t identify with this!)

Do not use complicated words to cover things up! Jesus spoke in simple words which every educated fisherman could understand!

Make sure that background noises do not disturb your talk. If the people in the second row can’t understand you then you shouldn’t hold your talk next to a diesel generator or you should find a microphone!

9. The other members of staff

What will the other staff members do during the talk? They didn’t have to prepare and they aren’t standing in front of the youths! Do they finally have 10 minutes break? NO!

You will never get through it without these staff members! They should sit among the groups of listeners (please don’t have all staff members sitting in one corner!). They make sure that the group remains quiet and are ready for the talk! Some will help you prepare and perform with a play, a puppet theatre or a string puppet play etc. Before the talk you will need friends who you can pray with! And when the talk starts with will sit among the youths. If the staff members are chatting none of the youths will listen (you are role models). It is really unfair if you decide to discuss “important” things now. The participants should realise that these 10 minutes are extremely important to each and every staff member even if they don’t that they have the gift to be able to talk about faith to the youths. Every member of staff should look forwards at the talker and listen because this is what we want from the participants. Do not ruin other people’s talk with your own inattentiveness. If you notice that the participants are not taking any notice it is your task to make sure that they do not disturb the talk. You need to deal with the situation. The talker at the front hardly has a chance alone. When the participants are quiet pray silently that God will now speak to the youths! Pray for the talker – he really needs it! You can carry the talk through or let it fall down! Take notice of the contents of the speech because you often have to answer questions when the participants are lying in bed later. And then there is no sign of a talker! If you notice that the talk cannot be heard acoustically then give the talker a sign or tell him; it would be a shame to lose the good talk!

10. After the talk

You have managed it. Despite shakes and outbreaks of sweat your first talk is now behind you. Congratulations.....and what comes next?

The concluding prayer

I personally find it nice to finish off a talk with a short communal prayer! I have never experienced that the youths are against this. If they have recognised in you what it means to have a real relationship to Jesus then they will accept a simple prayer and will see how they can speak to god too. You position yourself under God’s hand and make it clear that God is important so that they see that a good talker has not spoken to the group of youths, but the living God himself!

Invitation to discussion

I have very good experiences with inviting the youths to a discussion at the end: "If anyone has any questions, you are very welcome to come and ask me, I will be sitting around here for a while or you can ask the other members of staff!" Keep half an hour free for this and do not run off to clear up. You will be amazed if youths come to you. Sometimes none of them come and sometimes they are sitting there with more than 10! However lots of questions come along days later! One opportunity which I have hardly used is to ask the participants during my talk is to ask” have you experienced…..before". You can refer to the question at a later date during a discussion.


If people come to you after the talk and tap you on the shoulder saying “you were really good”, then be careful! Maybe they haven’t understood that God has just spoken to them. You cannot see what effect the talk really has! It is of course nice to hear but totally unimportant! One time I even hear that someone said: "I think Ralpf could sell anything to anyone!" Obviously I was very happy because it was a nice compliment and nice to hear that I am a good talker but this actually means that the talk was a shot in the dark. He did not understand that God wants to say something to him!

The loneliness of the preacher after the job

Now for something very personal: After a talk I often have the feeling that I have not reached anyone. I do of course notice that the people have listened attentively, they laughed in the right places, were quiet during the prayers but have a really touched their hearts? I pray once again silently and place the rest of the talk in God’s hands. I have now done everything I could do. If the talk bears fruit and if I have sowed my seed on cliffs, a path, under thorny bushes or on solid ground, is now in God’s hand. If you notice that God talks through people you will notice what it means to be doing something meaningful. There is nothing greater on earth!

Small gifts lead to life

If you have reached the youths and they have been spoken to by God it is always nice to be able to give them something to take home. I always have an assortment of books and tracts, bible translations and bible comics with me so that I can present them with something. This pleases them and it may help them further. It is worth plundering the savings for this e.g.:

The first 100 days with the bible
Christianity for sceptics
Jesus is our destiny
Personal experiences...

Find Christian groups

If someone finds their faith then he needs a group or community or a circle where the faith can grow. You should help wherever possible or invite them to join you! Look for contact to the youths and accompany them as long as possible!


If you have a short break then go to a colleague who you know well and ask him if your talk was OK and what should be improved. Don’t try to fish for compliments, but let yourself be corrected and encouraged. We must all learn and do not have to make the same mistakes our whole lives.

11. A boring talk happens to everyone

If you manage to wreck a talk at some point, I can comfort you: The bible is truthful enough to write a boring talk presented by the star preacher (in this case – Paul). In the Acts, a youth even falls out of the window because he fell asleep during a talk by Paul:

Acts, 7-12 7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "He's alive!" 11Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.

Source: (Author - Ralpf Wagner)

[ © | 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work ] - 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work
picture youthwork picture youthwork picture youthwork picture youthwork picture youthwork picture youthwork