For the last three years, I have worked full-time in campus ministry. Prior to that, I interned in a campus ministry for over two years, and I was involved in a campus ministry during my undergraduate years.
So I am very familiar with the culture differences between older Christians and college students. There’s often a lot of tension between campus ministries and churches that sponsor them.
But there often a lot of misconceptions as well.
For one, some older Christians think that college students would rather be entertained than study the Bible. But there are people of all ages who are bored at deep Bible teaching. I don’t think that college students are any less interested in it.
They might even be more interested. Many students listen to and read preachers and authors that are more in-depth than the devotional writers popular with older crowds. You might disagree with Francis Chan, Matt Chandler, N. T. Wright, or Rob Bell, but their writings are more intellectually engaging than Max Lucado.
Yet I can name dozens of college students who have read Chan, Chandler, Wright, or Bell, but I can only name a few that have read Lucado.
Many college students also regularly encounter people skeptical of the Christian faith. So college students tend to want to understand the faith so they can better explain it.
With that being said, I think we have to be careful about what we mean by “depth.” There are several different ways to be deep, and most preachers and teachers are bad as some of these.
Here’s a quick list of different ways to have depth when teaching the Bible.
Six Aspects of Deep Preaching and Teaching
Exegetical Depth: Deeply examining the meaning of the verses being covered in the sermon. For example, when you are studying Romans 5, you can very carefully work through what Paul is saying about sin entering the world through Adam. You can look at prepositions and connections and really bring out what is being said. John Piper is the only preacher (out of many) that I hear consistently do this.
Theological Depth: Deeply examining theological truths that the Bible teaches. Sometimes exegetical depth and theological depth go hand-in-hand, but sometimes they don’t. For example, sometimes Tim Keller doesn’t spend much time explaining the text he’s preaching, but he will discuss a theological issue that arises from that text.
Cultural Depth: Deeply examining how our culture’s views about an issue compare with the Bible’s teachings on that topic. From the limited range of preachers I’ve listened to, Tim Keller is the best at this.
Historical Depth: Explaining in detail the historical settings and practices that underlie a text. This will, of course, be included in any good exegesis of a text. But some ministers seem to explore the historical setting of a story or a passage to a degree that goes beyond just setting up the audience to be able to faithfully exegete the text.
Apologetical Depth: Deeply examining the apologetical issues that arise in a text. This will look different depending on the text. You might need to discuss how a Bible story connects with science, history, or other matters.
Applicational Depth: Deeply examining how this teaching applies to the lives of the listeners. You needs to explain what barriers people often face when trying to live this teaching out in their lives, different ways a Scripture can be incarnated in their lives, practical advice for following the teachings of the Bible, etc.
I have not created an exhaustive list of different ways to have depth in one’s Bible teachings and preaching. That was not my goal. I just wanted to list a few different ways. Whether you are a full-time minister or teach a Sunday morning class at your church, you need to think through the different ways you can apply the Bible to the lives of your audience.
If you aren’t a preacher, but you complain about your preacher’s sermons not being “deep” enough, it would benefit you (and your preacher) if you spent some time thinking about this. Maybe your minister’s sermons are deep in its application or cultural engagement, but you want more exegetical depth. You need to get clear on that.
It might make you realize that your minister’s sermons are deep –– just not in the way you prefer. Or, if you choose to talk to your minister or church leaders about the lack of depth, you can be specific about the type of depth you want.
Your minister will appreciate the specificity. Trust me!
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