Next-Gen Ministry

Reels, TikToks, and YouTubers: Contextualization in Preaching to the Next Generation

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Pastors, do you ever feel like the Next Generation lives in a different world than you do? Maybe it’s the new slang or viral trends that you can’t keep up with. Yet, many of our young people feel the same way about the Bible. To borrow a term from missions, we need to make sure that we contextualize in our sermons. Contextualization means that we preach in such a way that is faithful to God’s Word, yet also is meaningful to the contexts of our listeners. How can we do that with the Next Generation listeners in our audience? In his book, Center Church, Tim Keller suggests three principles for contextualization that I have found helpful in preaching to the Next Generation.

1. Enter the Culture

Entering means to both understand and identify with the people we want to reach. What are the questions they are asking? What do they put hope in? Preachers who hope to be effective in reaching the Next Generation need to address these underlying beliefs. Entering the culture of the young people in our congregation means that we need to spend time where they do, hear what they hear, and see what they see.

One practical way to enter the culture is being online. Preachers need to understand that for Gen Z, social media and entertainment are not just hobbies. They are now the most desirable career path. While I am not advocating for pastors to be on Instagram or TikTok for hours each day, being aware of current trends helps to understand their worldview as they listen to your sermons. Good preachers enter the cultures of their audience to know them well, and they write their sermons with their people in mind.

2. Challenge the Culture

Once the prevailing beliefs and questions of your audience are identified, then they must be critiqued in light of the gospel. As Bruce Nicholls declares, “The gospel is never the guest of any culture; it is always its judge and redeemer” (Bruce Nicholls, Contextualization, 15).

What pressure points might the gospel challenge and redeem for young people? In the United States, Keller mentions the promotion of sex, the problem of human rights, and a loss of cultural hope all as factors that preachers can challenge. The goal of challenging culture is to create a sense of longing in the audience that only the gospel can fill.

3. Appeal to the Listeners

Keller contends that preachers must present Christ as the ultimate source of what the listeners have been seeking. As he notes, many popular storylines of our culture help point to the gospel. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, and more offer stories where salvation comes through sacrifice. To be clear, I am not saying that you preach a “Jesus is the better Iron Man” sermon! But we should press in on why culture finds this kind of story appealing.

Pastor, you don’t have to be a social media “influencer” to influence the young people in your congregation. Engage them. Spend time with them. Learn their language so that your faithfulness to the text of Scripture is also meaningful to them.

  • Next-Gen Ministry
  • Preaching
  • Student Ministry
Kenneth Brock

Kenneth Brock serves as Adjunct Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) as well as the Student Ministry Director at Open Door Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Kenneth graduated from the University of Georgia with his BBA and received his MDIV from SEBTS. He is currently in the PhD in Preaching program at SEBTS. Kenneth lives with his wife, Catherine, in Wake Forest, NC, along with their daughter, Maggie.

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